Monday, March 25, 2013

Exploring the information-seeking experiences of mature learners #lilac13

Here at the LILAC conference #lilac in Manchester I'm at the session “Time’s a factor here!” Exploring the information-seeking experiences of mature learners from Sarah Clark, Rogers State University. She had put some quotes from her research on her blog She is Assistant Library Director and is a PhD student investigating the information-seeking experiences of mature students (she was presenting results of her pilot study). She saw the research problem as that, while IL is a key skill, the uncertainties of information seeking may lead a mature student to believe they are incapable of success, and librarians can help the students navigate that process, if they understand the students' context.

The participants were at a university (Northeastern State) which has a lot of "non traditional" students, for example older and studying part time. She used comfortable venues for her interviews, using a narrative inquiry approach. Sarah was looking at the students' experience through the lens of Carol Kuhlthau's information seeking model: you can find out about that on Kuhlthau's page here:

Sarah presented the stories of a couple of the participants. In "Ashley's story", Ashley was 44, with 3 adult children. She felt "blocked and overwhelmed". She was blocked by the APA format and having to conform to presenting in particular layouts and she found "research" stressful. There was a lot of fear and anxiety. However it was something she found difficult to talk about with teachers and librarians, as she said that "smart people intimidate her". A key stimulus for improving her confidence was a new relationship, with a boyfriend who encouraged her to study actively. In conclusion, on one hand she felt she was a "lost cause" and on the other felt that she was discovering more strength than she thought.

Veronica's story was the second one. She was 39, a single mother, who had left school early and working part time while she studied. A key thing for her was her passion about topics, which kept her going through the ups and down of researching the topic. Veronica felt she needed that personal interest to motivate herself to get stuck into an assignment. Time was at a premium for her (a reson why she preferred topics she was already knowledgeable about). In contrast with Ashley, she did ask for help and had found a librarian useful, and showed her work to her peers and teachers to help improve it. She also "hopes to help others via her writing."

Sarah compared the two stories. Similarities were technology travails (using applications, access to teh internet etc.), citation style struggles, challenges with personal life (but which they downplayed as causes of stress), and managing time. Contrasts were "supportive and unsupportive relationships", "university as helper or obstacle", "feeling passionate vs. feeling blocked".

Looking at the stories through the lens of Kuhlthau's model, Veronica was able to negotiate all the stages in the process, building on preexisting strengths. Ashley had major problems at the explore, formulate and collect stage, and at the present stage (particularly in terms of "actions"). One of Sarah's conclusions was that information literacy and reference did not seem to influence the affective domain (feelings). Also experiences from outside the library influenced attitudes about searching and the library. Both students "seemed to be driven (or blocked) by their feelings."

I think a key message for me was the importance of looking at learners in their own context and working through the different complicated factors that are impacting their life as learners. This can help educators and librarians to help the learners more effectively.

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