The need for an advanced research information literacy (ARIL) framework was motivated by challenges faced by several stakeholders at academic institutions to support postgraduate researchers in an academic context (e.g. supervisors, academic departments, academic libraries). This applies to the full postgraduate research trajectory stretching from master’s level to well-established researchers. Research must meet with institutional requirements, international standards and the expectations of industry and praxis. Information literacy skills are essential for successful conduct and reporting of research, as well as the dissemination of research results.
What constitutes basic information literacy skills is well captured (although frequently revised) in standards of information literacy applied to various contexts, including the academic and workplace context. However, what constitutes ARIL remains a subject of research. This study therefore explored the concept from the subject literature before suggesting an ARIL framework that guided a case study with researchers on several levels of postgraduate research at a South African academic institution. Based on empirical findings, the conceptually inspired (based on a definition) ARIL framework was then reconsidered to recommend an ARIL framework for practical implementation that can also guide further research. Engineering researchers were selected for the empirical component as a group of researchers who need to meet the requirements of academic scholarship as well as industry.
The study was guided by the following research question:
How can an advanced research information literacy (ARIL) framework inform the development of programmes supporting the scholarly research process of engineers in a South African higher education environment?
Six sub-research questions addressed various components of the research question:
1. What are the characteristics of introductory and advanced research information literacy programmes as reported in subject literature?
2. What are the documented information needs, information behaviour and information-related experiences of engineering researchers in academic institutions, as well as from industry?
3. What are the current self-reported ARIL skills of South African postgraduate engineering researchers?
4. How do information literacy skills, knowledge, and practices of engineers differ between master’s, doctoral, post-doctoral, established and expert researcher levels?
5. How can an ARIL framework assist to determine which skills need to be developed at various levels of the engineering research process?
6. Which guidelines and interventions are required to support the implementation of a comprehensive research information literacy framework for engineers?
A mixed methods approach to a single case study was applied. Seven engineering departments from a South African institution with a leading faculty in engineering participated in the study. Data collection occurred between September and December 2015. A semi-structured, self-administered web-based questionnaire collected mostly quantitative data from 68 participants. Individual and focus group interviews collected mostly qualitative data. Twelve individual interviews were conducted, as well as three focus group interviews with 19 participants. A short, structured questionnaire collected demographic data from the interview and focus group participants. All participants gave written/electronically recorded informed consent for participation, as well as for the recording of interviews. Invitations were distributed to all master’s and doctoral students as well as staff in the department, through the department’s offices. Descriptive statistical analysis was applied to the quantitative data and thematic analysis to the qualitative data.
Data collection was guided by typical phases in the full research lifecycle, including conceptualising a research topic, obtaining research funding, discovery of information, management and organisation of information, data collection/generation and analysis, data curation, creation of information formats, management of intellectual property rights, dissemination of findings and measurement of impact in a field of study. The thesis reports on findings for each. Three key themes are conspicuous:
• Commitment to a culture of quality in postgraduate engineering research
• Progression from dependent to independent and expert researchers
• Preparation and positioning for impact in a specific field of study.
The findings and recommendations from this study describe practices that could inform both theoretical and practical issues relevant to ARIL support for engineering researchers on all levels from master’s study to expert research.
Advanced research information literacy; Case study; Engineers; Engineering research; Information literacy skills; Postgraduate research; Research capacity building.
Paper presented as part of the “African Digital Scholarship & Curation Conference”, 12-14 May 2009, CSIR Conference Centre, Pretoria, South Africa.
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