Students Personal Information Management
The purpose of this study is to reveal one of the everyday activities of students in the
Personal Information Management (PIM). Personal Information
Management (PIM) refers to the activities users perform in order to organize the infor
items in their personal information spaces (e.g. desktops, folders and emails). PIM is a new
digital literacy which plays a central role when students work on their assignments. This study
present PIM as one of the new phenomena in the digital and m
obile technology environment in
which the learners live today, and shows the various meanings of PIM in the learning context. A
qualitative phenomenology method was used in this study and in
depth interviews were
conducted with 41 students and data files,
describing the list of files and folders (full paths) for
25 users, were collected. These data files include raw data describing
files and folders,
which are related to learning tasks. The main findings are reported.
In today's world, technology has become a centric tool in our everyday lives. Increasingly, mobile tools
allow us to work with our information anytime and anywhere (Jones, 2008). People use information
studies, work and leisure
in their homes
, in their offices, in the street or any other place. They find, save and
organize this information in their own personal information spaces.
spaces contain information items which
encountered in public information spaces. Personal information
spaces are collections of information items
that users save and organize over the years (Bruce, 2005). The creation and organization of personal information
spaces is one of the new cornerstones of the ever
changing reciprocal processes between humans and
in the knowledge age.
knowledge today has been set free and it now facilitates dynamic adaptive and
personalized experiences (Siemens, 2006), and this change is characterized by the abundance of available
information, information spread, hyp
er textual information, multiple information and multiple formats of
information items (Salomon, 2000). Therefore, PIM has become a central and essential activity in the learning
one of the new literacies the learner has to acquire today (Mioduse
ias & Forkosh
research explores PIM as a centric phenomenon in the new digital and mobile technology
environment in which the learners live today, and deals with the questions that are raised about the various
meanings of PIM as
a reciprocal process between students and information in learning.
PIM is the activity by which a person keeps, saves and organizes the information items in order to
retrieve them at a later stage, it is intended to support the activities
users perform in organizing their daily lives
through the acquisition, organization, maintenance, retrieval and sharing of information (Bergman, Beyth
& Nachmias, 2003; Teevan, Jones & Bederson, 2006). The user
subjective approach to PIM systems (Ber
Marom & Nachmias, 2003; 2008) puts forward three personal information management attributes: the
Project Attribute, which is a user
subjective classification based on his projects; the Importance Attribute, which
is the organization of items ac
cording to their importance and relevance to the user; and the Context Attribute
where a user saves and retrieves his information items according to the context in which he uses them. The same
item can be used by different users in different contexts.
ies examined PIM activities in various collections, emails, files, images and favorites. These studies
users' PIM organization strategies (Malone, 1983; Whittaker & Sidner, 1996; Abrams, Baecker &
Chignell, 1998; Fisher, et al., 2006), retrieving
behaviors (Cutrell, Dumais, & Teevan, 2006; Blanc
Scapin, 2007; Bergman, et al., 2008) and personal information space structures (Whittaker & Hirschberg, 2001;
Jaffe et al., 2009; Bergman et al., 2010). Previous studies found that users orga
nize their personal
information items for various purposes: work, studies or leisure (Boardman & Sasse, 2004), Kaye et al., (2006)
reveal in their study that users also manage personal information items in order to create a legacy, to share
resources, to c
onfront fears and anxieties, and for identity construction. Jones et al., (2005) found that users
utilized the folder structure in order to understand their project and its components. Pratt et al., (2006) report in a
study, which examined personal informa
tion health management, that PIM enables patients to make decisions and
acquire a sense of ownership over their treatment and the information related to their illness.
