i3 conference in Aberdeen. Meriem Tebourbi presented a paper coauthored with Hideo Joh: Information Seeking Behaviour of International Students: A Case study of the University of Tsukuba, Japan . Her research aim was to uncover the information needs of international students at the university and to understand the patterns of information seeking behaviour. This was done through an online questionnaire aimed at English speaking students at the university.
The background is the growing internationalisation of Japanese higher education, with the Ministry of Education setting targets for recruiting more international students, and the actual number rising steadily. The University of Tsukuba has exchange agreements with over 300 institutions and has students coming from very different cultures, which leads to many information needs, with differences in language and culture being major barriers to acquiring information.
Previous studies of international students in Japan have, for example, identified that material needs, but not emotional needs, might be met by the host universities.
The participants were asked about their information needs relating to campus life, and had separate sections about different types of information channel (e.g. social networking, offline sources). They were also asked about helpfulness of, and frustrations with, the channels.The respondents came from many different countries. All channels (online, offline, mailing list and official website) were all used, with mailing lists being most used, and the offline sources were the favourite ones.
Different channels were used for different kinds of topic but (for example) all were useful for campus life information. This seemed to reflect their wide range of needs e.g. university procedures, events, visa information, job opportunities, news about natural disasters (as Japan has a lot of earthquakes, typhoons etc.: social media was best for that). Problems particularly centred around lanuguage (e.g. no English translation; an example was given of an incorrect translation of vital information about a coursework deadline), and spam or overposting of information.
This led to the observation that students tended to overlook information when it's only in Japanese, and they did not make so many efforts to understand it. Since students also preferred human information channels, then it would be beneficial if the university employed more English-speaking tutors to support the students.
Photo by Sheila Webber: the room the talk took place in (though obviously not during the talk)