Information retrieval interaction and the undergraduate student at historically disadvantaged higher education institutions in the Western Cape, South Africa: a cognitive approach
Davis, Gavin Rapheal
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Summary: Although South Africa has been a democracy since 1994, one of the key issues still facing the country is the development of skills in its people. There are still underlying problems that are quite prevalent in terms of the development of important skills, particularly information literacy skills of especially black South African students at tertiary institutions. It is not easy to understand the significance of information literacy if one does not take into account the student’s awareness level and his/her understanding of the concept of information. Unfortunately academics and librarians alike at times base many of their judgements on assumptions that need to be addressed. One of these assumptions is the computer literacy level of students, often viewed synonymously with information literacy. Although computer literacy is an important skill for searching electronic information sources, including online databases and the Internet, the researcher’s argument is that this is not enough to overcome conceptual and cognitive problems relating to information – seeking. Computer literacy is a component of information literacy. Students need to know when information is needed; identify the information needed to address a problem; evaluate the needed information; organize the information meaningfully and use the information to address the problem identified. Almost all of the students in this study encountered the library and computers for the first time when they came to the University of the Western Cape and the former Peninsula Technikon. Their search behaviour bears testimony to their lack of information searching skills. The study was conducted within the framework of Belkin’s anomalous state of knowledge (ASK) theory. Belkin’s premise is that searchers for information approach Information retrieval systems with some anomaly. According to Belkin this anomaly and user’s perception of the problem changes with each interaction between user and information retrieval mechanism. For this reason, he argues, information retrieval (IR) systems need to be designed to be iterative and interactive. The significance of this interaction is later identified as an integrated, dynamic whole aimed at retrieving information for helping the user manage a problem. It was found in this study that students experienced various states or manifested certain behavioural patterns. Searches were also found to be more cyclical than linear. So, although Belkin’s theory had some significance in this study, student search patterns were more complex. The researcher puts forward certain recommendations to address the problem. The end of apartheid brought about new challenges especially for institutions of higher learning. Both the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and former Peninsula Technikon (PENTECH) as institutions catering for especially the historically disadvantaged student need to adapt but at the same time maintain high standards in terms of student development. The merger between the former PENTECH and the Cape Technikon (CAPETECH) to form the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) puts further challenges on the academics and librarians at CPUT. This also calls for a stronger sense of commitment from librarians, academics and information communication technology (ICT) specialists before appropriate information technology systems can be designed or subscribed to.
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