Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Professional Education in Expert Search: A Content Model

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Professional Education in Expert Search: A Content Model

Article excerpt

This paper presents a descriptive model of the subject matter taught in courses on expert search in ALA-accredited programs, answering the question: What is taught in formal professional education on search expertise? The model emerged from a grounded content analysis of 44 course descriptions and 16 syllabi, and was validated via a review of literature on search instruction. The model provides a framework for further research on the pedagogy of professional search education, and its role in the development of search expertise.

Keywords: search expertise, professional search, online search, search education, qualitative content analysis

Professional Education in Expert Search: A Content Model

Search expertise falls along a spectrum, with professional expert searchers at one end and novice searchers at the other. The learning process involved in gaining expertise has received limited research attention. One obvious and important source of search expertise is formal education in LIS programs, but few studies have investigated how professional education contributes to the development of expert knowledge in this area. Understanding how expertise is gained will aid in the development of new approaches for supporting the acquisition of expertise through instruction and system design. In a step toward that goal, the present study addresses the question: What is taught in formal professional education on search expertise? The last comprehensive study on this question was reported by HsiehYee in 1997.

This paper presents a descriptive model of the subject matter taught in courses on expert search in graduate programs accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Specifically, the study focuses on general, domain-independent courses, in contrast with domain-specific courses in areas such as medicine, government documents, or legal information. The model was developed via grounded content analysis of course descriptions, thus it describes what is taught, but not how it is taught. Search is one subject area in programs of study in LIS, and the content of search education is but one component of the professional knowledge comprising that curriculum (Levander & Mikkola, 2009). A complete analysis of search education would cover this broader context, as well as learning goals, teaching methods, feedback, and assessment, but these are beyond the scope of this paper. Lucas and Topi (2005) examined search education in the context of a training paradigm, but the present study adopts the framework of professional education (Eraut, 1994; Rubin & Rubin, 2012), where the learning objectives are competence and understanding in preparation for skilled professional practice (Kinchin & Cabot, 2010; Shulman, 2005). In this view, professional expertise arises from two learning processes. In one process, students gain competence by practicing the procedures of the profession, with emphasis on performance. In the other process, students gain understanding by learning why practice is structured as it is, and how practice is adapted in differing circumstances; here the emphasis is on reasoning, judgment, and values. Expertise, or skilled professional practice, develops with increased fluency in the transitions between the two forms of knowledge. The present study provides context for future analyses of student learning, and offers a framework for broader discussion of the curricula and pedagogy of search education.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. First, a literature review provides background on the evolution and role of search education, and related prior studies. We then describe the research method. The next section presents the model, which we then validate by means of a second literature review. The paper concludes with a summary and discussion of future work.

Literature Review

Evolution and Role of Search Education

Before the advent of natural language queries and ranked retrieval, online search required an understanding of database structures and a command of the counterintuitive Boolean query language. …

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