Problem statement - Although context has been identified as the key to the manifestation of information literacy (IL), little is known about the actual context of IL in disciplinary areas. This is because disciplinary studies of IL have focused mainly on people's conceptions of IL, not on their lived teaching and learning practices.
Novelty (methodological contribution) - Introducing university assignments as a contextual construct for disciplinary studies of IL, this study demonstrates how students' and educators' conceptions and experiences of real university assignments and their constructive participation in conceptualization of IL helped to uncover the actual nature of information need in the discipline of geographic information science/system(GIS) and to gain a better understanding of the concept of, and requirements for, determining information need in this discipline.
Methods - Adopting an embedded case study design and a participatory approach for fieldwork, the data were mainly gathered from 27 semi structured interviews focused on GIS students' and educators' lived experiences of university assignments and their reflections on various aspects of IL in a master's degree GIS program jointly delivered by universities in the UK and USA. Each learning and teaching experience was treated as a unit of analysis.
Findings - GIS assignments were found to be geospatial, technology mediated, subject free, and unique in requirements. Each characteristic uncovered a new facet for the concept of information need in GIS.
Conclusion - Findings indicate that unless students have understood the multi-faceted nature of information need, they may fail to distinguish the various ways in which gaps may be addressed when dealing withGIS assignments.
Implications- The context-to-concept approach proposed in this study can be of value to both IL researchers and practitioners who seek deeper insights into the nature of IL, especially those interested in the customization of generic models of IL to the actual needs of university programs.