Could not download file: This paper is available to authorised users only.


M. Ellis

Nanyang Technological University, National Institute of Education (SINGAPORE)
One of the challenges of the information age learning environment is providing students with the ability to process and use information effectively. Advances in the application of information technology have allowed access to a vast amount of resources which can result in confusion and uncertainty for users (Kuhlthau, 2004). Proficiency in information seeking has become more important as a result of this increase in technology. “The ability to critically seek, evaluate and use information and tools for information seeking is a competence that is given increasing importance in contemporary western society” (Limberg & Sundin, 2006, p. 2).

Such skills are important internationally. Throughout Asia, there is an emphasis on the development of knowledge-based economies. Global literacy in the Asian context is seen as essential for a knowledge-based economy and two important components of global literacy include proficiency in English and information technology literacy. A combination of global literacy, strong foundations in mathematics and science, ability to create knowledge and an environment supportive of innovation are seen as essential for a knowledge-based economy (Teo, 1999).

Using Kuhlthau’s information search process (ISP) (1983), a task-based model which includes predictable actions, thoughts and feelings, this study investigated a group of 56 Chinese students of different English language proficiency aged 17-19, as they completed an academic writing research task. They were enrolled in an academic English preparatory course at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The qualitative study, supported in part by descriptive statistics, examined the extent that these students experienced Kuhlthau’s model, their subsequent information-seeking behavior, and the impact of English language proficiency on their search process.

Data sources included a modified version of Kuhlthau’s process survey, search diaries and interviews. Progress on the students’ research was followed for 6 weeks as they completed a research assignment for an academic writing course.

In general, the 3 groups in this investigation shared a more common than different experience of the research process and the information-seeking behaviors (feelings thoughts, and actions) predicted by Kuhlthau’s information search process model. The cognitive and behavioral aspects of the model most clearly corresponded to those students who had an advanced level of English. Although the intermediate and lower level groups did not progress through the process as quickly as the advanced group in terms of their thoughts and actions, all 3 groups generally shared similar emotions regarding their information-seeking experience.

This study extends Kuhlthau’s information search process model to a different cultural context and has implications for educators working with Chinese students, one of the largest groups enrolled in educational institutions internationally.
It also has ramifications for designers of information literacy instruction for ESL students. Awareness of how students’ English proficiency affects their information-seeking behavior is important for those involved with teaching and designing research tasks. Extensions of this study could include undergraduates in Singapore universities and pre-service student teachers.