Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Searching with Google Advanced Search

In the days following my CUE post I developed and taught a lesson on searching. I included Google Advanced Search and SearchLearnShare.com.

I used our presentation equipment to model a search for topics related to the research subject each class was studying. For the anticipatory set I asked how many students had done a google or yahoo search. Naturally, almost every hand came up. I then asked about how many results they usually get and how many of those are useful. I started the demonstration by going a general Google search and looking at the number of hits that came up. We talked about the likelihood that you could even look at all of these sites - much less how useful they might be. I showed how to get to Advanced Search and demonstrated steps for searching keywords and phrases, using quotation marks, and excluding certain words. They were amazed to see how many fewer hits came up and how much more focused lists were on the desired information. Of course - it is still too much! Then we looked at domain and usage rights, and Google books. I only touched on type of file because they are doing written reports for this research assignment and I wanted them to be able to find videos. I will go back and show how to find and modify powerpoint presentations when that is their task. I asked students to define each of the domains and filled in with the information they did not have. For as comfortable with Google and other search engines they are, only a few of the students knew the significance of domain. As part of the lesson, students explained what they already knew about how to discriminate legitimate and valid websites, which was to read the description that came up in the search. We talked about adding search limitations as a tool in addition to reading the descriptions. Next time I teach this lesson I will include asking students about how to discriminate the websites as part of the anticipatory set. I'll also do a pre and post test that will serve as a search cheat sheet for them to use at home when they're doing their own research.

The most valuable elements here for my students were being able to control their image searches for things that had Creative Commons licenses (by usage rights)and being able to select for sites that are more likely to have reliable information (by domain.)
Historically (a short time, really, but their whole academic career) they have copied and pasted images into their powerpoint presentations, reports, and videos and displayed them in school - or even posted them online in Youtube - without concerns of proper attribution or citation. They already knew about copyright concerns from lessons from our librarian/media specialist but basically ignored them and trusted that they wouldn't get into trouble. They also believed that monitoring for copyright violations would be a hassle and would limit their search flexibility. After learning about how to used Advanced Search to define their searches, they were much more enthusiastic about selecting images that were, in fact, legal for them to use. It was also easy enough to do without much hassle, which is a definite issue for middle schoolers (and adults...)
The students were also receptive to using specified domains such as .edu and .org sites since they have learned that they have to establish the validity of any site that is not pre-approved for them. Our school subscribes to ABC Clio, Greenwood, and Thomson Gale database services which are already validated for the students. If they choose to use another site, they need to complete a website evaluation form which compares the accuracy of the information from the site in question to other, validated sources. When students limit their searches to .edu and .org sites, they already have one step completed in establishing the likely validity of the website as a source of accurate data.


Overall I've been pleased with the results. I know from informal discussion with the students about their research that they use Advanced Search some of the time. Because we do require the Website Evaluation forms, I know that they are checking the validity of the sites at least when they have to, and that they consider the domain as part of their evaluation. I would definitely change the lesson in several ways. One - I would include the pre and post test as I described above to see more clearly what they already know, to measure their learning, and to create a notes framework and take home reference page. Two - I will have the lesson very early in the school year with smaller research tasks in which they are required to find a series of specific domains using the search engines. Three - I will design at least one assignment in which students search by file type to pull completed papers, projects, reports, or powerpoint presentations from the internet and analyze the quality and accuracy of the work.
Suggestions, feedback? I'd love to know...