Presentation at Fall CUE 2013 on Teaching Web Research
1. Teaching Ten Steps to
Better Web Research
October 25, 2013
By Mark E. Moran
2. Links to studies & articles discussed
are at the end of this presentation and
3. Dulcinea Media provides free content & tools that
help educators teach students how to use the
SweetSearch, A Search Engine for Students
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10. In 2010 Dulcinea
In 2010 Dulcinea
300 middle and
300 middle and
students in New
students in New
A majority of students:
don’t know how to form a sound search query;
don’t have a strategy for dealing with poor
can’t articulate how they know content is
don’t check the author or date of an article.
12. “Students’ high level of
browsing… at the expense of
thinking about information
need, planning for strategies
and evaluating obtained
-- Shu Hsien L. Chen (2003)
13. College Students in 2010
“[S]tudents’ level of faith in their search engine
of choice is so high that they do not feel the
need to verify for themselves who authored the
pages they view or what their qualifications
-- Eszter Hargittai, et al
Int’l J. of Communications 4 (2010)
14. • Not one of the 600 college students surveyed
“could give an adequate conceptual definition of how
Google returns results….the word ‘magic’ came up a
lot.”5 --ERIAL study (Illinois)
15. • “Electronic media can “overwhelm youth with
information that they may not have the skills or
experience to evaluate.” And literacy skills
overlap with safety skills.6
-- Berkman Center for Internet & Society,
17. Why Teach Web Research?
“[T]he [b]illions spent to wire schools
is of little
use unless students know how to retrieve useful
information from the oceans of sludge on the
-- Geoffrey Nunberg
UC Berkeley School of Information
26. There is No Quick Fix
Effective web research skills cannot be
learned in a week, a semester, or a year.
27. Must Be Integrated into Curriculum
“[L]leaving information literacy to librarians alone
suggests a failure to understand the scope of
the problem.” 7
-- Geoffrey Nunberg
28. Web research skills must be taught throughout
primary school years to break the “culture of
use” currently seen in this generation of users.
-- Barbara Combes
29. A New Approach?
Educators must teach broad concepts and
strategies, not how to use specific tools.
-- Authors of ERIAL study
30. “Use better interfaces and more sophisticated
indexing methods to nudge students, incrementally,
- Casper Grathwohl
Oxford University Press
31. “Unless we can
measurable payoff to
aren’t going to do it.”5
- Lisa Rose-Wiles, Librarian
Seton Hall University
32. A New Approach?
“We have shown the importance of looking at the whole
process of information seeking and content
from the first decision about which search engine
or Web site to consult initially…
to the final stage of settling on a page with the
sought-after content.” 4
---Eszter Hargittai, et al
33. How Do Effective Researchers
• Start general with several keywords
• Try new combinations in a systemic manner
• Use more precise, or even natural language.
• Look well beyond the first few results, and return
often to favorite, reliable sites.
35. Step 1: Where to Search
• The Internet may not be the best place to
start; databases may help you find what you’re
seeking far faster.
36. Step 1: Where to Search
• Students should not count on search engines
•Educators should recommend individual sites.
• Use student-friendly tools for aggregating
your own favorite sites. e.g. Symbaloo or Diigo.
37. Step 1: Where to Search
• Give students a list of
• Students must defend
their sources before they
40. Step 2: Use Several Search Engines
• Suggest a two-week “Google Holiday” to
• Introduce meta-search engines (eg. Zuula).
More about search engines: http://bit.ly/bO7FbB
41. Step 2: Try Several Search Engines…..
• SweetSearch searches
35,000 websites that research
experts have evaluated and
• SweetSearch4Me features
sites for emerging learners.
•We created these, yet don’t
use them exclusively– we use
the full range of resources.
42. Step 3: Think Before You Search
“If you don’t know
where you’re going,
you’ll probably end
up somewhere else.”
- Yogi Berra
43. Step 3: Think Before You Search
Students should rewrite
assignments in their
Next, students should
write out the questions
they want their research
- Digital Literacy expert
44. Step 3: Think Before You Search
Writing questions helps
students explore the
topic from different
45. Step 3: Think Before You Search
Writing questions helps students focus in on
the area of interest to them.
46. Step 3: Think Before You Search
let students know
when their research
their questions have
47. Good Questions --> Good Search Terms
Extract keywords from your questions.
Pair main keywords serially with lesser
Choose nouns instead of verbs.
49. Cover the Whole Field
Use 2 or 3 keywords;
in many combinations;
important words first;
cover the “whole field.”
