Smarter with Smartphones
: The Influence of Device Type on Search Query Length, Search Query Specificity and Number of Search Queries

  • Diego Demaree

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Nowadays almost all adolescents use mobile phones. At school students use their smartphones to search the internet, while solving information-based problems. Learning by searching the web has been subject of scientific research for the past decade and this research resulted in the Information Problem Solving while using the Internet model (IPS-I model) (Brand-Gruwel et al., 2009). Search success is, among other things, influenced by the query length and query specificity. The number of queries used indicates how fast a problem is solved. Although there is ample scientific research into learning by searching the web, participants in most of these studies used a computer. There has not been much comparative research in searching behaviour on computers and smartphones.
    The present study aimed to determine the effect of device type and task type on querying behaviour of adolescents in secondary school.
    A mixed design experiment has been conducted, including both a between-subjects variable (device) and a within-subjects variable (task type). From the 11th and 12th grade of the two highest levels in a large Dutch school for secondary education, 48 students participated. 23 Students used a laptop, and 25 students used a smartphone to solve both a fact-finding task and an information-based problem.
    Screen recordings were used to record the different search queries. Students had to formulate an answer to the fact finding task, and write an essay regarding the information-based problem on an answer sheet.
    Task type had a significant effect on query length, whereas device type had no significant effect. Moreover no significant interaction effect on query length has been found. Although query length did not differ significantly during reformulations in different task types, query behaviour differed significantly. New queries, instead of adaptations of the previous query were used significantly more in information-based problems, than in fact-finding tasks. Task type also had a significant effect on search query specificity. Device type had no significant effect on query specificity, and no significant interaction effect between task type and device type on query specificity has been found. Query specificity did not differ significantly in reformulations, confirming that an alternating pattern of generalization and specialization occurred in both task types and for both device types. A significant interaction effect of device type and task type on number of queries has been found. Whereas the number of search queries was almost equal in fact-finding tasks on both device types, the number of queries needed to solve information-based problems increased for laptop users and decreased for smartphone users.
    Results of this study implicate that in secondary education, students could use both laptops and smartphones while searching for information. Only when solving information-based problems, it is advisable to use laptops instead of smartphones. Furthermore, results of this study adds the usage of different devices to the ‘searching for information’ subskill of the IPS-I model (Brand-Gruwel et al., 2009). It could be concluded that searching for information proceeds mainly in the same way on smartphones, and laptops.
    Date of Award8 Aug 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorHalszka Jarodzka (Supervisor), Yvonne Kammerer (Supervisor) & Karel Kreijns (Examiner)


    • IPS-I model
    • information-based problem
    • mobile search
    • query length
    • query specificity
    • number of queries
    • reformulation

    Master's Degree

    • Master Onderwijswetenschappen

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