When you aren’t sure about how to do something, or you’re looking for a piece of factual information, what do you typically do? If you’re like most of the world, you turn to Google. We all became used to searching for information using Google. The user interface was impressively simple, elegant, and efficient! It should come as no surprise that these initial successes were only the beginning for Google. Beginning in 2006, the company grew into web-based productivity tools called “Google Apps.”
For nearly a decade, information consumers have taken advantage of both the search engine and productivity power of Google. The apps have evolved into a full suite of services, which include email, file storage, word processing, data collection and analysis, presentations, video publication, website hosting, calendaring and more. Google continues to add features and functionality, and it has fostered a community of educational users called Google Apps for Education (GAFE).
At its core, Google was developed as a search utility. The information seeking patterns of members of GAFE involve a unique combination of Google, community-based resources, and (on a more limited scale) academic publications. Different types of members of the community also tend to use different information searching methods.
Information needs from community members tend to be very practical. They are asking questions like ‘How do I…’ or ‘What is this feature?’ or ‘Can I do…’. Most of the information seeking practices tend to fall into a sense-making approach. The need arises because there is a gap between a person’s understanding and the situation at hand. (Savolainen, 2009)
Example from interview
A system administrator recently sought to understand what a typical user would see when presented with a specific scenario. S/He knew how the system had been configured, but was not sure what a non-administrator would experience. S/He engaged in collaborative interactive activity, which were not specifically oriented toward information. (Burnett, 2000)
A majority of the information practices could be described as active seeking or active scanning. Individuals tend to find resources they find helpful, and they return to those sources when confronted with a specific question. (Savolainen, 2009)
Example from interview
A technical trainer shared how s/he discovered a very useful website that contained videos and tutorials for all level of tasks in Google Apps (i.e. introductory, regular, and advanced). The videos were very easy to use, and s/he was able to find the information when it was needed. When confronted with new questions, the technical trainer typically started the information search on this informative website.
In some cases, GAFE community members are interested in new developments and basic information. They want to consume the information, but not contribute to the ongoing discussion. There are a large number of these type of “lurkers” on the GAFE email listserv and community web interface. (Burnett, 2000)
The type of search that is conducted also varies depending on the information need. For example, if the need is the answer to a very specific question, then individuals tend to conduct fast surfing. When seeking to identify the possible uses of Google Apps, GAFE members tend to conduct broad scanning. However, when an individual is trying to set something up or resolve a technical issue, they tend to conduct a deep dive. (Heinström, 2005)
Example from interview
An instructor was recently exploring the possibility of using Google Apps in his/her course. S/He had conducted a variety of internet searches to see how others had used the system. S/He also contacted colleagues and spoke to computing support personnel to talk about possible uses of GAFE. This type of information seeking could be considered broad scanning, but it lead to a deep dive when s/he was ready to actually develop curricula and activities.
As an additional example, some information seekers want to identify case studies and the results of pedagogical research surrounding GAFE. Many times, individuals in this scenario play the role of consultant or instructional designer. They are looking to build on the experiences and expertise of early adopters in a way that minimizes technical / pedagogical issues and maximizes return on investment. These individuals tend to search in article databases and academic sources for information relevant to a specific scenario. (Erdelez, 1999)
It is intriguing to watch people seek out information on a suite of tools that was built by an organization that began as a search utility. The instinctual method for seeking out information tends to be that underlying search interface, more than library interfaces. In this case, the information that is sought is much closer to the point of creation in the information cycle. Most GAFE community members are not looking for peer-reviewed articles, they are looking for blog posts, FAQs, help documents from Google, or discussion board posts that seem to be endorsed by at least one other information seeker.
Burnett, G. (2000). Information exchange in virtual communities: A typology. Information Research, 5(4). Retrieved September 7, 2014, from http://informationr.net/ir/5-4/paper82.html .
Erdelez, S. (1999). Information encountering: It’s more than bumping into information. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, 25(3).
Heinström, J. (2005). Fast surfing, broad scanning and deep diving: The influence of personality and study approach on students’ information-seeking behavior. Journal of Documentation, 61(2). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1108/00220410510585205.
Savolainen, R. (2009). Everyday life information seeking. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences. http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1081/E-ELIS3-120043920#.U2FyPVfcfro .