Friday, January 26, 2018

Searching and Researching in Google

This week, we had a chance to review some useful Google search and research tips with Tasha Bergsen-Michaelson, the the former Search Educator at Google, and we thought we would share a few here. Parents, students and teachers are likely to learn something they did not know before. So here goes:

First, we should probably explain the difference between searching and researching. Search is what happens on the fly. It answers those "I wonder..." questions. We all know the routine, right? Here is an example, "What was the name of that Zac Efron movie with Amanda Crew from a few years ago?" Then we search for that answer. In other words, we look it up.

Research is so much more than looking something up. It is a process. At New Canaan High School, we follow an agreed upon research protocol -- a research model -- that guides members of our learning community through the research experience with some degree of systematization. We acknowledge that the process is recursive, and that researchers may need to modify their steps depending on their learning goals, but having a guide helps learners internalize what it means to do research. This skill will serve them for the rest of their learning careers.

NCHS Research Model

Our students often use Google for Web searches and Google Images to locate... wait for it... images! It should be added that Video search is becoming increasingly important as an increasing number of teachers ask students to include multimedia content in their resource lists.

Google Web queries can be refined in very useful ways. There is an advanced search option. The link is located in the bottom right corner of the Google Search window.

Where to find Advanced Search
Google Advanced Search is incredibly powerful. You can find pages with...

  • all these words
  • this exact word or phrase
  • any of these words
  • none of these words
  • numbers ranging from
Then narrow your results by...

  • languge
  • region
  • last update
  • site or domain (.edu, .gov, etc.)
  • terms appearing
    • anywhere in the page
    • in the title of the page
    • in the text of the page
    • in the URL of the page
    • in the links to the page
  • SafeSearch
  • file type
  • usage rights
You can also...

  • Find pages that are similar to, or link to, a URL
  • Search pages you've visited
  • Use operators in the search box
  • Customize your search settings
Unfortunately, many students do not know these options exist, and yet we have evidence that they would benefit from using them for research. 
Google Advanced Search
Image searching is widely used across disciplines. Images searches can be filtered in powerful ways as well. The "Tools" option allows for the following refinements:

  • size
  • color
  • type
  • time
  • usage rights
  • more tools

Google Images Tools

It helps to know your operators. Most of our students have learned basic Boolean operators (AND, OR, & NOT) by junior year, but Google has its own operators, and they are a little different. Click on the image below to learn more about Google operators.
Google Operators

Over the past few weeks, many NCHS 9th graders researched themes addressed in nonfiction books they read. The titles follow:ge
We built a research guide in our new THE ANNEX@, but we did face one challenge. We have the option of building two kinds of custom Google searches. The first kind confines student searches to specific sites. The other searches a predefined set of search terms to which our students can add their own terms. 

The first option piqued our interest because students were asked to locate one article in the New York Times, and we thought we could create a custom search restricting their results to that publication. But Google offers a site search operator, so we taught them the operator instead: "North Korea"

The second option - the one that allows us to pre-filter student searches with relevant search terms - was more appealing. Students were assigned to locate Web sources about a topic of global concern, 
for example, child poverty in India (Behind the Beautiful Forevers), human rights in North Korea (Nothing to Envy), unaccompanied migrant children (Enrique's Journey) that were not news articles, so advocacy websites, think tanks, etc. We designed and embedded custom search boxes that limited student searches to sites that featured the terms [nonprofit] or [nonpartisan], two terms that typically lead searchers to advocacy websites. This was helpful to learners. 

While we ultimately want our learners to be able to master both site search (New York Times, in this case) and signal phrases ([nonprofit] or [nonpartisan]), it is helpful to introduce these strategies one at a time. We do not need to teach all of Google search in one lesson, and thus we helped students concentrate on one new skill: site search while using technology to simplify one of their other research tasks (for now): finding an advocacy website. 

Sophomores researching Imperialism were introduced to a few new strategies for the early stages of research, including:

  • Signal phrases
  • Threshold concepts
  • Pattern recognition
Click on the bulls-eyes in the image below to learn more. 

Finally, we know that Wikipedia is immensely popular with our learners. It is great for looking up information, but we caution learners to beware of inaccuracies and editor infighting. Students are encouraged to do their due diligence when using Wikipedia as a reference tool. They should always check the "View History" tab (top right). We teach students to look for arguments between editors. This teaches students how Wikipedia works, and increases their skepticism which is a highly desirable disposition among researchers. 

Here are a few pictures of library learning: