Analysis of Japanese undergraduate students' information behavior during academic tasks in a Canadian university

Authors


Abstract

This poster session will report preliminary results from doctoral research that investigates how Japanese students, as a sample of international students in Canadian universities, perform their academic tasks and to what extent they are information literate.

The number of international students, particular from non-North American and non-European countries, has greatly increased in recent decades in North American post-secondary academic institutions. Although their intellectual and financial contributions are significant, their experience after enrolment is often neglected, which leads to dissatisfaction. Thus, it is important for academic institutions to improve international students' experience to facilitate their academic success. Among various potential solutions, improvement of information literacy skills is especially important for students' academic success in today's information intense environment.

However, academic libraries struggle to answer the question of how they can provide support for international students with diverse needs, experiences, and expectations. Before planning strategies to improve their skills, it is critical for academic institutions to understand how students conduct research and to what extent they are information literate. Using multiple qualitative methodologies, Japanese undergraduate students' information behavior will be investigated and assessed using information behavior models (how students behaved) and information literacy standards (how well the behavior was conducted).

This research will generate knowledge of how they perform their research and the extent to which their behaviors during their research tasks are information literate. An understanding of how various factors affect their behavior will deepen understanding of why students are or are not information literate. The research findings will contribute to the capacity of North American academic libraries to facilitate international students' success in academia.

Introduction

International students offer Canadian universities an international perspective, add diversity to classrooms, bring financial benefits to both universities and local communities, and contribute intellectually to their academic fields (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2002). Despite their contributions, recruitment of students is not always accompanied by attention to their experience after enrolment, which may contribute to dissatisfaction. As a result, international students may come to think they are simply financial resources for universities (Andrade, 2006). It is important for academic institutions to improve international students' experience to facilitate their academic success. This poster session will report preliminary results from doctoral research that investigates how Japanese students, as a subset of international students in Canadian universities, perform their academic tasks and to what extent they are information literate. The research findings will contribute to the capability of North American academic libraries to support international students' success in academia.

Background

According to data from Statistics Canada (2007), international students increased from 30,885 in 1995 to 73,386 in 2004. The number of students from non-North American and non-European countries is particularly significant (e.g., China, India, and South Korea). Considering that the population has been increasing, academic libraries need to be active in improving students' learning experiences and facilitating their intellectual contributions in Canada. Among various choices, improving their information literacy is an important potential solution for students' academic success in today's information intense environment.

Researchers argue that international students tend to have barriers to information literacy development due to their cultural and linguistic differences (e.g., Sarkodie-Mensah, 1998). However, the research tends to focus on librarians' opinions, perceptions, and experience rather than on empirical evaluations of students (Curry & Copeman, 2005). Other studies are based on students' self-assessment of the skills, which limits understanding of students' actual information literacy skills (e.g., Ishimura, Howard, & Moukdad, 2008). Thus, before planning strategies to improve their skills, first, it is critical for academic institutions to understand how students conduct research and to what extent they are information literate.

Information behavior models consider each process (information needs, seeking and use) as interdependent and dynamic, but they do not address the outcome of each element of the process (e.g., Wilson, 1999). On the other hand, information literacy is concerned with the “quality” of each behavior in relation to its desired outcomes; each step is considered as independent (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000). The present research combines both information behavior models and information literacy standards to complement existing research and reveal a more complete picture of students' information literacy.

Research Questions

This study is guided by a primary question with two secondary questions:

  • What are Japanese students' information behaviors during their research tasks?

  • What factors (e.g., personal, social, and linguistic) influence information behavior during the research task?

  • To what extent are the behaviors information literate?

Methods

The participants in the study are ten Japanese undergraduate Humanities majors in their third or fourth year of study at McGill University. In this study, Japanese students are defined as students whose mother tongue is Japanese, who graduated from Japanese high schools, and who have been in Canada for less than five years. Participants select one research assignment to be examined during the study. Their information behavior and information literacy skills are investigated from the beginning to the completion of their research tasks using: 1) a research portfolio, 2) semi-structured in-depth interviews, and 3) flowcharts.

Research portfolios are used to capture information behavior and levels of students' information literacy skills. This approach makes it possible to examine students' higher-order skills (e.g., analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), work process and strategies toward the goal, problem-solving skills in real settings, and reflection on their performance during the tasks (Salvia, Ysseldyke, & Bolt, 2007). Each participant is asked to select one research assignment from a particular class or project. Students' portfolios include all activities related to their research tasks from the beginning of the research process to its completion. For example, students record their decision-making processes (e.g., paper topics and resources to use), the search process, ideas that arise during brainstorming, and actions taken. Their reflection on their actions is included as well. Finally, students' final papers and projects are analyzed to reveal their higher-order skills. There is a high probability that participants will not record their activities on a daily basis. In order to avoid this, the researcher regularly contacts students and tracks their activity progress through email.

In addition to the portfolio data, in-depth semi-structured interviews reveal how context affects students' information behavior. In particular, a phenomenological approach is used to understand students' lived experience of a particular situation as opposed to the experience that exists external to them without “taxonomizing, classifying, or abstracting” (Van Manen, 1990, p. 9). Three individual in-depth interviews with each participant are conducted following the three-step interview guidelines designed by Seidman (2006).

Finally, following Kuhlthau's (2004) approach, participants in this study create flowcharts as a part of the data collection. By mapping and diagramming their process, the researcher will be able to see the research steps, all important events, strategies, and decision making points in the research steps participants followed. This will be carried out during the second interview session.

The data collected from the students' research portfolios, interviews, and flowcharts will be consolidated and analyzed using constant comparative methods (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The data from each student will be analyzed and their information literacy skills will be assessed according to the ACRL information literacy standards (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000). The results of each student's behavior will be compared to find commonalities and differences among them.

Anticipated Results

It is expected that this research will provide a holistic picture of individual Japanese student's research processes during their research tasks. The process will be matched with and assessed by the ACRL information literacy standards. This will generate knowledge of how they perform their research and what kind of information literacy skills students possess or lack during their research tasks. An understanding of which elements affect their behavior will add another layer of understanding as to why their behaviors are information literate or not.

Significance of the Study

Academic libraries struggle to answer the question of how they can provide support for international students with diverse needs, experiences, and expectations. To answer these questions, it is necessary to investigate one specific international student group as an initial, but important step. Later, this study could be replicated with other groups. Thus, this will become a fundamental framework for future research to understand the larger population of international students.

This research is unique in its merging of the concepts of information behavior (more closely associated with the scholarly community) and information literacy (more closely associated with the practitioner community). In acquiring this knowledge of international students, academic libraries will be able to better meet students' needs and facilitate their intellectual contributions to Canadian academic institutions.

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