Online Research Behaviors of Engineering Graduate Students in Taiwan

By Cheng, Ying-Hsueh; Tsai, Chin-Chung | Educational Technology & Society, January 2017 | Go to article overview

Online Research Behaviors of Engineering Graduate Students in Taiwan


Cheng, Ying-Hsueh, Tsai, Chin-Chung, Educational Technology & Society


Introduction

With the rapid development of digital technologies, a variety of sources ranging from Google/Google Scholar to library databases such as the Web of Science and Scopus play crucial roles in graduate students' information seeking processes when they are confronted with certain research tasks (Du & Evans, 2011; Rempel, 2010). Using search engines and library databases as entry points, graduate students need to specify keywords for searches, browse search results, chase references, assess and extract relevant information from sources, and synthesize information for specific research purposes (George, Bright, Hurlbert, Linke, St Clair, & Stein, 2006). However, for most graduate students, mastering these skills can be difficult because they might lack the ability to critically process and evaluate academic literature and thus fail to effectively retrieve information (Ismail & Kareem, 2011; Wu & Tsai, 2007).

How graduate students actually handle and use online information for research purposes has received increasing attention (Al-Muomen, Morris, & Maynard, 2012; Catalano, 2013; Kerins, Madden, & Fulton, 2004). During the past decades, several studies have examined graduate students' information searching behaviors in diverse disciplines, including law (Makri, Blandford, & Cox, 2008), the humanities (Barrett, 2005; Bronstein, 2007), physics and astronomy (Jamali & Nicholas, 2010), and basic and medical sciences (Hemminger, Lu, Vaughan, & Adams, 2007; Liang & Tsai, 2009). However, few studies have been undertaken to investigate graduate engineering students' searching behaviors. As Harrison (2009) pointed out, "student engineers are almost universally not technological novices and they know their way around the online world, but being able to work out which algorithm a search engine uses to produce results is not the same thing as being able to work out how to get useful results from that search engine quickly and efficiently" (p. 68). Harrison highlights the challenge of retrieving useful information with the least effort for engineering students. This implies the need to examine engineering students' searching practices and strategies in this rapidly changing digital era. This study was thus conducted to address these issues that are often not taught in the classroom.

Literature review

Graduate students' online research behaviors

During the past decades, terms such as information searching or seeking have been used to describe how Web users find and select appropriate information resources to increase their knowledge (Ellis, 1993; Lee & Cho, 2011; Wang, Liang, & Tsai, 2014). Considering this study, we use the term online research behaviors, coined by Biddix, Chung, and Park (2011), to indicate the intricate information seeking processes academic novices such as graduate students actually engage in.

For some time now, researchers have been interested in understanding graduate students' online research behaviors relating to information searching activities and strategies (Ismail & Kareem, 2011; Makri et al., 2008; Vibert, Rouet, Ros, Ramond, & Deshoullieres, 2007). Some have conducted large-scale studies with the intention of categorizing students' search behaviors across diverse disciplines (Du & Evans, 2011; Ellis, Cox & Hall, 1993; George et al., 2006; Rempel, 2010). For example, examining doctoral students' searching patterns across natural and social science disciplines, Du and Evans (2011) found that these students adopted various strategies, including interacting with multiple search systems (search engines, online databases, specific websites), relying on popular search engines such as Google or Google Scholar, modifying keywords or search queries (using the Boolean operators: and, or, not) and other operators (* "" +), as well as looking for two or more topics simultaneously.

In contrast, others have adopted a discipline-based approach (Grafstein, 2002; Jamali & Nicolas, 2010). …

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