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The growing number of local, regional, international teachers and students continues to expand the pool of those using the Web for educational purposes. Within this expansion, many educators may begin to perceive teaching and learning in new ways. For example, students may not only use technology to access information, but also to create information. As a result, products once seen as term papers, exhibits or experiments, may now be shaped in paperless fashion, using word processing, spreadsheets, etc., from Web information and prepared on disk or as Web-based materials. Teachers may not only assign students the use of technology for research, but may also employ technology to observe and diagnose their students' thinking and search processes.
Despite the benefits the Web provides (e.g., free access to resources, interactivity, multimedia interface, etc.), both children and adults experience information retrieval problems (Bilal & Wang, 1998). Although adults may be able to refine their searches to solve information overload problems and increase document relevancy, children remain at a disadvantage for two main reasons: First, many lack a conceptual understanding of the information search process, and second, their limited knowledge base and developmental cognitive ability compound the challenge of searching. Studies on K-12 students' behavior in seeking information reveal that although they perceive themselves as motivated and competent in using technology (Watson, 1998), many children experience difficulties in formulating search strategies, and do not understand research processes (Bilal, 1998; Borgman and Hirsch; Kuhlthau, 1996).
In effect, students may be novices in seeking and evaluating information, generally. In the traditional information provision paradigm, school and public librarians reserve specific resources to meet the school assignment research needs. In serving students, these professionals often locate the required sources, assist students in finding the specific information and provide feedback to examine their satisfaction with the information sought. As sources available in the library or media center, their contents would rarely be questioned for reliability or veracity. Relying on the librarian's guidance, students typically would not evaluate the sources they use to find the information they need. Thus, critical thinking, information literacy and research strategies begin to assume interdependence in an individual's process of searching for information on the Web.
Although a small body of research offers insight into children's use of OPAC and on-line databases (Marchionini, 1989; Edmonds, Moore & Balcom, 1990; Solomon, 1993; Borgman, Hirsch, Walter and Gallagher, 1995), little exists regarding their interaction with the Web, in general (Wallace and Kupperman; Lyons, et. al., 1997), and their use of technology (Watson, 1998). No studies have been found in regard to children's information seeking behavior in using Yahooligans, a Web engine and directory designed for children ages 7-12.
This study examines children's search processes and their subsequent success and failure in finding relevant documents for their paperless research projects. It reports the preliminary results of a multi-faceted research project that is investigating a group of 7th grade students' information seeking behavior in using Yahooligans.
In the beginning of the experiment, the researcher introduced the participants to the study, described the Internet/Web Quiz which they took prior to searching, and provided further instructions on how to proceed.
Children were found to be persistent in finding the information they needed. On the research question, for example, the lowest number of search attempts was eight (8) and the highest thirty-nine (39), whereas it was eleven (11) and fifty-two (52), respectively, on the factual question.
Table 1. Sample Results of Children's Search Strategies on the Research Question "diet" Trial Concepts Search results/ Browsing from Observations no. selection from hit list hit list 1 what middle schools Around the world: Natural language eat food and eating 2 increasing or is it 0 hits Natural language decreasing kids diet Misspelling error - no correction attempted 3 diet of kids 0 hits Natural language 4 education of the 0 hits Natural language; middleschool broad concepts improving or getting worse 5 education of middle 1 site; link for None Natural language; school kids education in broad concepts North Carolina 6 tennis middle school 2 sites; None Misspelling error - no selection no correction attempt 7 education for middle 49 sites; None Limited scrolling schools no selection 8 diet of kids 0 hits 9 diet of middle 0 hits Natural language; school kids misspelling error; no attempt to correct error 10 diet of middle 0 hits Natural language school kids 11 diet of humans 0 hits Natural language; broad 12 diets for schools 0 hits Natural language 13 14 diets of middle 0 hits Natural language schools 15 diets of schools 0 hits Natural language 16 what schools are 0 hits Natural language doing for the diet of kids 17 diets of the school 0 hits Natural language 18 learning in middle 0 hits Natural language school
Children's failure in finding appropriate information about their research question on "diet" and their low level of success in locating the correct answer to the factual question on "alligators" can be attributed to many factors: a. querying the system in natural language, a strategy that is not implemented in Yahooligans; b. misspelling errors; c. using either very broad or very specific concepts; d. scrolling part of the returned hit list; e. browsing the hit list minimally with concentration on links that appeared on top of the list and on keywords in the headings of the links; f. lack of understanding and/or lack of reading of the content of documents retrieved; and g. relying on the headings of the links rather than on their descriptions.
Children's level of success was also affected by the database size and structure of Yahooligans. This engine which is designed for children ages 7-12 does not contain a misspelling check, a thesaurus of terms that children can use to find concepts about their topic, a rich database with information relevant to academic topics, a natural language interface, or a user-friendly feedback. To meet children's information needs, these features must be addressed by the designers of Yahooligans.
Children's low level of success (30%) in finding the correct answer to the factual question and their scarce examination of the content of the retrieved documents indicate deficiency in both reading skills and evaluating information - problems that teachers must address. Traditionally, students resorted to the school librarian for assistance in finding appropriate resources for their research projects and/or assignments and never questioned the authority of the sources they used. Further, on many occasions, the librarian provided actual answers to their questions to satisfy their information need. This traditional paradigm of information provision, however, is being reshaped in the Web environment and therefore, both teachers and librarians should collaborate to diagnose students' critical thinking and search processes prior to searching the Web and, subsequently, develop effective information access skills programs. The increased accessibility to the Web from school, home, public libraries, or other, by children requires that they be independent and critical information consumers. Children should be taught how to construct effective search strategies, synthesize and evaluate information, skim or read the information they retrieve, and compile information for their research projects and/or assignments.
Children are motivated, inspired, and fascinated by the Web, and they prefer its use over traditional sources, such as encyclopedias, books, and magazines (Bilal, 1998). This motivation should be nurtured, however, by both teachers and librarians who should take the lead in teaching children how to embark on their journey in cyberspace.
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