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Inquiry and Information Behaviour in Second Life
Sheila Webber

This event took place on 21st November 2008 at 9:00am (09:00 GMT)

The aims of this paper are
- to describe and review an inquiry-based intervention involving first year undergraduate students, and;
- to reflect on the extent to which research into information behaviour of students and teachers may illuminate and foster effective pedagogy in Second Life (SL).

The intervention took place with a cohort (c. 20 students) studying BSc Information Management (IM) at the University of Sheffield. An assignment for a core Semester 1 Level 1 module, Information Literacy, required students to undertake two critical incident interviews within SL, asking interviewees to remember a time when they needed information for a SL activity. Students reflected on the interview process and analysed transcripts in relation to Real Life (RL) research models of information behaviour. This task was supported by induction activities in SL, practice interviewing in RL and a problem-based exercise in which students identified possible dangers of SL. The intervention was reviewed through analysis of: interviews with the tutor (the author of this paper), the tutor’s e-portfolio, the students’ academic work, a student questionnaire and other evidence such as chatlogs.

This intervention is part of revision to the BSc IM curriculum, supported by the Centre for Inquiry Based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences. We are putting greater emphasis on Inquiry Based Learning (IBL), to increase students’ engagement with the discipline and to improve research skills. From this perspective, the Second Life intervention achieved some success, as students carried out interviews in a genuinely novel research area, reflected on the nature of SL Interviews, and produced reasonable to excellent analyses.

Further issues are raised by the content of the interviews themselves. Since informed consent was only requested for use for the students’ assignments, the data has not been formally analysed by the author. However, having read through the transcripts as part of the marking process, she observes that:
- people were using a wide variety of information sources / channels, inworld and offworld;
- behaviours could be matched to RL models, but seemed to have more in common with “everyday” (rather than academic) information behaviour (e.g. in terms of use of personal sources, browsing behaviour etc.);
- some specific SL strategies emerged (e.g. use of information in objects and profiles);
- those interviewees who were students tended to have a narrower range of information strategies (e.g. using their tutor or their tutor’s notes as their point of reference).

This has implications for IBL, and for other forms of learning in SL, since it may indicate that being information literate in carrying out activities in SL requires some of the same skills as in RL, but also new skills in handling forms of information (e.g. information embodied in people and objects). These skills may be particularly unfamiliar to incoming students if their course of study is focused mainly on one format of information, e.g. textual.
The author will reflect on how engaging students in researching their own information behaviour could encourage more effective engagement in SL learning task.
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