In her lecture “Searching for Context: Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students in the Digital Age” (Available here: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/luncheon/2012/01/head), Alison Head draws conclusions from 5 studies that she and others had conducted for the Berkman Center for Intranet and Society. The lecture presents an interesting model of how students conceptualize their research process. The model shows students weighing the cost of going down different research paths. The model shows students assessing their paths in 4 contexts (but she said there may be more): the Big Picture Context, Information Gathering Context, Language Context, and Situational Context.
The model suggests that students beginning research are asking themselves these types of questions as they calculate the risks of the possible answers:
- Big picture – Do I have the right overview before starting? Do I understand this topic enough to be able to form a research question?
- Information Gathering – Do I have enough supporting material? Am I using enough primary sources?
- Language – Do I understand the language and terms of this topic well enough?
- Situational – What do I need to do to get an A? Is this what the professor wants?
The model, which focuses on questions of “what is enough?” and “what are the risks of one decision over another?” has interesting implications to how libraries serve students in their research. As someone involved in the building library software to help students in their research, I find fascinating possibilities of creating solutions that help address risk-assessment of following different paths in the different contexts researchers find themselves in.