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1

Cited as: Yau, G.Y.C
,
Chu, S.K.W.
,
Chiu, M.M.L.,

& Ting, K.K.K.

(2011).
Development of doctoral students’ information literacy: Applying Kuhlthau’s ISP into
doctoral students’ information search
. Paper presented at
CITE Symposium 2011
,
Hong Kong.



TITLE:

Development of doctoral students’ information literacy: Applying Kuhlthau’s
ISP into doctoral students’ information search


YAU, G.Y.C.


Division of Information Technologies, Faulty of Education, The University of Hong Kong,

Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

E
-
mail:

ggg880807@gmail.com


CHU, S.K.W.

Division of Information Technologies, Faulty of Education, The University of Hong Kong,

Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

E
-
mail:

samchu@hku.hk


CHIU, M.M.L.

Division of Information Technologies, Faulty of Education, The University of Hong Kong,

Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

E
-
mail:

hellotintin2010@gmail.com


TING, K.
K.K.

Division of Information Technologies, Faulty of Education, The University of Hong Kong,

Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

E
-
mail:

fatimaest2@gmail.com



ABSTRACT

This study describes and analyzes the perspectives of
postgraduate students
regarding their development of information literacy and information seeking process.
Information literacy is usually defined as the ability to make efficient and effective use
of information sources. It is essential in helping stude
nts learn in information
-
laden
environments, and in making sense

of

a variety of information sources. Previous
research found that postgraduate students have insufficient knowledge in information
searching, especially at the beginning stage of searching p
rocess. Kuhlthau’s
(
1985
,
2004
)

Model of Information Search Process (ISP) was applied in this

study.
Cognitive and emotional experiences of postgraduate students were investigated to
check if they are coherent with the model. Students’ actions, thoughts and feelings
were recorded through structured observations, “think
-
aloud” protocol and comput
er
screen capture of the search process. Furthermore, participants were requested to
respond to a survey on ISP. Semi
-
structured interviews were conducted to gain in
-
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2

depth information on the students’ feelings, experiences and perceptions regarding
their

information behavior. This study has found that the ISP model, originally
developed for high school students, is generally applicable to doctoral students. In
terms of practical contribution, the information behaviors of postgraduate students
are identi
fied. A case study is used to verify the relationship between knowledge
construction and search expertise, suggesting that systematic search expertise
training may be relevant solutions t
o the students’ search problems


1. INTRODUCTION

How to facilitate s
tudents’ information seekin
g and use has become central
to
information studies. Its ultimate goal is not restricted to provide merely access to
information, but also to the “right” information that prompts new understanding
(
Kuhlthau, 1997
)
.
There have been multiple studies focused on s
tudents’ information
literacy development in higher education
(
Behrens, 1994
;
Corrall & Hathaway, 2000
;
Hepworth, 2000
;
Johnston & Webber, 2003
;
Kunkel, Weaver, & Cook, 1996
)
.
Although some of the studies are specific for studying postgraduate researchers’
information literacy
(
Gomersall, 2007
;
Kinn, 1996
;
Picken, 2005
;
Research
Information Network, 2008
)
, it is generally recognized that systematic information
trainings for the postgraduate students still receive inadequate attention
(
Chu & Law,
2008
;
Streatfield, Allen, & Wilson, 2010
)
. It is necessary to establish effective
approaches to investigate the postgraduate students’ behavior and thus to sort out
ways to faci
litate their information search.

The American Library Association
(
1989, p. 1
)

indicates that an information
literate should be
able

to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability
to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” The Seven Pillars
Model of Information Literacy
(
Town, 2000
)

defines the concept in a more practical
way, incorporating both information skills and knowledge development in a
theoretical framework with a rang
e of levels from novice to expert. Other than the IT
skills and library skills, Chu
and

Law
(
2005
,
2007
,
2008
)

illustrate information skills
training as database knowledge and search skills development. Ford
et al.
(
2003
)

also address the importance of search strategies in students’ search performance.
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Information literacy is not confined to a subset of skills
(
Streatfield, et al., 2010
)
, but
also the “information handling ability for lifelong learning and knowledge
management
(
Corrall, 2000, p. 5
)
.” With this ability, students should be able to us
e
the information effectively in constructing new meanings
(
Kelly, 1963
;
Kuhlthau,
1991
)
.

This study aims to investigate into the postgraduate students’ information
literacy development by addressing the mentioned two dimensions


students’
knowledge constr
uction and skills devel
opment.
Kuhlthau’s Information Search
Process (ISP) Model is applied in
the postgraduate students’ case

to investigate their
research development. Their
formulation of focus, as a critical stage in ISP, is

highlighted in this study, to assess whether the
students can experience success
in
information search
throughout the process. Chu
and

Law
’s

(
2008
)

Research and
Information Search Expertise
(shorten into
RISE
in the latter part)
Model is also
adopted, for the purpose of assessing students’ information skills development. The
study will explore the relationship between formulation of focus and search expertise
level by using a case study.












