Searching for Education

I’ve been waiting for them to start teaching searching, alongside spelling, in school.

Larry Page, co-founder of Google

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  1. Posted 6/9/2003 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I agree with the basic premise — that, in a digital age, the value-shift in cultural knowledge-sharing and knowledge-creation has resulted in a need for information organization, interconnection, and access skills as a fundamental part of the curriculum.

    But Larry has clearly not been in a classroom in a very long time. I’ve been working in and around schools of all ages, rural and urban, prep and public, and in every school I’ve been in in the last six years I’ve seen students being taught searching (as part of the larger library information literacy curriculum).

    On the other hand, students aren’t taught spelling as much anymore — hoked on fonics, n-e-1?

    That doesn’t mean I was taught it well, nor that it’s nbeing taught well now. In my experience, what’s missing from most schools’ integrated library curriculum is a sense of metaphor and infrastructure which, if taught to kids, allows them to evoke and come up with their own rules for searching because they understand the nature of the medium as a storage and access portal. But Larry’s statment doesn’t even acknowledge the bare-bones, usually one full class day a year instruction I’ve experienced all my life as a teacher, in public or private education. Where did he go to school, anyway?

  2. Posted 6/10/2003 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Well, obviously (or nearly so) before Google. I think you are right: searching using an engine like google requires a few things:

    (1) An idea of how information is semantically linked. If I am thinking of a new movie by a director I like, but I can’t remember the name of the director or the movie, it’s enough that I can come up with a list of the movies she’s directed in the past. That is, I have to be able to model the sort of document I am looking for based on what other keywords *or phrases* I am looking for. On the latter, I seem to recall Eszter’s research showing that some very small percentage of users ever search for exact phrases on Google: e.g., two words appearing together.

    (2) After making explicit a mental model of the knowledge surrounding the topic, a model, as you have said, of the infrastructure or organization of the Web/Net is needed. How are documents normally organized on a web site? How, in general terms, are they indexed?

    (3) Finally, they need to know something about the search engine. How is the data gathered? How is it reported? What options are available in querrying the engine?

    These are all on top of an overall search strategy. You don’t find things by typing in a search string and click “I’m Feeling Lucky,” it is an iterative strategic process. And that process is markedly different, IMO, from the traditional library search.

    I continue to be shocked, especially given the amount of experience most students have with the web, at their utter innability to effectively find information. Admittedly, it can be difficult, but they seem to have an attitude that says “if it’s not available using the most obvious keyword on MSN, it’s not worth looking for.”

    And, BTW, I still can’t spell. That’s what spell checkers are for. Someone should let students know about those as well.

  3. Posted 6/10/2003 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    “I continue to be shocked, especially given the amount of experience most students have with the web, at their utter innability to effectively find information.”

    Oh, yes. I remember once asking my students to find webpages on a given topic and evaluate them. I was amazed at the cr– they came up with. On the plus side, though, they did learn to recognize bad stuff pretty quickly, though remaining deficient in their ability to find good stuff, and to find it with a minimum of steps.

    I am my department’s acknowledged “google queen” and I still find it hard translating my gut sense of how to search effectively into principles others can use; I like your schemata, above, a lot.

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