My dissertation is now available online, thus increasing the chance that more than three people will read it. Here is the abstract:
In university settings, students are increasingly required to conduct online research to complete course-related assignments, yet often receive little instruction in the skills necessary to proficiently locate, evaluate, and use the information they find. By comparing the processes of 150 graduate and undergraduate students during a 50 minute online academic research task, this study examined the role of prior knowledge and cognitive processing in proficient online literacy practice. The findings of this study challenge the assumption that technology alone is all that is needed to effectively complete online academic research. Results of this research indicate that students who bring academic experience to an online academic research task are more likely to succeed than those with technical expertise alone. Furthermore, analyses of students’ cognitive processes yielded insight into online literacy proficiency, defined as the ability to select sources relevant to the research task, synthesize multiple perspectives to build understanding, and effectively communicate that understanding. While certainly requiring medium-specific adaptations, online literacy is not very different from offline literacy. Without the essential literacy skills of gauging credibility and synthesizing materials to form and communicate an understanding, the ease of information access afforded by the online environment does not matter. Findings from this research additionally show that deliberate practice afforded through years of schooling more significantly contributes to online literacy proficiency than short-term instruction.
Further, this research presents and tests a cognitive process model for online literacy proficiency. The model illustrates the interrelated cognitive processes of online literacy while additionally demonstrating the significant contributions of expertise to proficiency. While the scope of this study is limited to college students completing an academic task, the model has implications for other online literacy practices.