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Identifying Challenges Faced by Chinese Undergraduate Engineering Students in Acquiring Information Literacy Skills – A Report on Survey Findings

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Student-Centered Information Literacy

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.686.1 - 24.686.31



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Paper Authors


Jennifer (Cong Yan) Zhao McGill University

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I am a liaison librarian for Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physical Geography at Schulich Library of Science and Engineering of McGill University. I am interested in promoting information literacy to students, especially to engineering students and international students.

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Tara Mawhinney McGill University

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Tara Mawhinney is the liaison librarian for Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, Mechanical Engineering, and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill University’s Schulich Library of Science and Engineering in Montreal, Quebec. Her research interests include collection development in science and engineering librarianship, information literacy competencies, discovery search tools, and social networking sites for teaching and research. She completed an MLIS from McGill’s School of Information Studies in 2005.

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Identifying Challenges Faced by Chinese Undergraduate Engineering Students in Acquiring Information Literacy Skills - A Report on Methodology and Preliminary Findings This study investigates challenges related to information literacy that Chineseundergraduate engineering students face in comparison with their native English speaking peersin completing an academic writing assignment. These challenges may include identifyinginformation needs, gaining knowledge of information resources, planning search strategies, andgathering, evaluating, managing and presenting information. Most previous research oninformation literacy skills of international students has focused on graduate students, especiallystudents in social science disciplines. However, the recently revised Canadian EngineeringAccreditation Board’s graduate attributes have higher expectations of information research skillsfor undergraduate engineering students than ever before. Furthermore, international students areincreasingly enrolling in engineering programs in North America. This paper makes a uniquecontribution to the literature by investigating the challenges that Chinese undergraduateengineering students encounter in completing a research paper and acquiring information literacyskills. In this study, there are two categories of participants: 1. Chinese students who havereceived their education in China and 2. native English speaking students who have receivedtheir education in North America. The participants were recruited from students enrolled in theCommunication in Engineering class at a large university in Canada in fall2013. Communication in Engineering is a required undergraduate course for most engineeringprograms and promotes the development of written and oral communication skills. Students areexpected to write a research paper for the class. In order to complete this assignment, studentsneed to find an engineering topic, conduct a literature review to look into the problem, and writeup their arguments in the form of a research paper. The whole experience is a typical researchprocess with intensive information needs and therefore, an ideal setting for identifying thedifficulties and challenges that students encounter. The researchers employ mixed methods to gather data about participating students’experiences completing an academic writing assignment. They conduct two face-to-faceinterviews and have participants fill out an online questionnaire that combines multiple choiceand open-ended questions. The theoretical framework adopted in this study is The SCONULSeven Pillars of Information Literacy: A Research Lens for Higher Education from theSCONUL working group on information literacy( and the categories ofquestions are based on this framework. A narrative interpretation approach will be used toanalyze the data according to themes such as selecting a research topic, understanding researchmaterial, summarizing information, citing sources, etc. The conference paper will report on the methodology and discuss preliminaryfindings. The methods and results will be useful for librarians and instructors who teachinternational students, specifically Chinese students. The findings will help to improveinformation literacy instruction and support services both to this specific user group and toundergraduate engineering students in general.

Zhao, J. C. Y., & Mawhinney, T. (2014, June), Identifying Challenges Faced by Chinese Undergraduate Engineering Students in Acquiring Information Literacy Skills – A Report on Survey Findings Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20578

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