Directed Research Group Examines Free Online Resources

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Students working

Among the vast quantity of high-quality informational resources publicly available on the internet, how do students decide where to go when they want to learn something new? 

Human Centered Design & Engineering students have been addressing that question for the past two quarters in a Directed Research Group, Consuming Information: Identifying usage patterns associated with free online information resources.

Mark Zachry and a student

Co-directed by HCDE Professor Mark Zachry and Jonathan Morgan, Senior Design Researcher at the Wikimedia Foundation, the research group has been studying the behavior of students who use publicly available information resources.

This work was prompted by the Wikimedia Foundation’s interest in learning what features students consider most important when they select free online information resources to help them with their school work. Understanding the role that information quality, mobile availability, and medium (i.e. video, text, or interactive tutorial) play in students' choices will help Wikimedia prioritize improvements to Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects.

By conducting and analyzing surveys of students across the University of Washington, HCDE students have discovered what free online resources are most popular with people interested in learning particular subjects; how students use online resources to supplement other learning resources; and how the way content is presented in websites and search engines influence who uses them and what they are used for.

The students presented their findings to the public at the 2016 HCDE Open House on May 31, 2016. Mark Zachry and Jonathan Morgan will produce a formal report for the Wikimedia Foundation. For more information on the results of this study, contact Mark Zachry.