Research Paper

Using a faceted taxonomy to investigate student selection of information sources in an engineering lab course

Do the type of sources used by students in their lab reports relate to their comprehension of theory? The objective of this research project is to investigate the connections between student selection of information sources and the comprehension of theory in an engineering lab course. The results will provide instructors with a tool that provides multiple aspects and qualities to examine when assessing the information sources students use in an engineering lab course. This study examined the types of information sources that students cited in their lab reports by four facets that include format, author, editorial process, and publication purpose and compared them with a disciplinary evaluation of their technical reports. Classification of these facets was based on a taxonomy created for English composition courses. The taxonomy was modified to include information formats specific to the engineering discipline. The information sources were extracted from student lab reports over three years, and each citation was classified by the four facets. In addition, the reports themselves were evaluated for the demonstration of their understanding of the theory. Each student cohort was then divided into one of three performance categories (top, middle, and bottom third) based on the evaluation. The frequency of usage and the most frequent combinations of subfacet attributes were identified. The differences in the distribution of subfacet attributes were examined for relationships between the sources and performance. Although causation cannot be established, the data set could lay the groundwork in identifying the types of sources most commonly used by engineering students and those that are associated with the higher-performing students.