I was interested to see Dorothy’s post about searching (and tagging)
On the other hand the same teacher instinct was apalled by how little progress we have made teaching people how to search in a way that will return the information they are seeking. Particularly using appropriate key words to refine our searches.
I have been constructing a similar post in my head. Beware the river of consciousness that follows.
Recent work that I have done with teachers has lead me to wonder about how we seem to have hit skills in a roundabout sort of way. I’m often asked to work to help teachers get skills in using ICTs to present kid’s work or to show off the finished product – PowerPoint, Photo Story, iMovie or Movie Maker. Or teachers want a bunch of websites to use in their classroom programme.
If I suggest spending time looking at search techniques or alternatives to Google, they say that they know how to use Google. And then, I watch as they type a web address into the Google’s search bar.
Just over a year ago I wrote a post about the core things that computer users of any age need to know. Turning the beast on, where and how to use right click context menus and saving and retreiving files. I also said that we need to have some internet skills. And one of the most important of those skills is to understand the difference between an address bar and the search box.
As I see it we’ve taken a whole language approach to the concept of information and knowledge literacy and while we bemoan the fact that many kids can’t sort out the fact from fiction we can’t see that at the moment many adults don’t know how to tell either.
A few weeks ago my son’s science teacher was horrified that one of her students might use the Wikipedia for information. “Don’t let him use the Wikipedia,” she told me, “It can be changed!” We were in the middle of the mid-year interviews and I was asking why she was accepting material from him that contained unreferenced facts and information.
I am regularly informed that the Wikipedia is an unsafe place to look for information. Often times the person who kindly tells me this has just discovered this at a professional development course. My response depends on the environment but I have been known to tell people that, “Yes, I know, they have even let me edit Wikipedia articles.”
The Wikipedia is no better or no worse than any other website – if you understand its purpose and its place in the ecology of the internet and information. It’s a great place to start your research but a bad place to end.
In her post Dorothy talks about the way that Google has gently removed us from the reality that poor spelling and loose thinking won’t get us what we want.
I guess what I was seeing at the Googleplex was a testimony to the failure of this approach. When Google came along with their user-friendly search engine they not only made it simple to do an advanced search (just click the Advanced Search button!) but they seem to make intuitive sense of our paltry efforts. Whether it is poor spelling and grammar or people who simply type in a question, Google seems to be able to to supply a list of intelligent results.
I think we have to go one step further back – yet again – and look at search engine design and search engine purpose. It’s not always about helping you find the information that you want, but about directing you to what it wants you to see. We need to step away from the Google (and Google Advanced) is good / Wikipedia is bad mode and take a look at the myriads of other options that are out there.