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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How task frames affect the process and products of inquiry Novin, Alamir


According to Goffman’s (1974) Framing Theory, information is always presented in a frame (i.e., parameters that both limit and contextualize information). For example, a photograph is often framed both to communicate essential information (e.g., by focusing on a subject) and to remove information deemed unnecessary (e.g., by cropping a scene). However, when people look at the information, they might not always have the frame's parameters in mind (e.g., what information did a photographer crop out of the photograph?). In addition, many topics are open problems, meaning they are subject to multiple frames (e.g., how to solve climate change). How do people reconcile these multiple frames in an open problem when they seek online information? To explore this question, I conducted an experiment to understand how frames affect the search process of students working to solve open-ended information problems. Participants were asked to research on Google the use of cellphones on campus, and divided into two conditions: one condition was provided with a task framed around health, while the other condition had a task with no frame. The study found a significant difference between conditions both in the behaviors students exhibit with selecting information and their activities when using information. I used a think-aloud to observe abductive reasoning (i.e., the reasoning people use to find information outside of a frame). An analysis of the think-aloud data identified eight themes whereby people reference frames, which can assist abductive reasoning. My findings have implications for both information systems design and the end-users of those systems (e.g., from information design to teachers creating information curricula). As our search systems become more automated and more reliant on advanced AI, the role of frames will become essential to our mediation and evaluation of information.

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