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4

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1
Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process Model

2.1.1 Overview of the Model

Research on the ISP Model is initiated with a real problem that most of the
students, whether they are equipped with library skills or not, often find themselves
overwhelmed with confu
sions or other negative feelings in the beginning of their
search
(
Kuhlthau, 1985
)
. A series of empirical studies on students and library users
are thus c
arried out
(
Kuhlthau,
1985
,
1988a
,
1988b
,
1988c
,
1989
)
. The ISP Model
have been further verified and extended with multiple user studies on research
activities
(
Anderson, 2006
;
Vakkari, 2001
)
, workplaces
(
Kuhlthau, 1999
;
Kuhlthau &
Tama, 2001
)

and other collaborative learning environments
(
HyldegÂrd, 2006
;
van
Aalst, Fung, Li, & Wong, 2007
)
.

The ISP research has progressively incorporated the psychological theories
into the research on information seeking, to emphasize both cognitive and affective
approaches in exploring users’ holistic experience during

the process
(
Case, 2007
;
Vakkari, 2001
;
White,
2009
)
. Considerable influence of Kelly
(
1963
)
’s work on
psychology has been re
vealed in Kuhlthau’s ISP studies. Viewing learning as a
process in which the user construct his or her own version of the reality, Kelly
(
1963
)

advocates different phases in thinking: encountering new nature of the things and
feeling confused; hypothesizing and anticipating; reconstruing, or validating and
testing; and connecting the findings with previous e
xperience, which results in
forming a new construct. Other studies also encourage the use of process approach
in information research
(
Dervin & Nilan, 1986
;
Dewey, 1960
)
.

Kuhlthau ‘s ISP research is parallel to these concepts that a process model is
established with a flow of six stages

(Figure 2.1), including initiation of task, selection
of topic, explorat
ion over different
sources and especially the
relevant ones,
formulation of focus, collection of pertinent information, and finally, presentation of
the results of information search. Adopting constructionism as a metatheory,
Kuhlthau has investigated int
o the discourse in which the students form new
meanings, through analyzing students’ journals, search logs, short written
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5

statements, interviews, conceptual maps, and the teacher’s assessment
(
2004
)
. On
the other hand, quantitative methods such as coding are employed in a bid to
provide consolidations to the analysis.


Figure 2.1

Kuhlthau’s ISP Model.

2.1.2 Formulation

There is no concrete definition of what constitutes a
focus
, in light of its
dependency on any given contexts, i.e. users’ perception of the situation. Kuhlthau
(
2004
)

explain
ed

the concept with an emphasis on its functionality


to serve “as a
guiding idea that gives the search direction, narrows the search, and provides a
basis for collecting information and making r
elevance judgments
(
p. 92
)
.” In other
words, with the formulation of foc
us, students s
hould be
capable
o
f

express
ing

their
need in formalized and/or compromised statements
(
Taylor, 1968
)
,
voicing out a
better
defined problem with certain level of specificity
(
Belkin, Brooks, & Oddy,
1982
)
. In line with Borlund

’s

(
2003, p. 923
)

finding that “relevance judgm
ents evolve
during the process of information retrieval interaction”, Kuhtlhau
(
1985
,
2004
)

pr
ovides evidence of a shift of relevance level from

a

topical relevant

one

to
a
pertinent relevant
one
during the ISP. The results presented by students who cannot
formulate a focus in the ISP are often found with superficial knowledge and
unresolved frust
rations
(
Kuhlthau, Heinstrom, & Todd, 2008
)
.


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2.2
Chu and

Law’s Research and Information Search Expertise Mode
l

(RISE)

2.2.1 Overview of
the Model

Chu and

Law

’s

(
2008
)

RISE Model is established regarding the growth and
development of knowledge and search expertise of the research students. It is
generally accepted that

search
skill
s

and knowledge of databases are essential
components of today’s Information Retrieval (IR) and users’ studies
(
Chowdhury,
2010
;
Chu & Law, 2008
;
Ingwersen, 2005
;
Wilson, Schraefel, & White, 2009
)
.
Previous finding
s conclude

the insufficiency of information literacy (IL) training for
postgraduate researchers
(
Bates, 1977
;
Henricks &

Healy, 2002
;
Kriflik & Kriflik,
2006
;
Noon, Heseltine, & Powis, 2000
;
Tsai & Tsai, 2003
)
, and the lack of systematic
management and clear guidelines of the trainings
(
Streatfield, et al., 2010
)
. Kriflik
and

