Who hid ‘Advanced Search’ in Google?

Google does the weirdest things. It’s my favorite Search Engine, but (and perhaps because) it always messes with its algorithm, there are subtle shifts in how we could search.

The only reason I notice this is because I teach a class on Search Engines and Browsers to 4th and 5th grades. And though they use them the time, many are find it hard to tell the difference between a search engine and a browser –as many adults do.

There used to be a feature known as ‘Advanced Search’ – a dashboard on Google’s landing page, and also Yahoo. Now Google has buried it at the bottom of the site, next to ‘Privacy’ and ‘Terms’ – almost a guaranteed spot to be ignored! It is in a menu under Settings.

This dashboard is a very robust tool, letting you filter results by language, and file type etc. I try to break the habit of students type in any phrase or keyword into the search box, and get them to thing through what exactly they are looking for.

  • Is it a set of “Instructions”? O is it a “User Guide”? (For building, say a Solar Oven)
  • Is it the “How tall is the World Trade Center?” Or is it the “Storeys of WTC?”

There are more. The tech terms for these are called Search Operators. But a Dashboard for Advanced Search would simplify things. Over to you, Google!

Don’t Let Google Mislead You!

This month I am running a challenge about Thomas Edison’s inventions. The student who tells me the most number of Edison inventions, wins a technology challenge prize.

Many students (wrongly) assume that Edison invented the light bulb. This is because we have often heard about the incandescent bulb and Edison. However, Thomas Edison was simply improving earlier inventions of the bulb by scientists such as Humphrey Davy and Allesandro Volta.

Google somewhat contributes to this famous mistake – Try Googling “light bulb inventor.” Who pops up on the right, in a highlighted area about the Incandendescent Bulb?

Perhaps Google aimed at rectifying this by featuring the Google Doodle (below) yesterday for the birthday of Allesandro Volta.

Is it time to review the lock-down on social media?

It’s that bristling question again. Should teachers be allowed to use social media during the day? And the corollary to this: should students have this option, too?

In the next few weeks, as part of a chapter for an upcoming book, I am conducting a survey on this topic, and would like to get input from readers.

Meanwhile, I noticed that Education Week just held a webinar on this, titled Tapping the Power of Social Networking for Education, featuring instructional tech specialist, Kyle Pace and Education Week‘s Digital Directions writer, Michelle R. Davis,. During the sessions, they conducted a poll on whether attendees’ schools blocked social media sites. The results were somewhat predictable: 64% : 36%  (Yes: No)

I must add a sidebar to all of this. When I worked in higher ed, in 2008, social media use by administrators was not exactly sanctioned. Then it roared in and was blended into all forms of marketing comms, student comms and media relations. Despite pockets of resistance (by those “who reads blogs, anyway?” folks). Take a look at this infographic, below. Some 84% of colleges were using it in 2012 –that number is probably in the nineties now.

How long more will there be a lock-down on middle and high schools? I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to manage it, but just like we don’t lock-down email anymore, just like the way we don’t block Wikipedia or blogs, we better be preparing for a time when our ‘content creators’ will be publishing their comments and home work, taking quizzes and collaborating on documents in cloud-based environments,  and even interacting with students in another country in real time.

By the end of the year some of my elementary school students will be doing the latter. Stay tuned on how I plan to make this happen

More on Research = Googling Trend

I wrote a few months ago on the problem we teachers have to overcome when trying to get students to understand that there is more to ‘research’ than a simple Boolean search.

Now this Pew Research Center study provides greater context as to why this problem/challenge exists. When students are given a research assignment, it says that  94% of the teachers said their students were “very likely” to use Google or other online search engines; 75% said their students were “very likely” to use Wikipedia or similar resources. As for databases, just 17% said their students were very likely to use one, which is slightly higher than for printed books (12%)

More on this from Pew, if you like to research this further:-)

Britannica Vs Google in Class

I started out last month with a class on search engines and what students need to know about content, source verification, plagiarism and copyright. This was a series of classes for 4th and 5th grades.

I called the series “Not Search, Research!” just to make the point that a Google search does not qualify as research. I have picked this up from my own habits, and by listening to adults over the past few years who say things like “I researched this, and found that…” or “You could research this on the Internet if you don’t believe me…”

Believe me, in my previous career, I’ve been teaching grown-ups for many years about authenticity, fact-checking, and the limitations of search engines. I recall an article I once wrote for a business magazine, suggesting that Google does not make a person smarter, and got some push-back from one reader who was offended. She probably did not care about the dead-tree ‘research’ equivalents found in libraries.

Excuse this long preamble. I wanted to discuss the use of encyclopedias, specifically Britannica, which you may know, announced earlier this year that it would stop printing.

This morning, I jumped on a GoToTraining webinar by Britannica on its online school edition that my school has subscribed to. On first glance, it is deep as it is wide, just as how we who grew up in the pre-digital age, knew it from those 29 volumes, in serious black-and-silver binding.

While I mourn the loss of a legendary research tool, I have no problem with finding what want from Britannica, online. I teach students that research involves balance, not just fact and trivia diving. Finding different viewpoints and angles sharpens our ideas, so that one person’s paper on Thomas Jefferson won’t look like a copy of the next. Students are so used to Googling everything, they get frustrated when something doesn’t show up on the first few screens of results. The problem with not having patience with deep diving, transfers to an impatience with long-form content, and even walking a twenty-nine steps to the library to look it up somewhere else. What students will lose with the online-only Britannica, is the ability to dwell on something, and think about what they just read or saw. To be able to spot a gap in knowledge, a factual error, even, and to make that the point of their research.

Instant gratification is a double-edged sword. Students won’t know what they may be giving up when all they have is a link or a favorite tab to click on.

Lest you think I am pro books, and anti digital media, check my other blog, Hopolloi Report. I have interviewed people at Google and Britannica, created wikis, and written *a lot* about the wonders of Wikipedia, real-time communication, and Wikipedia policy. But we do not live in an either-or world, as some who gush about iPads want us to believe. Media snacking is not research.