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What Information Sources do Engineering Students use to Address Authentic Sociotechnical Problems?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Information Literacy: Preparing Students for the Real World

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1682.1 - 22.1682.13



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Paper Authors


Eugene Barsky University of British Columbia

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Eugene Barsky is a Science and Engineering Librarian at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Published extensively in the library science literature, he also is the winner of 2007 Canadian Health Library Association "Emerging Leader" award and 2007 Partnership award from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.

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Annette Berndt University of British Columbia


Aleteia Greenwood University of British Columbia

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Aleteia Greenwood is Head Librarian, Science & Engineering Library at the University of British Columbia. She is also student, faculty and collections development liaison to the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Departments.

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Carla S Paterson University of British Columbia

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Carla Paterson is a Sessional Lecturer in the Faculty of Applied Science, and the Department of History, at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in service learning and community-based research, and is a co-author of Fundamental Competencies for Engineers.

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What information sources do engineering students use to address authentic sociotechnicalproblems?Applied Science 263 course (Technology and Development: The Global Engineer) at the Universityof British Columbia (UBC) uses Problem-Oriented Learning (POL) to explore the environmental,economic, political, and social contexts of appropriate technologies in the developing world.Students are presented with real sociotechnical problems identified by three communities in Indiavia a local social entrepreneur in the artisanal textile and crafts sector. Because the contextualinformation to these problems is sparse and incomplete, students must grapple with ambiguity andre-negotiate the library research skills they have acquired, as they propose solutions to thesepedagogically ill-structured but real-life problems.For the last two years, the course instructors have invited engineering librarians to offer informationliteracy sessions about researching solutions to authentic sociotechnical problems in the developingworld. During this time, the librarians and professors often wondered what sources students used intheir research and why.In this study, we used three sets of critical reflections to obtain predominantly qualitative data: first,we asked the forty APSC 263 students to identify the information sources they planned to use toconduct their research. Then an engineering librarian introduced the students to a number ofscience and engineering databases, e.g. Compendex and Web of Science, and compared them toGoogle and Google Scholar. Following this session, we asked the students to predict whether theirinformation sources would change and why. Finally, at the end of the course after the students hadsubmitted their final reports, we asked them comment on the information sources they used andwhy.Because engineering students need to be prepared for a dynamic, global workplace, with unknownconstraints and limited information resources, librarians and engineering instructors would benefitfrom knowing how students adapt their research strategies to effectively deal with the incompleteand/or conflicting data associated with real-world problems. This has implications for the life-longlearning that is now expected of engineering professionals.** We respectfully submit this paper for a conference presentation. However, it can also bepresented as a poster.

Barsky, E., & Berndt, A., & Greenwood, A., & Paterson, C. S. (2011, June), What Information Sources do Engineering Students use to Address Authentic Sociotechnical Problems? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18606

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