Kriflik
(
2006
)

suggest

that a scaffold approach is effective in assisting students
to acquire necessary IL skills. Calling for a delivery of comprehensive information
skills training for t
he postgraduate students,

Chu
and
Law
(
Chu, 2007
;
2005
,
2008
)

have investigated the development of twelve postgradua
te students from two
disciplines


Engineering and Education through a longitudinal approach. Through
conducting information search trainings, the participants’ change and/or growth of
knowledge are observed in the an experimental approach for the purpose

of testing
the existence of causal relationships
(
Babbie, 2010
)
. Chu and

Law
(
2005, p. 624
)

deliberately did that for the purpose of making “qualitative differences” rather than
generalizations. An increase in search expertise level is demonstrated
among
the
majority of

students, exemplified by a higher level of search term usage and
kno
wledge of

multiple databases. The RISE Model
(
Chu & Law, 2008
)

is thus
formed (Figure 2.2), with reference to the development of those twelve

participants,
in three horizontal dimensions, drawing the connection between students’ stratified
information need, and knowledge and application on se
arch skills and databases.
Regarding

information need as evolving
in
nature is parallel to Taylor
(
1968
)
’s
finding. The research students should develop
a growing capability of
noticing and
expressing their need in higher specificity, given the increasing knowledge about
their study domains
(
Chu & Law, 2008
;
Vakkari, 2001
)
.
In fact,
there are four
hierarchies of developme
nt, namely
novice
,
advanced beginner
,
competent
, and
proficient

levels of search expertise. The RISE Model helps indicating which level
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7

the user attains by referring to the search strategies they have undertaken and the
knowledge they have.


Figure 2.
2
Chu & Law’s RISE Model.

2.3 Theoretical Framework

Although information skills are normally

perceived as indispensable
to users in
acquiring what they need
, whether the increase of information search expertise leve
l
can help identifying the need

and formulating a focus remains unclear. Vakkari
(
2001
)

recognizes the evolution of search strategies is resulted from the growing
depth and breadth of knowledge the student
s constructed, rather than from the
growth of s
earch expertise. However, Chu and

Law
(
Chu, 2007
;
2005
,
2008
)

suggest the possible interdependence between information need and sear
ch
expertise, by embedding the evolving need with the RISE Model. By conducting a
national survey over information literacy training for postgraduate and postdoctoral
researchers, Streatfield
et al.
(2010)

also call for a training
-
based approach, which
pr
ovides the students systematic trainings of information skills integrated with
S
t
a
ge
s
of
i
nf
orm
a
t
i
on s
e
a
rc
h
e
xpe
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Re
s
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rc
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t
a
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s
:
c
ha
nge
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i
nf
orm
a
t
i
on ne
e
ds
due
t
o t
he

grow
t
h of
s
t
ude
nt
s
’ s
ubj
e
c
t

know
l
e
dge

E
xpe
rt
i
s
e
on s
ourc
e
s
/
da
t
a
ba
s
e
s
:

know
l
e
dge
of
a
nd a
bi
l
i
t
y t
o
di
s
t
i
ngui
s
h a
m
ong s
ourc
e
s
/

da
t
a
ba
s
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s

E
xpe
rt
i
s
e
on s
e
a
rc
h s
ki
l
l
s
:
a
bi
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i
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t
o c
ons
t
ruc
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a
ppropri
a
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a
rc
h
s
t
a
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e
m
e
nt
s

P
rof
i
c
i
e
nt
:


-

S
t
ude
nt
s
a
re
be
c
om
i
ng
e
f
f
i
c
i
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nt
a
nd e
f
f
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c
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f
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ng w
ha
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y ne
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d



-

F
a
m
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i
a
r w
i
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ri
phe
ra
l

s
ourc
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s
/
da
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ba
s
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s

-

F
a
m
i
l
i
a
r w
i
t
h m
a
ny
da
t
a
ba
s
e
s
i
n t
he
c
ore
t
ype

-

F
a
m
i
l
i
a
r w
i
t
h a
f
ul
l
ra
nge

of
ke
yw
ord s
e
a
rc
h
ope
ra
t
ors
a
nd s
e
a
rc
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f
e
a
t
ure
s


Com
pe
t
e
nt
:

-

S
t
ude
nt
s
ha
ve
be
c
om
e

self
-
s
uf
f
i
c
i
e
nt
a
nd a
re

c
onf
i
de
nt
i
n i
nf
orm
a
t
i
on
s
e
a
rc
h

-

G
e
t
produc
t
i
ve
s
e
a
rc
h
out
c
om
e
s
on a
c
ons
i
s
t
e
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ba
s
i
s

