Students' Formal and Informal Information Sources: From Course Materials to User-Generated Content

Students' Formal and Informal Information Sources: From Course Materials to User-Generated Content

Corinna Petra Raith (WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7473-6.ch011


Based on an explorative interview study, this chapter reports on students' usage behavior concerning formal and informal information sources for academic (learning) purposes. In this regard, a variety of information sources was reported, ranging from scholarly materials to applications based on user-generated content like Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums, and question-and-answer sites. The findings showed that students' acceptance of information sources varied with an increase in the academic age: the more experienced students were, the more focused their choice of information sources was. Bachelor students utilized diverse sources, while doctoral and PhD students mainly concentrated on scholarly materials and news articles, but used Wikipedia, YouTube, and blogs as well. Regarding such informal sources, bachelor students mainly consulted these for learning purposes, while doctoral/PhD students primarily utilized them for checking up/acquiring information and their preparation work. The results are preliminary in their nature and are to be validated in further research.
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The Internet is a popular instrument to get information on diverse topics easily and quickly. In this connection, YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia are among the top 5 visited websites worldwide, and among the top 7 in the German-speaking area (Alexa, 2018a, 2018b). They are current examples for web applications that are used by a lot of people regularly and which provide users with user-generated content (UGC). This is content based on the contributions of various people (Bauer, 2011; Daugherty, Eastin, & Bright, 2008; Krumm, Davies, & Narayanaswami, 2008; Wunsch-Vincent & Vickery, 2007) who act voluntarily (Schroer & Hertel, 2009) and have varying backgrounds or proficiency (Bauer, 2011; Daugherty et al., 2008). In addition, these contents are not reviewed by an editor before they are published online (Bauer, 2011; Flanagin & Metzger, 2000; Gorman, 2007, 2013; Yaari, Baruchson-Arbib, & Bar-Ilan, 2011), although they are, at least to some extent, reviewed by the community in the following (Giles, 2013; Gorman, 2007).

In a university context, faculty members’ attitude towards the usage of UGC is controversial: Some lecturers use UGC (e.g., Wikipedia) by themselves, others have a clearly negative opinion about its reliability and trustworthiness (Minguillón, Aibar, Lerga, Lladós-Masllorens, & Meseguer-Artola, 2018), and the influence on students’ academic performance (Sudha & Kavitha, 2016). Consequently, despite the opportunities the different applications provide, students are rather recommended to use official information sources. In contrast, UGC-based sources are often not allowed—at least not within official deliverables like seminar papers or theses (C. Raith, 2018). Nevertheless, previous research has revealed that students do not only rely on their course materials but use the Internet and UGC-based sources as a supplementary source of information for their course-related learning and work tasks (Ali, Yaacob, Al-Amin Bin Endut, & Langove, 2017; Head & Eisenberg, 2010; Jones, Ramanau, Cross, & Healing, 2010; Lim, 2009; Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2011; Melani & Andrew, 2017; Mushtaq & Benraghda, 2018; Nagler & Ebner, 2009; Nagler, Ebner, & Schön, 2017; C. Raith, 2018; C. P. Raith, 2018; Rowley & Johnson, 2013; Yoo & Huang, 2011; Zakaria, Watson, & Edwards, 2010). In this connection, studies have found that students even consult Wikipedia more often than the university’s library database (Lim, 2009; Melani & Andrew, 2017), although they might know the possible risks in connection with the (nonreflective) usage of contents of the Internet (Aillerie & McNicol, 2018; Lim, 2009). Such a risk is, for example, to get misinformation or incomplete information without knowing it (Giles, 2013; Gorman, 2013; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). UGC might be especially susceptible in this regard, because theoretically everyone can participate, due to the missing editorial control, and because failures occur (Benkler, 2001; Duguid, 2006; Gorman, 2013; C. Raith & Koch, 2018; C. P. Raith, 2018). Also, adverse consequences are to be expected when such sources are cited in deliverables, and lecturers refuse to accept them. On the other hand, Raith (2018) noticed that students perceived the quality of contents across different UGC-based information sources as rather good, even though their perceptions differed. Also, other studies underline students’ perceived usefulness of UGC and social media for purposes related to education and academic tasks (Aillerie & McNicol, 2018; Ali et al., 2017; Mushtaq & Benraghda, 2018; Nagler et al., 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

User-Generated Content: Refers to content produced by diverse Internet users on web applications that enable users to actively participate, to contribute information, and to share this content with other users. A popular example of an application providing users with user-generated content is Wikipedia.

Usage Behavior: Refers to the way, information sources are used by students for university-related purposes. Within this chapter, the focus of usage behavior is on certain activities that are carried out using specific information sources, like a general acquisition of knowledge, learning and exercising purposes and activities regarding scientific work approaches.

Course Materials: Information materials lecturers use in class or recommend to their students, embracing scripts, course slides, readers, books, etc.

Traditional Information Sources: Information sources that provide users with content based on professional development, expert participation, and editorial review and publication.

Academic Age: Refers to the length in time a student has been enrolled at a university or to his progress in the university field. Doctoral/PhD students have a higher academic age than bachelor or master students, as they have been enrolled for a longer time and have gained more experience and knowledge within this period.

University-Related Purposes/Tasks: Tasks students have to master to accomplish their studies, like exams, home assignments, group works, presentations, and writing seminar papers and theses.

Scholarly Information (Sources): Information based on scholarly research, mainly published in scientific journals or presented at academic conferences and published in conference proceedings.

Scientific Work: Refers to the research on and work with literature, scientific theories and methods as well as data analysis. Within this chapter, these activities are mainly carried out in the course of the work on academic seminar papers and theses.

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