Google Search at Astoria High School (Revolution in Libya)

Google Search at Astoria High School (Revolution in Libya)

The Oregon Virtual School District Training Team was at Astoria High School this week. Astoria is one of the Google Chrome Notebook pilot locations. We spent two days talking Google Apps and information literacy with the students while the teachers were getting some intense training by Wendy Gorton and Christine Archer, Google Apps Trainers from CUE (Computer-Using Educators, California). Astoria Bridge Astoria Bridge On our first day, we used a zombie theme for a lesson about Gmail and Google Calendar. Labels and filters save the day! When Zombies Attack presentation When Zombies Attack On the second day, I had a great time talking about search with large groups of students in the auditorium. students searching the web Students Having Fun with Search We talked about quotation marks — I was shocked to discover that only a few knew about and/or used phrase searching. (We took a quick detour to search — Google or Bing — our names in quotation marks. Great exercise for high school.) We also talked about triangulating resources. Don’t trust a single source, no matter who it is — Wikipedia is not the devil’s work and major, reputable sites mess up sometimes. And there are fake sites and hoaxes. Always double or triple check your sources…. We experimented with simplifying search terms and the impact on results. I chose an example on the fly in first period and couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. First search string: revolution in libya 2011 Libya search results   Second search string: revolution libya Libya search results It was a timely, interesting, accidental choice. The students sifted through the first page of results for each string (two tabs side-by-side) and determined that the second string returned better results. I agreed. It was a perfect illustration of one of the first tenets of good search: start simple. Nota bene: We ended up with a history and government lesson on the fly, also. Many students noticed that, “Hey, wait a minute! Muammar Gaddafi was at the front of the original modern Libyan Revolution.” Today, we say “Libyan Revolution” to talk about the rising against Gaddafi. For the past forty years, though, the phrase referred to the uprising led by Gaddafi.
Tekhne – Artful Technology, Article 3 (Search)

Tekhne – Artful Technology, Article 3 (Search)

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The following is from a series of articles I wrote for the education section of the Central Oregonian.

9,000,000,000 results match your search!

So, let’s start with a quick recap of last month’s startling figure: the World Wide Web now contains over 100 million active Web sites. That translates to hundreds of billions of pages which, unfortunately, are not organized very well, as of yet. The Internet doesn’t have a card catalogue organized by subject, title, and author. And, for the most part, it doesn’t have a staff of friendly librarians waiting to assist us in our searches. (Note that in Oregon we have access to L-net, a free, online reference service staffed by librarians.)

What the Internet does have is online search engines. We can visit Google, Yahoo, MSN,, or similar sites to retrieve information. This works fairly well for most general searches. We can find commercial sites, government sites, and education sites with usually just one search term or keyword. But, let’s say we’re interested in our local juniper (the plant, tree, or shrub).

A Google search for the keyword, juniper, returns 1,650,000 results. Of the first ten results, only one matches our original intent: a Wikipedia entry for juniper, the plant. One is related to the juniper berry. And the remaining eight are matches for products or services (and a Celtic band!) with Juniper in the name. We can see this is not an efficient search in the first ten results. So, let’s talk about some tips and tricks to search smarter, not harder:

1. Recognize the ads.
While this is not a tip for narrowing results, it takes the place of highest priority on this list. The major search engines rely on advertisers to foot the bill of providing free access to the public. On each search results page, pay attention to the areas dedicated to “sponsored results.” Usually these appear at the top or right of the page. If we want to buy juniper, then we’re in luck and can click away on those results. If, however, we want to research juniper, we should focus on the non-ad results.

2. Be as specific as possible.
This is an easy one. If we want to research the impact of juniper overgrowth in our state, we should use those terms: juniper overgrowth Oregon. If we are looking for ratings on a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it’s the same principle. Use as many specific terms as possible: Nikon Coolpix digital camera ratings.

3. Use quotation marks, when appropriate.
The major search engines insert the word and in between each of our search terms. This is usually a good thing and a time-saver. They search for pages or sites that contain all of our terms. Sometimes, however, we want a specific result. Back to our juniper example…if we search for “juniper overgrowth” Oregon, the results returned should include the exact phrase, juniper overgrowth. With this Google search, we have now narrowed our list of results to three. Three! Much more manageable. (Tip highlight: quotation marks are especially helpful when searching for a person – enclose the first and last name in quotation marks.)

4. Accept help.
On the search results page, pay attention to the helpful hints provided by the site. If we misspelled our word, we can accept the recommended spelling. Or we can narrow our search by subject. One of the subject options on our original juniper search was “juniper shrub” or “juniper tree.” We can narrow our search results with one click.

5. Explore the advanced search and category search options.
Each of the four major search engines offers an advanced search feature. Advanced search is invaluable for specific research. We can limit our domain extensions (e.g., searching only .edu sites for research publications). Or we can narrow our search by format (e.g., finding only results in .pdf format).

In addition to Advanced Search, the big four also offer search categories. If we know that we are looking for a photo of a juniper tree, we can limit our search to images. Or we can choose news articles or blog entries about juniper. We can search stock quotes, if we are interested in one of the corporate Junipers. Or even audio or video, if we are really looking for a performance from that Celtic band, Juniper. Advanced search and category search are available as options on each site’s home page.

These are just the beginning steps for smarter searches. We’ll touch on more advanced tips later in the year. Until then, smart searching!