-

F
a
m
i
l
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a
r w
i
t
h t
he
c
ore

t
ype
s
of
s
ourc
e
s
/

da
t
a
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s
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s
i
n t
he
a
re
a
of

t
he
i
r re
s
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a
rc
h


-

F
a
m
i
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i
a
r w
i
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h t
he

i
m
port
a
nt
ope
ra
t
ors
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ke
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ords

s
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a
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ors

A
N
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nd t
he

t
runc
a
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on ope
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t
or)


A
dva
nc
e
d be
gi
nnge
r:

-

S
t
a
ge
of
unde
rs
t
a
ndi
ng
(be
gi
n t
o unde
rs
t
a
nd t
he

di
f
f
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re
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ki
nds
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da
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a
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ng
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)

-

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ha
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t
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re
a
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s
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va
i
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a
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e
f
or
di
f
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re
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purpos
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-

Use
t
w
o or m
ore
t
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s
of

da
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-

S
t
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t
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Bool
e
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A
N
D

a
nd O
R)


N
ovi
c
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:

-

S
t
a
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of
c
onf
us
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on
(c
onf
us
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d a
bout
s
ourc
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da
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a
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s
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ki
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-

M
os
t
l
y unproduc
t
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ve

out
c
om
e
s

-

U
s
e
d m
a
i
nl
y one
t
ype
of

s
ourc
e
/
da
t
a
ba
s
e
(m
os
t
l
y
l
i
bra
ry c
a
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ogs
or w
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b
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a
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ngi
ne
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)


-

D
o not
unde
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t
a
nd how

ke
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nd

s
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s
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y a
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fa
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w
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i
o
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o
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a

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8

research development. Adopting a similar approach, this study aims to understand
the relationship between the search expertise level and knowledge construction by
adopting a pr
ocess approach, assessing the students’ variations by applying the
RISE Model to indicate which level the students have grown into. Kuhtlhau’s ISP
Model and especially, the concept of formulation are simultaneously embedded
into
this study. The ISP Model

seems to be especially useful in two ways: 1) to deepen
the understanding of the students’ construction process; 2) to assess whether
students can experience successful knowledge construction. The latter one can be
analyzed with assessment upon their for
mulations of focus.
















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9

3. METHODOLOGY

3.1 Participants

Eight PhD students in the Faculty of Education of the University of Hong Kong
(HKU) w
ere selected through a purposely

stratified sampling.
Samples are chosen
strategically as a non
-
probability form
(
Bryman, 2008
)
, that all of them were in their
first year of their own doc
toral programs.

3.2 Procedure

This study adopted a mixed research method approach in a bid to “offset the
weaknesses of both quantitative and qualitative research
(
Creswell, 2007, p. 9
)
,”
including surveys,
interviews, “think
-
aloud” protocol, computer screen capture of the
search process and structured observations of students’ search behavior in five
training sessions over a two
-
year period. In each of the meeting, participants were
asked to search for info
rmation that was related to their research topic for 20
minutes. It is followed by another 20
-
minute session of expert search conducted by
the trainer, to use the scaffold approach in providi
ng search expertise training
to

the
students. Students and the
trainer took turns in searching for 20 minutes again.
Through conducting information search trainings, the participants’ change and/or
growth of knowledge are observed in an experimental approach for the purpose of
testing the existence of causal relation
ships
(
Babbie, 2010
)
. At the end of the 1
st
,
3
rd
, and 5
th

meeting, students were asked to respond to a survey (
See Appendix 1),
which assessed their search knowledge and skills, and their ISP experience. An
interview was conducted in the 6
th

meeting to understand the students’ perceptions
of their search expertise and knowledge development

after the training
. Que
stions
concentrate
on students’ path of development and their affective experience.
Three
kinds of data were analyzed: 1) transcriptions of students’ think
-
aloud protocol as
they verbalized their thoughts and actions when performing searches on databases
and other web sources, 2) responses to the surveys and 3) transcriptions of
interviews.



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10

3.3 Analysis Tools for ISP Experience

Kuhlthau

’s

(
2004
)

Process Survey is adopted for the purpose of identifying
the participants’ pace and path throughout the ISP in a behavioral approach.
Participants were asked to answer the survey in the 1
st
, the 3
rd

and the 5
th

meeting,
a
t the time when their research and the search expertise training ha
ve just started,
and when they reach
the mid
-
point and
finish
all the search exp
ertise training. An
assumption

that st
udents’ information activities
are, to a certain extent, able to help
identify
different ISP stages they are experiencing, is formed by using Kuhl
thau’s
findings. Previous studies

on ISP
(
HyldegÂrd, 2006
)

have already provided certain
foundation for associating the students’ activities with the ISP

stages. Furthermore,
to produce descriptive statistics, answers of the specific survey questions are coded
according to Kuhlthau

’s

(
2004, pp. 61
-
62
)

coding system (See Appendix 2).














