Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Can marketing make better researchers?

I'm glad to share with you a marketing research project I've been working on with Dr. Deborah Cowles of the VCU Marketing Department. The project evolved from a research paper I wrote for a Buyer Behavior class I took with Dr. Cowles. The topic of my paper was self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, as defined by Albert Bandura, is

the certainty one possesses that he can successfully execute a behavior that will result in a desired outcome.
Unlike self-confidence which is a more general feeling of mastery, self-efficacy is task-specific. Moreover, the more self-efficacy one possesses, the more likely a person is to persist in the task and be more successful at it. Therefore, high self-efficacy is linked to improved performance.

Many academics and practitioners are interested in self-efficacy. Marketers are interested in it as a means of encouraging people to use self-service options. Librarians and teachers have studied self-efficacy as a factor in achieving improved learning outcomes.

Why did I choose to write about this topic? And what does it have to do with libraries? There's been a lot of talk in library circles about the need to promote electronic resources (i.e. databases). I thought, perhaps, that boosting students' self-efficacy as it relates to electronic library resources would encourage them to utilize them more often and more effectively. According to Bandura, there are 4 main ways of fostering self-efficacy: (In order of effectiveness) past performance, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. The problem is that it's difficult to give students the benefit of past performance because, at least at my library, it's impossible to reach every student through library instruction. However, it's possible to use promotional methods to model behavior (vicarious experience) and persuade students that they are up to the challenge of using e-resources (verbal persuasion). Our study will test our hypothesis that promotional treatments can be used to beef up students' library e-resource self-efficacy, which in turn will encourage them to use those resources more frequently and effectively.

Our initial study, in a nutshell, found that library e-resource self-efficacy is positively related to students' intention to use those resources, their attitude toward them, and the amount of time they spend using them. Also, we found that instructors' encouragement and expectations played a significant role in shaping students' self-efficacy.

So far, this research has been well-received. Our first report of the findings won the O.C. Ferrell Marketing Award/best paper on the track for the 2007 Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators Conference. To top it off, we received a grant from the VCU School of Business to continue work this summer on testing our promotional treatments that could foster self-efficacy among students. I'm grateful to Dr. Cowles for introducing me to marketing research design and analysis. It's been quite a learning experience!

I hope this project demonstrates that marketing can be used to achieve positive ends, like more sophisticated researchers. Granted, there is some self-interest at work here (I'd like for students to use our stuff), but the ultimate aim is to equip students to participate in the research taking place on campus in an informed way. Ultimately, by being knowledgeable about the possibilities available to them through online databases, students will become savvy about how the find, use, and evaluate information - a skill that will help them further their goals throughout life.

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