Association of Research Libraries
Research Library Issues 290 2017
Conceptual Framework
We used Astin’s input-environment-output model as our conceptual
framework given its relevance to the research design.17 The “inputs”
within this model include students’ pre-college characteristics,
experiences, and demographics. The environment includes
experiences during higher education and the outputs include students’
self-reported development of critical thinking and analytical skills,
written communication skills, and reading comprehension skills.
Inputs can have an effect on both environmental experiences and
outcomes, which is why we entered these variables in our statistical
models. In order to test the potential impact of environmental
experiences, it is important to consider the direct effects of input
variables on outcomes while also examining the potential effects those
input variables have on the environmental variables. In the case of
students’ use of academic libraries, for instance, self-selection bias
may contribute to systematic differences between students who use
library resources and those who do not use the same library resources.
To reduce self-selection biases, educational researchers use quasi-
experimental designs in their analyses. In most experimental studies,
researchers randomly assign participants to a control group or a
treatment group to better test the effects of the treatment; however,
such randomization is not often possible in educational settings.
It would be unethical, for instance, to prohibit the use of academic
library resources to students who may be randomly assigned to a
control condition. Quasi-experimental techniques can simulate
the characteristics of experimental designs by matching groups of
students based upon demographic variables or other observable
characteristics, with the only differences between these students
the type of “treatment” received (e.g., using academic libraries).18
The resultant effects of such steps can help researchers to better
estimate the effects of “treatments” on outcomes with a greater
degree of accuracy. Therefore, in the present study, we utilized
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