In students’ everyday lives PIM activities play a central role in the learning process
, as students save,
categorize and retrieve the learning related information items for their assignments. Today students can easily
reach and keep an enormous number of digital information items merely by a few clicks on their PCs, wherever
they are, and t
herefore, the organization activities have become challenging, and the interaction with the personal
archive occupies a significant place in the learning tasks. In order to examine PIM in the learning context, it is
important to note that PIM requires a gr
eat deal of time and effort (Kljun & Carr 2004), and involves cognitive
processes: naming, sorting, categorizing, evaluating and understanding the item contents (Lansdale, 1988;
Whittaker & Sidner, 1996; Jones et al., 2005). Moreover, PIM has affective asp
ects: negative emotions such as
guilt, frustration and dissatisfaction, alongside positive emotions such as confidence, satisfaction, sense of
ownership and sentimental aspects (Bellotti & Smith, 2000; Boardman, Spence & Sasse, 2003; Boardman &
; Marshall & Jones, 2006; Jones et al., 2008;
Lindley, 2010; Whittaker
Previous studies examined various aspects of PIM in learning contexts; Chang & Ko
student PIM activity during thesis and dissertation research. They found that the students had specific needs such
as backup problems and version management. The students preferred the use of "list" and "detail" over "icons"
and "tiles", a
nd relied on item names which reflected the contents. They also found strategies regarding the time
of creating a new folder: pre
builder students who create new folders which are planned before they produce any
new item, and post builders, students who cr
eate new folders after a certain number of items have been collected.
Robinson (2010) found that PIM has become more complicated due to the rapidly changing digital formats, and
students today need to adopt broad strategies to deal with their electronic re
sources and traditional print
resources, and to integrate other emerging information formats, of personal interactions with peers, via social
networking websites (Tweets, RSS, Facebook, etc.). Barreau (2008) raises the question about the relationship
between PIM and learning, and puts forward the challenge of identifying PIM in novices and in experts (Barreau,
2008). In the last few years, we have witnessed an abundance of new opportunities for users to save and organize
personal information items wit
h new PIM tools and new PIM spaces using mobile devices and cloud
technologies. Therefore a new approach for PIM studies has been proposed which focuses more on user
in order to improve their personal information management, as an alternative to t
oriented approach which
aims to improve the practice of PIM by offering new improved tools (Kim 2012). Mioduser, Nachmias &
Baruch (2009) include PIM as one of the new literacies students need in order to acquire knowledge in
eover, PIM activities have importance in the learning process which stems from the activities of
creating, managing and constructing information archives and which is greatly valued in the constructivist and
constructionism approaches to learning. Accordin
g to the constructivist approach to learning, knowledge is
acquired through a process whereby learners actively integrate new knowledge with previous knowledge.
Ausubel (1960) claimed that the learning materials, organized in advance, facilitate learner re
tention; therefore he
proposed using an advanced organizer prior to learning. Jonassen, Carr & Yueh (1998) demonstrated that while
students use applications to represent their knowledge, out of necessity they engage in thinking about the content
they are s
tudying. The constructionism approach extends the idea of constructive learning to the idea that learning
is most effective when the learner actively experiences the construction of a meaningful product; another term
used by Papert in order to clarify cons
tructionism is "learning
making" (Papert and Harel, 1991; Papert, 1980).
Hence, PIM activities and the electronic filing cabinets allow users to store information in an organized database
that facilitates retrieval and equips students with tools to orga
nize, analyze and integrate diverse subject matter
information items into a personal knowledge archive.
In addition, according to the Distributed Cognition approach, cognition and knowledge are not limited to
the individual; they are distributed among ind
ividuals, objects and tools. A cognitive unit analysis includes a
range of mechanisms that may be assumed to participate in cognitive processes (Holland, Hutchins & Kirsh,
2000; Hutchins, 2000). According to this approach, it is most important to analyze t
he personal information space
in order to understand the student's learning process.
The personal information space enables students to create a mediation space between the vast amount of
information on the web space and the limited capacity of the human
mind. In the learning process there are three
information spaces that are involved: 1. The Public Information Space
the information the student encounters in
the world, this information is accessible to many people. The information in the public space is
according to objective parameters, keywords, dates or authors. 2. The Inner Information Space includes the
information items that the student already knows
this space includes the information items that were added to the
cognitive systems as a
result of the learning process. 3. The Personal Information Space
in this space the user
keeps the information items that he collects from the public space as well as the information he creates from the
inner space. The personal information space is the
space in the middle (Hardof
Jaffe & Nachmias, 2011). As time
passes, the information in the personal information space changes according to the context of the work
added, items change their position and other items are deleted (Krishnan & Jone
In order to examine PIM in the learning context, we have developed a conceptual framework (figure 1)
which comprises three main components: (1) Personal information space characteristics: the structural
characteristics (size, item ty
pe and structure) and the management characteristics (goals, strategies, cognitive
skills and the affective aspects). (2) The student's characteristics: his age, the information overload he deals with,
and his technological literacy skills. (3) The learnin
g environment characteristics, which lead students to create
and cultivate personal information spaces: the learning environment approach, the collaborative requirement of
the assignments, and the web based learning component in the environment (Hardof
fe & Nachmias, 2011).