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11

4. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

The major results are presented in this session, beginning with the findings
concerning students’ ISP, continuing with the
ca
us
al

relationship between
formulation and search expertise, and finishing with a comparative study for
verification.

4.1 Postgradua
te Students’ ISP experience

A descriptive picture of the postgraduate students’ information behavior is
formed, by adopting Kuhlthau’s ISP Model. The results show that most of the
students have completed the ISP, however at varying paces. In general, the
ir search
tasks were initiated in the beginning of their research. They searched for a study
topic and/or a research problem during the stages of selection and exploration. A
focus, as
interpreted by the students,
is formed
as a consolidated idea like a
conceptual framework, or concrete objects like a problem statement, research
questions or a research proposal. This can be related to Vakkari’s finding that the
research students’ prime objective in the ISP is to formulate a research problem
(
2001
)
. By the latter stages of ISP they were collecting information of higher
specificity, including the data and literatures specific to their concentration. Seven
out of the eight participants have either been experiencing or gone through the stage
of prese
ntation in which they organize the findings and write the report.

4.1.1 Recursive manner

Kuhlthau
(
1991
;
Kuhlthau, et al., 2008
)

has acknowledged that there are
variations in students’ development of ISP, and sometimes they might relate a
recursive process. However, to the non
-
linear ISP experiences little atten
tion has
been given. This is reasonable since recursions had happened to be a few scattered
cases in Kuhlthau’s studies. Compared to the research students, the users in prior
studies handled with less complex tasks, such as school assignments that lasted

usually for a few months. Although the ISP research has been extended to
information workers in association with more complicated tasks
(
Kuhlthau, 1999
;
Kuhlthau & Tama, 2001
)
, the studies have been focused on other corollaries other
than describing their specific ISP experience. For the di
fferent nature of doing
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12

research, a recursive and cyclic ISP becomes inevitable and necessar
y
to

the
postgraduate students. First, the students often found the need to refine their focus
for several times throughout the process, resulting in re
-
exploratio
n on the field. This
is in line with Foster
(
200
4
)
’s suggestion that the process of problem definition, i.e.
defining a focus, is repet
itive rather than clear
-
cut. For example, XX, a student
working on a based research conta
ining three correlated theses, expressed

that the
different levels of focus have been formed during the ISP


a narrowed one will be
formed basing on the prior one:

So this formulation [is] only [for a] general focus. …in this step they
[form] the whole framework of study and will not change any
more,
[however] we are not the case because I am doing a based research,
it is a bit different. …after all this [the focus] is only a general decision,
we can say it as a initial decision. After this, the next step, we will
collect the information for our

based answer [from] the initial decision.
…we may find some new problems: oh, why did this happen? …so
this will become the feedback of the initial decision, maybe this
feedback will change the initial decision.

AH

also possessed a similar view that it is

necessary to repeat the process as
there are high possibilities of having altered need or stimulations:

I would imagine this model would have some cyclic component in that. For
example, if one is at the formulation stage, given a certain impulse or stimu
lus [they]
will probably go backwards to some stages. There is no limit [in] how many times we
would do that obviously. If we a
pply [the model]
to

research, you would probably do
it a repetitive kind or way. …it would be possible or even desirable to hav
e that
feedback
i
n

the initial stages.

The alternations of information need may be resulted from working through a
longer process


usually three to four years for a PhD student. This provided
considerable space for vivid alternations or refinements. Fos
ter
(
2004
)

suggests
information seeking as
shi
fting


a non
-
linear and recurrent process of selecting and
pruning according to one’s perceived relevance, while relevance is dynamic, varying
over different points in time
(
Borlund, 2003
)
. During the process of meaning
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13

construction, users often perceive transforming need and hence alter their behaviors
(
Tang & Solomon, 1998
)
. Chu & Law
(
2008
)

also find that postgraduat
e students’
need to keep
update their
knowledge

of the dynamic external context. CC described
her ISP as a cycle of presenting and collecting in response to the ever
-
changing
information environment:

…three years for the data collection and writing, it’s quite too long to
stop collecting. Es
pecially for me, something comes out everyday. So
I keep going around here [collection stage]. So even if, for instance,
after I finish the experiment, then I am going to start writing the report,
I still have to do a search again and see what is out the
re already.

4.2 Postgraduate students’ Formulation and Search Expertise

This session will focus on the relationship between formulating a focus and
the user’s search expertise level, by looking into the eight postgraduate students’
search experience. As m
entioned above, the formulation process received generally
high concern during the doctoral studies, that the students saw the need to refine
and perfect the focus by using con
siderable proportion of time.
The m
ore refine
d

the
focus is, the more
specifi
c

information need is identified, which in turn gives rise to
further refinement of the focus. This is obviously in line with Kuhlthau
(
2004
)
’s
findings. On the other hand, whether the increase of information search

expertise
level can help identifying the need, and formulating a focus still remains unclear. By
applying the RISE Model, students’ development of search expertise is assessed
according to their knowledge upon search skills and databases. Through observ
ing
how they perform in the topic
-
related tasks, their search expertise levels are
identified. At meanwhile, students’ thought index, through adopting Kuhlthau’s
coding system, will be assessed and compared with their search expertise level, for
the purpo
se of investigating the relationship twixt the two variables. This connection
is to
be verified by studying a case of two students’ usage
in depth.

In general, there is a steady growth of search expertise level of the eight
participants. Majority of
the students are regarded as novice user at the beginning,
while most of them have obtained the level of advanced
-
beginner with two of them
being perceived as competent users. Through scaffolding, in addition to their growth
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14

of knowledge on their research

domain, the participants tended to use more accurate
search terms, and basic operators as well as academic databases more often.

4.2.1 Search Terms

In the early stages, most of the students used either broader terms in
searching. For example, HC, in
meeting 1, used the broad term “image database”
for search, resulting in too many results. On one hand, this kind of performance
discloses that HC knew limitedly about how to form appropriate search statement,
and she was still constructing knowledge over

a general topic area on the other
hand. Similarly, MM has inputted plain phrases like “
conception of English writing

and

“a

conception of sports writing,


ending up a wide range of irrelevant findings.
With a failure of one term, she often turned to ot
her subject area without attempts in
refining the former query. The performances are both regarded as novice level of
searching. In the last meeting, however, HC has revealed a clearer thought by using
more specified terms like “information retrieval des
ign”, “information description”, and
“information display and access”. She has also learnt to rephrase, highlight or
discard the vocabularies in order to form more effective search statements by
several attempts. These vocabulary changes by the research
students are probably
resulted from intensive scaffolding and the narrowed information needs. RK also
shows the possible role of search expertise playing in formulation by recalling of
when he was encountering an obstacle on collection stage:

Right now I
am doing the data analysis, and I am writing the
discussion part. …I found that it is very difficult to find relevant
literatures. …I changed the key words and calmed down, think about
what Dr. Chu [the expert in scaffolding] talked to me in terms of
inf
ormation search. So, this maybe a problem of keywords… then I
changed the keywords and I found some relevant documents.


4.2.2 Operational Tactics

To formulate an effective search statement, having appropriate search terms
is not enough, as they need to b
e coordinated by using search operators, such as
the Boolean operators. In the first meeting, AC has shown the unfamiliarity in using
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15

the operators by receiving either “error” or too many results repetitively. He has
evaluated his search in this way:

Bef
ore I did not have clear direction to guide my search, and when I
encountered failure, I would give up and think whether it was due to
my own mistake. So I would start a totally new search, totally different
search. …I did not master it [search method] w
ell.

MM also expressed that she seldom used the operators since she possessed
little knowledge about them in the second meeting:

…it is important to know the meaning of different symbols [operators].
I used parentheses to show that I want the whole phra
se, which was
wrong. …you used truncation to represent both “concept” and
“conception”, which is very important. In this way, we can find more
articles, which is what I lack.

Most of the students have attained the advanced beginner level according to
the

RISE Model, that they used basic search operators AND and OR in forming
search statements most often. They have expressed the perceived difficulty in
attaining an upper level of usage (e.g. using the truncation operator), and suggested
more intensive tra
inings and extra practice might help, like MM revealed in the last
meeting that:

[I have] very limited knowledge about the symbols [operators].
Although I learned it before, I remember that. Still, I did not have a lot
of opportunities to practice using
those symbols [operators] in my daily
life. …I think it takes time to learn. The symbols [operators] are
definitely very helpful. But maybe it is too complicated for me…

4.2.3 Databases

The postgraduate students used a variety of information sources, ce
ntering on
search engines and academic databases. Some of the participants showed their
increasing knowledge upon the discipline
-
based databases (e.g. ERIC and
ProQuest) for Education researchers. There is a general decrease of relying on
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16

search engines
(e.g. google scholar) in search throughout the five meetings.
However, it seems that most of the students are satisfied with attaining certain level
of knowledge on databases and they were not willing to cover a wider range of
sources. MM is one of the s
tudents who stated the preference in sticking on one
source rather than increasing her familiarity with peripheral databases:

Another thing is the research just recommended to me the Web of
Science. I think in my study, I also do not use the database very

often.
I only use EBSCO. I do not know why, maybe this is a kind of habit.

About half of the participants stated that they seldom used WorldCat for their
own unfamiliarity with it and the less essentiality on using it. AH has expressed that:

I rarely
go to that [WorldCat] because I discovered many of the book I
need can be accessed through the [Hong Kong’s] library already, so I
just wonder, even if I find the book that is not in the [local] library, then
how long would it take for me to request that?
It might not be as
easy…

4.3 A Case Study on two students’ experience

To verify the findings,
a case study on two students’ experience of ISP was
carried out so as to compare the useful data in depth. Yin
(
1981
,
2009
)

has
proposed case study as a useful method as it contains a wide variety of evidence
and repetitive observations, and it is process
-
oriented. Kuhlthau
(
1999, p. 411
)

also
use case study to expl
ore the ISP experience in depth by understanding “how and
why these sources are used to accomplish a wide range of projects and tasks.” It is
suggested that an useful case study can lead to initiations of further case studies,
and thus enable the generali
zation of results
(
Case, 2007
)
. In this case, students RK
and XX are sampled with the intention of comparing their results. Their search
experiences in the 1
st
, 3
rd

and 5
th

meeting are to be examined, for the purpose of
thorough investigation on thre
e points of time (beginning, midpoint and closure). The
data from the ISP Model (thought index) and RISE Model (search expertise level) are
generated and compared in Figure 4.2.

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17


Figure 4.2
Comparison of two students’ thought index and search expertise l
evel.

4.3.1 Beginning

RK is perceived as more advanced in search expertise from the very
beginning, f
or his regular usage of two databases, namely EBSCO and Web of
Science, and his familiarity of using operators like AND, OR and truncations during
the sear
ch session. Also, he has already formed certain focus on his study. His
thought has been perceived as clear and certain,

resulting

in a higher level of
thought index.


For example, he was able to specify his need in a concise way:

The general topic would

be motivation. The specific theoretical
framework that I would be using will be goal theory and motivation. But
my specific interest should be the social academic goals.

On the other hand, XX was searching for the background information about
“mathematics

teaching and learning” at that moment, revealing a considerable level
of uncertainty and vagueness in picking effective search terms. According to the
RISE Model, XX could be categorized as a novice user at the beginning.


XX’s
knowledge of information s
ources seemed to be confined to online search engines
and library catalogs, and she did not use any databases throughout the first search
XX Search
Expertise, Meeting
1, 1

XX Search
Expertise, Meeting
3, 2

XX Search
Expertise, Meeting
5, 2

XX Thought,
Meeting 1,
1.666666667

XX Thought,
Meeting 3, 2

XX Thought,
Meeting 5, 3

RK Search
Expertise, Meeting
1, 2

RK Search
Expertise, Meeting
3, 3

RK Search
Expertise, Meeting
5, 3

RK Thought,
Meeting 1, 2

RK Thought,
Meeting 3,
2.333333333

RK Thought,
Meeting 5,
2.666666667

mean

XX Search Expertise
XX Thought
RK Search Expertise
RK Thought
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18

session.


She has

revealed the unfamiliarity of finding theses via academic
databases as well.


Furthermore, XX tended

to use plain phrases in forming search
terms instead of using appropriate operators.


As XX was still in the pre
-
focus
stages, in addition to the low search expertise level, she admitted that she has
encountered with significant search difficulties:

Somet
imes, when I fill in my keywords and click the search button, at
last I cannot obtain any articles or theses. There is no response for
me… Actually it is not very easy to think

bout related keywords. I think
that’s the problem. …It is very hard for me to
find useful articles.

4.3.2 Mid
-
point

During the mid
-
point,

RK has shown

an increase of the search expertise level
and topical specificity. RK was perceived as a competent user, in light of his
knowledge upon various information sources ranging from datab
ases (e.g.
Academic
Search Premier, EBSCOhost and ProQuest)
, interlibrary loan to other common web
sources (e.g. google and google scholar). Other than the familiarity of common
search operators, he also utilized a number of search features like
time cite
d

and
references
.


For example, RK has noted that:

They [The found articles] are all generally useful.


In the citations they
were cited [for] a lot of time [which] means the quality is good.

Talking about his topic and information need, RK expressed in a
more precise
way by spotting out narrowed search areas such as “students’ motivation”,
“academic achievement”, and “personal epistemology.” On the other hand,
XX has
selected the topic, by dropping “mathematics learning environment” and shifting to
“wiki
technology,” and was exploring on “writing”, “writing process” and “writing
theory.” She also mentioned that she was looking for information to support her
research in the ISP survey. These showed that her thought has been narrowed
enough to clarify the
information need. However, her knowledge upon the topic
seemed to be inadequate in helping her identify useful search terms:

Sometimes, I cannot think of enough or better keywords [by myself].
You [Dr. Chu] can help me widen my horizon [and] let me think

more
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19

keywords.

