Thursday, 03 October 2019 12:22

Just Google It? Developing Internet Search Skills

Author:  [Source: This article was published in nytimes.com By Sarah Kavanagh And Holly Epstein Ojalvo]

Overview | Do Internet search engines point us to the information that we need or confuse us with irrelevant or questionable information? How can Internet users improve their searches to find reliable information? What are some ways to perform effective searches? In this lesson, students conduct Web searches on open-ended questions and draw on their experiences to develop guides to searching effectively and finding reliable information online.

Materials | Computers with Internet access

Warm-Up | Invite students to share anecdotes about times when they used an Internet search engine to look for information and found something they were not expecting, or when they could not find what they were looking for.

After several students have shared, ask for a show of hands of students who have experienced frustration using an Internet search engine. Then ask: How often do you use search engines? Which ones do you use most? Why? What are the most common problems you face when searching? Do you consider yourself a skilled searcher? Do you have any search strategies? Do you search the Internet more for personal reasons and entertainment, or more for school? Do you believe that improving your Internet searching skills will benefit you academically? Socially? Personally?

Give students the following search assignment, from The New York Times article “Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet”: “Which day [will] the vice president’s birthday falls on the next year?” (Alternatively, give students a multistep question that relates to your subject matter. For example, a geography teacher might ask “How many miles away is Shanghai?”) Tell students to type this question into Google, Bing or any other favorite search engine, and have them share the top results in real-time. Did the answer appear? If not, what’s the next step to take to get this question answered?

Ask: What information do you need to be able to answer the question? Ideas might include the name of the vice president, the date of his birthday, and a copy of next year’s calendar. Have them try to find this information and keep working until they can answer the question. (You may want to add a competitive component to this activity, rewarding the student who finds out the right answer the fastest.)

When one or more students have found the answer, have one student take the class through the steps he or she took to find the answer; if possible, do this on a screen so that everyone can watch. Along the way, ask probing questions. What keywords did you type into the search engine? Why did you choose these words? Which results did you click on? Why did you choose those sources over the others on the page? How many steps did it take? Are you sure the sources are reliable and that the answers are correct? How can you tell? How would you verify the information? If time permits, play around by using different keywords and clicking on different results, to see how the search for the answer to the question changes.

To end this activity, ask: What did you notice about the search to find the answer to this question? Did this exercise give help you understand something new about Internet searching? If so, what?

When considering children, search engines had long focused on filtering out explicit material from results. But now, because increasing numbers of children are using search as a starting point for homework, exploration or entertainment, more engineers are looking to children for guidance on how to improve their tools.

Search engines are typically developed to be easy for everyone to use. Google, for example, uses the Arial typeface because it considers it more legible than other typefaces. But advocates for children and researchers say that more can be done technologically to make it easier for young people to retrieve information. What is at stake, they say, are the means to succeed in a new digital age.

Read the article with your class, using the questions below.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. What problems does the article mention that children run into when they use search engines?
  2. What suggestions have been offered for how search engines can improve their product to lessen children’s problems searching?
  3. Do you search using keywords or questions? How does the article characterize these two types of searching?
  4. Have you tried using images or videos to search? How does the article characterize this type of searching?
  5. What advice would you give to Internet search engine developers for how they should improve their product? Do you think any of the improvements mentioned in the article are particularly promising? Why?

Activity | Before class, ask teachers of several different subjects for questions that they have asked or will ask students to research on the Internet. Alternatively, collect from students their own research questions – for another class or for a personal project, like I-Search. Be sure that the questions are sufficiently open-ended so that they cannot be answered definitively with a quick, simple search – they might contain an element of opinion or interpretation, rather than just be a matter of simple fact.

Put the class into pairs, and provide each pair with the following multipart task:

  • Seek to answer your assigned question by conducting an Internet search.
  • You must use different search engines and strategies, and keep track of how the search “goes” using the various resources and methods.
  • Once you find an answer that you are confident in, do another search to verify the information.
  • When you are finished, evaluate the reliability of all of the Internet resources that you used.
  • Prepare to tell the story of your search, including what worked and what didn’t, anything surprising that happened, things that would be good for other searchers to know, “lessons learned,” etc.

Provide pairs with the following resources to research their assigned topics. Let them know that these are starting points and that they may use additional resources.

Search Engines, Metasearch Engines, and Subject Directories:

Choosing Effective Search Words:

Evaluating Source Reliability:

When pairs have completed their research, bring the class together and invite pairs to share their stories. Then tell them that they will use their notes to create a page for a class guide, in booklet or wiki form, on how to use Internet search engines effectively for research, to be made available to the school community to help other students. As much as possible, the tips and guidance in the guide should be illustrated with the students’ stories and examples.

Tell students that their booklet/wiki entries should or might include the following, among other types of guidance and insight:

  • Ways and examples of using keywords and Boolean logic effectively.
  • Ineffective examples of keyword searches that result in too much, too little or useless information.
  • Examples of how to sequence searches and why.
  • Sites they find that answer their question and how they can tell whether these pages are reliable.
  • Any information they found that was questionable or incorrect, where they found it, and how they discovered that it was wrong.
  • Why it is important to scroll past the top result to pages listed farther down the page or on a later page in order to find complete answers to the question.
  • How using different search engines yielded different results.

In addition to the handbook or wiki, you might also have students make their own videos, à la the Google ad “Parisian Love,” chronicling their search.

Going Further | Students read the New York Times Magazine article “The Google Alphabet,” by Virginia Heffernan, who writes the column “The Medium,” and keep a tally of the number of advertisements and commercial sites that they see while doing schoolwork on the Internet for one or two days.

Then hold a class discussion on advertising and commercial interests on the Internet. If students are using the Internet to complete their homework, are schools requiring students to expose themselves to corporate advertisements in order to succeed academically? Do any ethical questions arise around the prevalence of corporate advertising in Web searching for academic purposes?

Alternatively or additionally, students develop ideas for the search engines of the future, like ways to use and find images, audio and video, rank results and so on, and “pitch” their ideas to classmates acting as search engine developers.

And for fun, students might try to come up with “Googlewhacks.”

Standards | From McREL, for Grades 6-12:

Technology
2. Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs.
3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.

Language Arts
1. Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
4. Gathers and uses the information for research purposes.
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.

Life Work
2. Uses various information sources, including those of a technical nature, to accomplish specific tasks.

[Source: This article was published in nytimes.com By Sarah Kavanagh And Holly Epstein Ojalvo - Uploaded by the Association Member: Rene Meyer]

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