Having students learn how to find the right information quickly and efficiently online is an important responsibility of 21st-century teaching, educator Terry Heick writes in this blog post. Heick describes how search engines, such as Google, work and explains the need for teachers to help students find the right search terms for their projects. “And finding the right information at the right time can be as challenging as finding just the right word for a poem or the right song for an occasion,” Heick writes.
Searching for Information
While other ways of finding information exist, and new ones are surfacing, by far the most popular is the noun that has become a verb: Google.
“Googling” the lyrics from a song, a retailer’s reputation or the author of a text is often the fastest way to find information. In fact, I’ll often back out of a website to Google something I’m looking for rather than use that site’s built-in search mechanics and navigation.
If you can learn the art of the keyword search, along with a handful of other Google tricks and tips, you can usually find what you need, or at least where to look next. But the whole “universe at your fingertips” is unhelpful in this sense: what you’ll actually find when you look is strangely limited.
The way Google retrieves information encourages web content creators to use SEO techniques. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s not necessarily as nefarious as it sounds, since it’s easy to imagine a world where only the very best information and ideas are found. Value is subjective, and in the real world it’s traffic, not knowledge, that drives the decision-making about what “content” is.
With such a crushing amount of information out there, even Google has to wave the white flag and ask for some help in finding information via massive servers, bots, spiders and even their social media platform Google+. Some content designers have learned how to get their content discovered, while others have not.
This presents a challenge.
The Timing of Information
In learning, as with boxing, dancing, selling and clock-making, timing is everything:
- The right question at the right time
- The right assessment at the right time
- The right information at the right time
When and how students reach out for information often changes the nature of the information they’re reaching out for. Are they asking broad, sweeping questions that survey macro-level themes? Minor, detail-oriented questions that represent “lower-level” information?
Google struggles with the former dreadfully. I recall teaching a unit on the definition of humanity a few years ago and cringing — even audibly groaning — to see students on Yahoo Wiki Answers querying, “What are the sources of humanity?”
This is a classic case of user error, but Google encourages it by issuing you 27,674,767 search results for even the most outlandish term.
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