At meanwhile,
a progress in learning search skills was found in XX’s search,
that she started to use more keyword search and regularly searched in two
databases (ESBCOhost and ProQuest). Nevertheless, she somet
imes searched in a
similar wa
y
to

the first meeting. For

instance, only one query was formed for

the
whole

search without further refinements or alternations. And

she seemed to be
unfamiliar with

basic

operators like AND and ASTERISK, although she has learnt
those from the first two

meetings.


Overall speaking, the increasing rates of XX’s
thought index and search expertise level are lower than those of RK, especially in
terms of knowledge upon search skills.

4.3.3 Closure

It is found that there

is a general increase of search
expertise level of both
students after five training sessions, however

to varying extents.


RK has

acquired a
higher level of search skills, using advanced search operators (e.g. proximity) and
features (e.g.

time cited
,
references

and

related records
); at meanwhile, XX became
an advanced

beginner with reference to the RISE

Model, being knowledgeable
to

some

databases (e.g. ProQuest) and E
-
th
esis. Also, she was

capable
of

forming

search

statements that

received effective results. Although XX possesse
d
a

lower level of search expertise than RK,

both the two students have shown
effective knowledge construction and focus formulation. RK expressed his need
precisely:

I want to look at the relationship between 2 psychological constructs:
achievement goals

and wellbeing.

At meantime, XX’s cognition seemed to be clearer and more focused too, that she
has perceived the need to investigate into “
wiki
-
assisted Chinese language writing
among upper primary school students”.

It is worthwhile to note that the growt
h rate of search expertise level seems to
be unparalleled to that of thought index, as Figure 4.2 indicates that although the
students were found with slow progress in learning search skills during the latter
stages, both of their formulation processes acq
uired considerable positive
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20

development. Moreover, XX, equipped with a lower level of search expertise,
seemed to be more certain and have more deepened knowledge regarding her topic
and the focus


research question in the last meeting, showing a more dr
amatic
growth of thought index between the 3
rd

and 5
th

meetings and even a higher rate than
that of RK. It seems that achieving the advanced beginner level of search expertise
(mean = 2) is the critical point of XX’s formulation during the midpoint of res
earch.
On the other hand, RK has been experiencing a steady increase of thought index,
while he has already achieved the level of advanced beginner from the very
beginning. In other words, the findings suggest that research students have to
acquire the l
evel of advanced beginner in search expertise in lowest to achieve a
successful formul
ation, which is opposed to Chu and

Law
’s

(
2008
)

recommendation
that postgraduate researchers have to be at least the competent user in information
search to assist their research effectively. In general, most of the postgraduate
students are found satisfied when they learnt only a number of search ski
lls, as some
of them presented a higher concern of their knowledge development on their study
domain. For instance, MM saw the relatively low importance in learning search skills:

I seldom look at them [the research guides of UST Library and HKU
Libraries
], and I even do not know where I can find them. I do not
know why, may be I do not have the need to find the references at this
stage of my research. That’s why I do not try very hard to find some
tutorial materials or some training materials. But I th
ink they are also
very helpful. …but right now I do not want to learn that by myself
because the focus is not on finding references.







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21

5. CONCLUSION

By applying Kuhlthau’s

ISP Model in this study, the eight postgraduate
students’ search behaviors were found

to be

diverse and recursive.
The
m
ajority of
the students saw the formulation task as a process of finding research gap, or
forming research question. It seemed to be
a critical point when students’ thoughts
and feelings were transformed from general negative to positive, which is parallel to
Kuhlthau’s assumption. For a research usually lasting for two to three years, the PhD
students agreed that it was necessary to r
epeat all/some of the ISP stages. Most of
them have found difficulties during formulating and refining a suitable focus that was
innovative in their research field and that was in line with the supervisors’ thoughts.
Certain level of search expertise sho
uld help them in identifying useful information
and thus formulation. This assumption seems to be verified by a case study, that
when students achieved to the advanced beginner level, their ability to formulate
seemed to increase more significantly. Howe
ver, it is worth to note that, some of the
students have perceived that certain knowledge of search expertise should be
enough for their research. A general low level of perceived importance in mastering
search skills has explained why most of them were p
erceived as novice user before
the trainings, and they only attained the level of advanced beginner after.

By spotting the differences during the ISP and students’ perception in search
expertise, information specialists could raise that information liter
acy training is
essential for the research students, in light of their need of searching for tremendous
information, identifying the “real” need, and refining the information use over time.
Information skills training are especially useful before their fo
rmulation process. Last
but not least, structured and systematic training approach is called for the doctoral
students, seeing their initial inadequacy in search skills and knowledge, their general
low incentive in learning information skills, and their s
ignificant growth after the
training sessions.





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