Research plan

When I started my dissertation research, I struggled to describe what I was doing. Was I studying online reading, digital literacy, information processing? While the exact phrasing is still up for grabs, I understand the process, the experience I’m studying. I’m studying how students use online resources to complete academic assignments. Specifically, I’m trying to measure the cognitive processes involved in gathering, evaluating, and integrating online sources to compose academic texts. This first step is part of a larger agenda. I am starting with students in a relatively controlled environment to develop baseline measures to later study how this process plays out in other scenarios, such as task-oriented searches or recreational browsing. I’m using a cognitive science model to identify differences in the processes of domain expert and novice students’ approaches to this task. However, this model is just the starting point. I am also blending qualitative methods of textual analysis from the fields of Education and English to look more deeply at the practices behind the process. Specifically, I’m interested in quantifying Jenkins’ theories of re-mixing. In Convergence Culture, Jenkins (2007) describes re-mixing as a process by which users blend a variety of media from multiple sources to create their own work. Basically, this process is what new media is: combining media from multiple sources and modes to create a new whole. Certainly, new technologies fit into this paradigm, but more importantly, how the users appropriate technologies to suit their needs is what interests me. While media theories can certainly describe trends in use, cognitive science provides an actual method of applying and testing these theories.

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