University of Tasmania
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It takes a community: a citizen science lens for exploring informal information behaviour in tertiary ICT education

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posted on 2024-06-24, 02:31 authored by Meredith CastlesMeredith Castles

The field of ICT is an ultra-fast-moving and dynamic industry that requires quick adoption of new skills and specialisations to remain contemporary. To be specific, this research refers to the educational field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This field includes computer science and is also focused on the business and human interfacing side of computing (Hubwieser et al. 2011, Herbert et al. 2014, Hogg, Richard n.d.). UTAS opted to combine these skills to produce well-rounded graduates. ICT students and industry professionals are increasingly turning to informal learning to keep their knowledge of changing areas of study up to date. Aligned with this are increased requirements for industry-ready, adaptable tertiary graduates with the ability to communicate. This highlights the issue that Australia’s ICT degrees cannot keep up with the demand for graduates (Australian Computer Society 2022). Multiple factors are being cited as contributing to the lack of industry-ready graduates, such as the content being too difficult and fast?paced and not being contemporary and industry-aligned (Roberts et al. 2011). This misalignment of ICT education is developing into a ‘Wicked Problem’ wherein there are multiple, changing and interdependent components of the issue that are resistant to change due to human and environmental factors (Salmon et al. 2021, Conklin 2009, Rittel & Webber 1973). The field of Citizen Science is Increasingly being used in theory to address ‘Wicked Problems’. This interdisciplinary field uses crowd-sourcing approaches to identify and connect multiple parts of a problem to achieve an outcome (ACSA 2019). This research explores the relationships between informal information sharing behaviour of students and the roles teaching staff play in an instrumental case study where an in-depth study was conducted to gain insight into problems that exist within ICT education at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). To do this, the Tripartite Citizen Science Model was chosen as a lens to view the issues raised to visualise a potential approach to addressing the problems as a whole rather than aiming to fix singular issues which has been the approach thus far (Salmon et al. 2021, Deloitte 2021).
The research methodology employed a qualitative approach underpinned by a subjective ontology and interpretative epistemology. An overarching research question “How might technology support the informal information sharing behaviour needs of learners and teaching staff?” was developed with three sub-questions and three research objectives that guided the four research phases. The research strategy was a case study and four-phase data collection conducted over two years. Participants were a bachelor’s degree (including honours) cohort and a master’s degree cohort studying ICT units at UTAS, as well as ICT teaching staff.
The research design was conducted across four phases, each informing the design of the next. Phase one explored participants’ information sharing practices, the tech used for these practices, and their learning styles in the form of a long-form survey. Phase two explored teaching staff attitudes towards information sharing and their approach to unit design and the barriers they face in the form of conversational interviews. Phase three more deeply explored the findings from phase one with students, regarding their feelings towards their information sharing practices and ICT education in the form of conversational interviews. Phase four delved deeper into the findings from the previous stage, exploring the technology used for information sharing in depth and the vision of what to do with the information shared in a focus group. Data was analysed using a combination of descriptive statistics and an inductive thematic approach to allow for a holistic-level view of the findings. Interpretation using the lens of the Tripartite Citizen Science Model assisted by the Australian Citizen Science Association’s official principles for design (ACSA 2019) allowed for persona and scenario development to reveal a novel approach to addressing the problems faced by ICT education at the University of Tasmania.
Findings reveal that a citizen science lens provides an understanding of roles and relationships between stakeholders which can address key challenges for the ‘wicked problem’ of ICT education. This is enabled by improved communication and the ability to provide more contemporary content for learners. It does this by focusing on the democratisation of the informal information being found and shared by all stakeholders and incorporating it into the formal education space. The dynamic nature of the roles of stakeholders revealed through application of the citizen science lens reveals relationships that extend beyond the time a person is a university student.



  • PhD Thesis


xv, 372 pages


School of Information and Communication Technology


University of Tasmania

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