Use of an advance organizer in the ill-structured problem domain of information seeking : a comparative case study
Huttenlock, Terry Lillian
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In open-ended learning environments, learners need to formulate questions, identify needs and find relevant resources. Finding relevant resources is an information-seeking problem, a type of ill-structured problem that can benefit from research studies that focus on ways to promote metacognitive skills. The purpose of this study was to investigate and compare the effectiveness of an advance organizer containing question prompts in information seeking in terms of problem-solving strategies, metacognitive facilitation, and search results for college students. Researching design elements that could be effective in these problemsolving environments could also benefit other learning environments that share the similar characteristics of being ill-structured or open-ended. Six graduate students volunteered and participated in this comparative case study. The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one group searched an instructional technology open-ended problem using a print-based advance organizer and the other searched the same problem without the instructional aid. Data collected from talk-aloud audio recordings, video screen captures, and follow-up interviews were analyzed for themes and patterns. The results of this study support the ability of question prompts to facilitate questioning and reflection during the information-seeking problem-solving process. The advance organizer caused participants to slow down and think about their search, particularly in the beginning and end of the search process. Based on the results of the study, design recommendations for the advance organizer and search interfaces have been proposed. Common themes in searching strategies such as concern for finding the right key words and progressive refinement were supported but the effects of unfamiliar or unintuitive aspects of the searching environment demonstrated how these issues play a major role in searchers’ overall experience even with an instructional intervention. The instructional aid in its current design may be more effective as an exercise, worked problem, or with explicit instructions; however, as a self-instructing instructional aid, user characteristics played a major role in how the instrument was used. This user perspective is a recommended focus of future studies.