Monday, August 22, 2011

Healing the Search-Impaired

It comes as no surprise to school cybrarians that this generation is more concerned with speed than accuracy.  The recently released article claiming that this Google generation  has a "gap" in searching success is not news to us.  While terrific users of Google, they have barely just scratched the surface.  This article has hit the Twitterverse in storm, but it really just points out the problem--which was nothing new to those of us who teach.  Here's a sample conclusion:
     "Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,”
Or, "Unfortunately, professors are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about library resources than their students are."  The conclusions also mentioned that students felt disconnected from the librarians.   

The message for teacher-librarians is two-fold:
  • to bridge the librarian disconnect, and
  • teach students to search Google, even if you don't like it.  (Deal with it and embrace the advanced search.) 
Our local librarians do a great job of both bridging the disconnect and teaching. 

If students are swimming in Google, we have to throw them a life preserver.   While this article does a good job of pointing out what the issues are, it did not offer a great deal of advice for teaching proper searching techniques to students.   Each librarian out there probably has a few good models -- tricks of the trades so-to-speak-- which have worked well. 

There was an excellent article published a few months ago in Multimedia & Internet@Schools which really offered some basic techniques for success.  It is more important to read the answers than to just read about the problem.   Read below one paragraph from this article entitled,  How Google Works: Are Search Engines Really Dumb and Why Should Educators Care?   By Paul Barron  Jan 1, 2011 "Using Google to Hook Students

Educators know that libraries provide access to more relevant information sources and that there are specialists in libraries who enjoy helping students with their research projects. The challenge is influencing the students to use the resources.

Students’ preference to begin their research with Google provides opportunities for educators to integrate the databases hosted in the school library into their research. After teaching a student to use the advanced search features in Google, educators can show how, with minimal modifications, Google’s advanced search syntaxes are similar to the features provided by the library’s proprietary databases. After teaching students to search using Google’s advanced search options, an effective leading question is to ask the student, “Would you like me to teach you a search method that saves you time, provides more relevant resources, and that will improve the quality of your research and earn you a higher grade?”

This approach works! Lori Donovan, a teacher-librarian at Thomas Dale High School from Chester, Va., noted: “I revised my lesson plan for teaching students how to search the Web and library databases. Students were frustrated using the Web; when we got to Gale and ABC-CLIO, their amazement in the difference of the quality of information was priceless. One student researching working women of the 1930s said, ‘Google is aggravating; I found much more in Student Resource Center.’”

Or, this piece:
Helping Google—Crafting Queries Using Advanced Search Syntaxes

The search query is the only control that a searcher wields over a search engine. However, librarians know that the predominant difficulty students experience while performing web-based research is conceptualizing the search topic and constructing effective search strings. 24 The inability to construct appropriate search statements limits a student’s success in searching for relevant information.

Unfortunately, most students have not learned that they can influence the accuracy of the search results by stating a search query at an adequate level of detail to help the search engine grasp the intent of the query. 25 The remedy is to first gain an understanding of how search engines work and then craft queries to exploit the factors Google considers when ranking sites, such as the importance of the web page title and the top-level domain of sites. Search engines users should also heed Greg Notess’ dictum that the more words you search for, the smaller and more refined your results list will be for the search query. 26 Also, the more words used in the query, the less likely that Wikipedia will be at the top of the results, if returned at all.

I dare not copy and additional text, less I border on being information ill-literate and copy a "material" part of the article.  Please read the full text .  This year, as school begins, make it a goal to equip our students for success.    Come up with a slogan to drive the message.  This generation loves slogans.  They work.    
"Recipe for Success --  4 words or more will give you a good score"
"Avoid the lies, narrow your search with 5"
You can probably come up with a better one-- Or, better yet, let your students create one!

Post your favorite teaching suggestion below!  Let's all benefit from the experience of others.

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