Research Studies Effects of Smartphone on Information Literacy

Sep 1, 2009

When Kristen Yarmey-Tylutki bought an iPhone this spring, it wasn't because she wanted a touchscreen, a built-in iPod or even advanced Internet features on her phone. Rather, the assistant professor and digital services librarian at The University of Scranton bought the phone as part of a research project she is conducting about the effects of smartphones on the ways that college students find, access and use information.

The multi-year, hands-on study of the effects of smartphones on the way students interact with information has received Internal Research Funding from The University of Scranton.

Smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone and other mobile phones with computer-like capabilities, are rapidly becoming commonplace on college campuses.

"There's a lot of consensus that within the next five to ten years, cell phones will be the way that most people access the Internet most of the time," says Yarmey-Tylutki. "It's critical that librarians get on board right away," she says, adding that, as information professionals, librarians must modify their services and library instruction to adapt to this growing trend.

University libraries such as Scranton's Weinberg Memorial Library adhere to the information literacy competency standards adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries. These standards establish benchmarks about how students access, evaluate use and cite information. In the first year of her study, currently under way, Yarmey-Tylutki is examining the functionality and capabilities of the Apple iPhone to determine how smartphones either help or hinder students' achievement of these established learning outcomes.

It's well known that smartphones provide students with the opportunity to carry the Internet in their pockets. What's less well-known is how the phones' features are used. Are students using their smart phones for research and homework, or are their phones used primarily for music and communication? When smartphones are used for academic reasons, is it easier or more difficult for students to access the information they need? Yarmey-Tylutki will seek to answer these and other questions through a series of focus groups as part of the second phase of the study. She expects to conduct focus groups and collect data in the spring of 2010.

The outcomes of her research will help Yarmey-Tylutki to identify ways in which the Weinberg Memorial Library can enhance information literacy through new technologies. The study, for example, might reveal applications for smartphones that could ease or improve the way that students find information.

Yarmey-Tylutki hopes her study "will be a resource to help us help students find the information they need." She also hopes to engage librarians from other universities in her research, and will be making presentations about the study at the Pennsylvania State Library Association annual meeting in Hershey and the Internet Librarians meeting in California.

Back at Scranton, Yarmey-Tylutki's study will augment other Web2.0 initiatives of the Weinberg Memorial Library, including library Facebook and Twitter pages, a Library Blog and an Information Resources Wiki that have been coordinated through a group of librarians and library staff. A Wiki on Sustainability at The University of Scranton is also on the horizon.

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