Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

My apologies to U2 for plagerising a great song lyric.

One of my pet hates about the way the Internet is still used by teachers revolves around searching for information.  I get really annoyed and frustrated when I see the following scenario:

Teacher to student: “Go on the internet and find some information about Gold (or insert any other topic here)”
45 mins later
Teacher to student: “Well what did you find?”
Student to teacher: “Not much, as I got a list of 45+million sites to look at and most of them didn’t have what I wanted.”
Teacher to student: “Well, how could you not find anything you’ve had plenty of time.” ……. and the conversation goes on.

We keep hearing about the ‘amount of information’ available for our students and that we are ‘more connected than in any other time’ etc etc, but I think we presume too much that our students and our teachers actually understand how to search.  As much as I am an unabashed fan of Google and what they have to offer (more on this later) I think we have just become too reliant on ‘Googling’ everything, trusting they first few links we get and away we go.

In the current times we need to make sure our students are literate in using and also critical in digital literacies when it comes to information they find on the web.  Whilst this is another ‘job’ for the teacher it is crucial in these times and something that if taught to students well, actually saves times and makes life trolling the web for information a whole lot easier and more efficient.  So below are a few things I’ve come across to from the wonderful people at Google help develop 1 of the fundamental skills I believe our students/teachers need to have for the 21st century.

Google Education Posters
These posters have great tips on how to search effectively.  For instance, if you type the following in for a search e.g. gold site:edu.au you only get search results for websites that are about gold from educational sites in Australia.  A great way to narrow down search results.

Custom Google Search engine
Using your Google account (free if you don’t have one, and you should get one as soon as you finish reading this – click here) you can create your own Google search engine.  The twist here, is that you can actually enter in the sites that you want your students to search.   If you enter 15 sites related to the unit they are studying, when they use the custom search engine you create, their results only come from those 15 sites, or come from those sites 1st and then the rest of the web.  Simply create the search engine, set your parameters, email them the link to it or embed it in a blog or wiki and searching they will go. It’s a ripper.

Google Squared
This is where I think searching reaches a whole new level.  Using Google Squared (which is still in test mode but works fine) you input what you are after, but rather than say just searching for gold you need to be more specific for example ‘Australian Prime Ministers’.  This then creates a square of information about Australian prime ministers, with names, an image, description, political party etc.  You can also add or subtract your own columns of information you want in the square.  It’s brilliant because it gives you information, not links to sites, however mousing over the data shows you were it comes from so students can check the validity and thus become more critical about the information they are getting.

My short descriptions don’t do justice to them, go and play with them and see how U2 can find what you’re looking for. (again apologies to Bono and the crew)