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inQuire

The objective of this thesis research project was born from a previous study conducted on the tools and processes utilized within academic libraries. From that work, we identified the broader theme of inquiry—the movement from disparate fragments of questions and data towards wholes of understanding. As a result of our research, we developed a novel operating system centered around activities rather than tasks and designed the necessary tools for engaging in the process of inquiry.

May 2003 to May 2004
Masters Thesis Project
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Advisors: Shelley Evenson and John Zimmerman
[This Masters Thesis Project was a collaborative effort between myself and Ian Hargraves.]

[— documentation —] 10MB (PDF)
[— scenario —] 9MB (Flash)

Much of the work that has been done in the field of knowledge domains concentrates on the creation of individual tools for working with the elements of inquiry (search systems, citation indices, bibliographic collators, content management systems, etc.). At the research level these tools are oftentimes manifestations of technical capacity divorced from human needs. At the level at which they are currently implemented within libraries, they represent a narrow task centered approach, disconnected from the larger goal of inquiry.

The result of our research was the development of a novel interactive tool for engaging in the process of inquiry—inQuire, a personal environment for the conduct of inquiry. Based on findings from interviews and workspace evaluations with our audience, Ph.D. students, we designed a system that accommodated their utilization of spacial organization, the people centered aspect of collected artifacts and information (papers, books, conferences, etc.), and the contextualized activities of their research process. Our solution utilized a tablet and stylus platform that integrates with technology available today, but also expands to the possible future use of touch sensitive digital paper. The core of our solution was based on a model of inquiry we developed form the analysis of our research findings. Within that model, the concept of Order was embodied in the ability for the researcher to create a “world” within which a collection of information and ideas could be stored and developed as an activity. Many worlds could be used as unique workspaces for conducting inquiry. Our concept of Belonging was manifested in the ability to reveal the connections between all of the resources created and stored within all the worlds, exposing the overlapping relationships between resources that the researcher may not have know existed. All of these capabilities allowed the researcher to build and structure their ideas into unified wholes and expand the scope of their understanding, our concept of Scaffolding.

Through interviews and workspace evaluations, we ascertained the activities, needs, and goals of our audience—PhD students engaged in the doctoral process. These interviews and observations of our audience led us to develop an understanding of the activities of inquiry. These activities include the location of information, engagement with that information, production of new information based on what has been learned, and the connections that exist within the information and to the other participants of the broader community. The overlapping of these activities led us to the development of a new model of inquiry—a cyclical process that involves a scaffolding that allows for the change and development of ideas, order that creates structure and generates knowledge, and belonging that integrates the self and the community within a common context.