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Critical Thinking Skills for Research

Kendra Smith and Kevan Huston

Kendra Smith and Kevan Huston, Library Program Managers, partner with the Bing product group at Microsoft to influence development of the Bing search engine.

Three information access models:

  • The iceberg with the tip and 90% hidden that librarians know how to access.  The user is intimidated, and there is lots of gate-keeping.  The epistemology is the known unknowns.  Users are aware they don’t have the information they need, and librarians are the enablers.
  • The fire hose with huge amounts of information.  There is no gate-keeping and a highly democratic access model.  Overconfident users assume that if they can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.  The epistemology is unknown unknowns.
  • The beehive with decentralized information.  Information is ambient and decisions are low latency and socially intermediated.  The epistemology is unknown knowns.  Users exist in space and time.  Social media, cloud services, the Internet of things, and mobile networks are there for the user.   The unpredictability and irrationality of users can be a benefit.

All 3 of these models exist, but the beehive is the prominent model today.  Drivers are low cost, location-based positioning, smart phones, etc.  Knowledge is about where you are, who you are with, and when.  Not all information is contextual.

Questions on critical thinking and verifying sources:

  • What does the information access landscape mean for critical research skills?
  • Has the explosion of information on the web changed the way we conduct research?
  • Considering the “too much information” syndrome these days, how do you apply critical thinking to your research?

We always have a role in expanding people’s horizons.  How we do research has profoundly changed.  You must be sure you do not succumb to tunnel vision.  Humans are creatures of habit, but it’s important to push the envelope and consider how to frame the question differently.

At Microsoft, they always ask their users to look at the authors and their affiliation when they consider using information.  It is very difficult for end users to differentiate the quality of the information.  The best research tool you have is the telephone, which still works!  We are on a journey, not at a destination.

What research tools do you use at your job?  What special features make you a more savvy researcher than when you started your career?  Bing is a reference interview, but it’s about making decisions.  Commercial (paid) databases are still in use as well, but social networking tools are being used more frequently.  For example, news alerts now include blog postings.

Some content providers simplify the user interface at the expense of functionality.  Librarians should urge them not to mothball older systems (like Dialog Classic!).

Bing has tried to make searching more efficient by incorporating advanced features: saving search history by date; searching for a term in blogs; tabs for news, images, etc.; video previews by hovering the mouse over the thumbnail without having to click through to the video; categorizing most commonly searched entertainment areas and providing tabs to access them; etc.

Maps have turned into a research tool.  Some apps have been created by Bing; others have been submitted.  For example, data can be visualized on a map and mashed with photographs, street view, etc.

Advanced operators include intitle, site, domain, Boolean operators, language, location, and norelax (additional terms in sentence are not optional).

Lots of these features are improvements on pioneering systems.


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