Original Research

Uncovering Web search tactics in South African higher education

Surika Civilcharran, Mitchell Hughes, Manoj S. Maharaj
SA Journal of Information Management | Vol 17, No 1 | a644 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajim.v17i1.644 | © 2015 Surika Civilcharran, Mitchell Hughes, Manoj S. Maharaj | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 November 2014 | Published: 06 August 2015

About the author(s)

Surika Civilcharran, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Mitchell Hughes, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Manoj S. Maharaj, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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Background: The potential of the World Wide Web (‘the Web’) as a tool for information retrieval in higher education is beyond question. Harnessing this potential, however, remains a challenge, particularly in the context of developing countries, where students are drawn from diverse socio-economic, educational and technological backgrounds.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to identify the Web search tactics used by postgraduate students in order to address the weaknesses of undergraduate students with regard to their Web searching tactics. This article forms part of a wider study into postgraduate students’ information retrieval strategies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus, South Africa.

Method: The study utilised the mixed methods approach, employing both questionnaires (Phase 1) and structured interviews (Phase 2), and was largely underpinned by Bates’s model of information search tactics. This article reports and reflects on the findings of Phase 1, which focused on identifying the Web search tactics employed by postgraduate students.

Results: Findings indicated a preference for lower-level Web search tactics, despite respondents largely self-reporting as intermediate or expert users. Moreover, the majority of respondents gained their knowledge on Web searching through experience and only a quarter of respondents have been given formal training on Web searching.

Conclusion: In addition to contributing to theory, it is envisaged that this article will contribute to practice by informing the design of undergraduate training interventions to proactively address the information retrieval challenges faced by novice users. Subsequent papers will report on Phase 2 of the study.


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