Information Scaffolding

Information scaffolding may not be a familiar term, and that is because it is only slowly entering the information vocabulary. Scaffolding is a term used in the education sector to denote a particular type of teaching. When teachers scaffold instruction, they typically break up a learning experience, concept, or skill into discrete parts, and then give students the assistance they need to learn each part. For example, teachers may give students an excerpt of a longer text to read, engage them in a discussion of the excerpt to improve their understanding of its purpose, and teach them the vocabulary they need. Over the last few years it had become more evident that this is potentially very useful way of training people how to search. This is because the process of search can be broken down into a set of sub-processes, such as query construction, the use of filters, and how to use the ‘advanced search’ options. All this can be undertaken around one, or at most a small set, of queries so that the benefits and issues arising from the use of the various elements of a search interface are more easily compared.

The inevitable reaction is that search is intuitive and there should be no need for training. That is disproved by a recent paper which reported on an investigation as to how expert scaffolded training could help  foster development of information search ability among postgraduate students. A novice-expert comparison examined the differences between novices and experts in information searching; and the effect of scaffolding sessions in which the expert information searcher helped novice information searchers was examined. Findings showed differences existed between the novice and the expert searchers in use of complex formulation of query statements, choice of keywords, and operators. Scaffolding sessions with the expert searcher resulted in significant improvements in information searching among the novice searchers.

The reason for including information scaffolding in Information Plus is because the nature of the training process is well suited to supporting staff working on content management applications and on a wider basis employees using search applications. The progressive, structured approach ensures that the dangers of function overload are addressed. The paper above identified 23 functional elements of a search application, which ideally need to be bundled and taught in stages, supported by mentoring, rather than with on-line help or even a classroom environment where the aim is to teach the optimum use of all the functional elements in perhaps an hour.

See also Information Behaviour, Information Literacy

Martin White

October 2016

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