Figure 1. A conceptual framework of personal information management & learning
Three research questions are raised from the conceptual framework; in this presentation we will address only two
1) What are the
implications of personal information management in the learning process?
2) What are the relationship between the student characteristics and the personal information management
A qualitative phenomenology method was used in
this study to enable the examination of phenomena in
their contexts, particularly where the boundaries between the phenomenon and its context are vague (Creswell,
1998). 41 Israeli students participated in the study: 10 high school students, 15 undergradu
ate students and 16
postgraduate students. All the students participated in in
depth interviews in front of their personal computers. All
interviews included three stages (Seidman, 1991). The first part of the interview focused on the student
th computers and the current personal information space. In the second, and major part of the
interview, the students described their personal information space organization and management and how they
manage their personal information items, and demonstra
ted the details of PIM activities in two of their recent
assignments. At the end of the interview the students were asked to think aloud about the importance of their PIM
activities in the learning assignments. All the contents of the interviews were writt
en down, the texts were
separated into sections and sections were divided into content units and then analyzed. Finally, data files
describing the list of files and folders (full paths) for 25
were collected. This data was collected using a
ich was written for this research. These data files include raw data describing
files and folders,
related to learning tasks. The data presents the personal information spaces size, structures, file
numbers, folder numbers, items fo
rmats, hierarchy depth, average file per folder and the maximum and minimum
number of files per folder.
The first research question findings indicate that students attribute great importance to their personal
information space and the managemen
t thereof, and that it constitutes a central place in the learning process,
live it… all these folders, I come home after studying, I don’t enter my room, (and) my life is here "
. They use it for
managing the learning activity, organizing and reflecting
on information, and for enabling accessibility to
learning information items. The size of personal information spaces has a wide range; however, all are
characterized by continuous accelerated growth,
"I never delete… I don’t need it but still it is there
always stuff you want to keep"
. The student information spaces are located on the web, PCs, laptops or on mobile
devices, and are characterized in various structures and management strategies: 13 students (31.7%) used the
piling strategy, 18 students (43.9%) organized their learning it
ems in folders by course names (some of them
divided the courses into years and semesters) and 10 students (24.4%) organized some of the learning items by
subjects (in addition to the filing by course strategy), reflecting the contents and the purposes of
items contained therein. These students were defined in this study as using the filing by subject strategy. The
filing by subject strategy was used for long term assignments which required the collection and integration of a
variety of info
rmation sources, and the filing of items with no clear purpose; encounter items, items that could be
useful in the future: "this is an article on sitcoms, I thought I might need it one day, when I have to do an
assignment, maybe I will do it on TV sitcoms,
therefore I saved it".
It was found that students set themselves long and short term functional goals (short term goals
long term goals 80.5%), cognitive goals (41.5%) and affective goals (24.4%). The findings show that PIM
activities require cog
nitive skills: memorizing, naming, sorting, analyzing, evaluation, and reflection. They also
found that the personal information space is used by students to perform brainstorming with themselves on
"here I do the brainstorming"
it was recognized that the personal information space has
the potential to become a constructive learning tool which allows students a continuous process in which they
organize information items in existing knowledge; creation of semantic connections; cons
truction of information
databases; collaborative constructive interaction.
"…for every topic in the study I create a folder… here I have a
folder for a subtopic"
"I move the plan from here to there and then start a new one (information item), it includes
new stuff and old stuff, I do not invent the wheel over and over again", "In this folder I have few stages of the
assignment; I work on each chapter separately and then join them together under the task folder"
"I sent her
everything. She prepared a prese
ntation from all the materials that I collected, it was in my filed
had these materials already… she organized them into a presentation"
Many affective sayings appeared in 22 students’ interviews (53.7%), showing that personal information
space management leads to varied affective attitudes, and it seems that the emotional efforts place a burden on the
"I don’t like many files"
"if it doesn’t interest me, it just won't happen"
"I really don’t
care about it"
"I am afraid of…"
; on the other hand, it should be noted that there were students who felt that
building their own personal information space made them feel good, as they felt a sense of control and ownership
over these spaces and the information items in
I prepare myself before the semester starts (he collects files
and creates folders for the courses)"
"I feel it (the files) belongs to me"
"here is everything I have"
. There were
major differences in style and PIM characteristics between the stude
nts. These differences were reflected in how
they collected, retrieved and organized these items, which resulted from diverse strategies, goals, space size, the
efforts invested in managing the space and the students' attitudes towards the items in their p
space. Based on these differences we defined six styles of personal information management: the efficient (19
students), the professional or the "PIMIST" (10 students), the unaware (7 students), the hoarder (2 students), the
(2 students) and the anxious (only one student).
The second research question examined the relationship between the student's characteristics
his information overload and his technology literacy
and the way in which he organizes his persona
items. It was found that the outstanding variable that related to PIM activities was the student's age, and the most
significant differences were found between the high school students and the university students. The differences
were found i
n a few aspects: with regard to the implications and the importance the students attribute to PIM in the
learning process. The academic students indicated that the personal information space was important and central
to their learning process. In contrast,
the high school students weren’t aware of the importance of this space, and
they were certainly not aware of its centrality in the learning process. Moreover it was found that the high school
students had a small number of learning related information ite
ms (Table 1), and they did not put any effort into
organizing them "
I will never need to go back to them"
"I don’t really care"
, the academic students had many
information items and in their interviews they mentioned many dilemmas, difficulties and the
use the PIM
activities in varied ways in order to enhance their learning, and they use it for functional long term goals,
ive goals and affective goals
. Further differences were found
in PIM strategies
: only one of the ten high
school students did
not use piling strategy for the learning materials, and filing by subject was found mostly in the
(8 out of 10).
Average no of
Table 1. Students' personal information space items (n=25)
It was also found that the student's information overload
is related to
his PIM characteristics. 9 students
felt that they are
an information overload 7 (out of these 9) students used filing by course strategy, and two of
them also used filing by subject. All the students (9) set short and long functional goals, 7 had also set cognitive
goals and 4 set affective goals. These stud
ents use some specific interesting strategies to
eal with their
information overload: 1.
of automatic tools for organization
e.g. filing rules and collection rules. 2.
and deletion policies
y PIM activities
organization activities of information items
(e.g. exams, end of semester). The students felt
that the overload is usually
information items that are sent
to them and from the ones they have chosen
to collect, such as emails, feeds, RSS.
Finally it was found that the students
' technology literacy didn't have
the students PIM activities, more
over few of the students had qui
poor technology skills and still
of PIM activities, using
their personal information space
for enhancing learning by
classification, sorting, naming, and other
Conclusions and Implications
Personal information space management enables the learner to create a mediation space between his
knowledge and the wide range of information items available to him on web spaces. The research findings verify
that personal information spaces have become an
extension of the learner's cognitive abilities. They allow him to
reflect on, evaluate, analyze and categorize the information items he has collected, and to integrate them into new
themes. Furthermore, the findings show that the personal information spac
e has become an inseparable objective
of the student's cognitive system, as suggested by the distributed cognition approach (Hutchins, 2001).
implications of this research are first and foremost the awareness of the importance of PIM activities
as a central skill which provides tools for students to
cognitive and affective processes.
This awareness enables the fulfillment of the potential of these activities to enhance learning. This study
demonstrates that there is no single way to manage personal information, and supports the behavioral approach to
PIM which claims that users should be guided in order to improve their personal information management skills.
This is contrary to the tool
oriented approach which aims to improve PIM practice by offering new improved
tools (Kim, 2012). Moreover, this stu
dy shows that PIM is one of the new literacies students must need to acquire
Nachmias & Forkosh
Baruch, 2009), and it should be learned as a flexible and constantly
changing process in which the students evaluate and adopt tools and strate
gies according to their changing tasks
and circumstances. The exposure to PIM activities, which occurs while working on learning assignments, could
improve the ability of students to cope with information in the ongoing process of acquiring knowledge.
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