50. Search Engines, Not Answer Machines
Provide keywords in the search box
that help you find documents
that are helpful to your research.
51. Match Words in Search Box to Words on the
“Imagine your dream document.
What words would the author of that
document definitely include?”
Never Ending Search
School Library Journal
53. Instead, they want to
find relevant and
from which they can
extract their own
54. Step 4: Dig deep for the best results
• Many websites rank high for reasons
unrelated to the quality of their content.
• Professionals and academics don’t “optimize”
their content for search engines, so it usually
does not appear at the top.
• Don’t stop at the first page!!
55. Step 4: Dig deep….
• Google and other search engines optimize their
results for adults, who want to know “what
•Google continually strives to deliver “fresher”
• For school research, “fresher” is not usually
56. Step 4: Dig deep….
• With Yolink users can browse search results in
context without opening them.
• Integrated into SweetSearch, Yolink can be used
on other sites through a browser add-on.
•SweetSearch = “better indexing,” Yolink = “better
interface” suggested by Oxford University Press.
57. Step 5: Make Search Engines Work for You
• Quotation marks are a critical tool students
should know when to use.
• But advanced search options are the best way
to mandate or exclude certain words.
58. Step 5: Make Search Engines Work for You
• Learn the AROUND function.
• Search “Kennedy" AROUND(10) “moon” and
the top results will be ones in which Kennedy
appears within ten words of moon.
•NOTE: both search terms must be in quotes,
AROUND must be capitalized, and the number
must be in parentheses.
59. Step 5: Make Search Engines Work for You
• As you search, add new keywords.
• Avoid “looping” by documenting your search
with a bookmarking tool, or keep a written
60. Step 6: Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Students should think like a detective.
•A dose of healthy skepticism is required.
•Information is only as good as its source.
• No single element determines credibility.
•ALWAYS verify critical information with
61. Step 7: Find Primary Sources
•Think of primary sources such as photos,
diaries and newspapers as “eyewitness
accounts” – which are generally more reliable
than second-hand information.
62. Step 7: Looking at the Original Source?
• If you suspect a site may not be the original
source of information, google a key phrase.
• If the phrase appears on another site,
evaluate the credibility of that site.
63. Step 8: Who Published the Article?
• Do editors or experts review the information?
Is it thorough?
• Do the author and publisher have a wellestablished reputation? Search their names in a
64. Step 8: Who Published the Article?
• If the site does not provide the name of the
publisher and its editors you
• Even if it “looks good or sounds good.”
65. Step 8: Who Published the Article?
• See 10 Reasons Why
Students Can’t Cite
66. Step 8: Who Published the Article?
Assessing the top level domain (.com. .gov,
.org, .edu) is not as useful as commonly
• Be wary of sites containing words like
• Be critical of sites where advertisements blend
67. Step 9: Why Was the Article Written?
• Always ask, “why did the writer write this?”
• Is the site trying to sell you something?
• Does the site have any social or political
biases? Eg. WhiteHouse.gov is not a neutral
source for information on U.S. Presidents.
68. Step 9: Why Was the Article Written?
• Many websites that appear to offer valid
information but were created for another
69. Step 10: When was information written
or last revised?
• Determine when an article was published or
• If you can’t, then confirm the currency of the
• Use a news search engine, add the current
year as a search term, or Advanced Search
Options to restrict dates (imperfect).
70. The End?
Yes, but it’s only the beginning of our efforts to
help educators teach students how to use the
In Fall 2013, Mark Moran and Angela Maier will
release their co-authored book, “Digital
Literacy: Lessons for Leaders and Learners.”
71. Works Cited:
1. Born Digital, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
2. Mark E. Moran and Shannon Firth, “A Study of Students Online Behavior,” March 2010.
3. Shu-Hsien L. Chen. “Searching the Online Catalog and the World Wide Web.” Journal of
Educational Media & Library Sciences, 41 1 (September 2003) 29-43
4. Eszter Hargittai etal, “Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content,” International
Journal of Communications 4 (2010), 468-494, 1932-8036/20100468
5. Steve Kolowich, Searching for Better Research Habits, Inside Higher Ed, September 29, 2010
6. On “Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media landscape” Berkman
Center for Internet & Society. February 24, 2010. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/5951
72. Works Cited:
7. Geoffrey Nunberg, “Teaching Students to Swim in the Online Sea,” The New York Times,
February 13, 2005.
8.Project Information Literacy Smart Talk, no. 3, John Palfrey, "Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital
Age?" September 1, 2010. http://projectinfolit.org/st/palfrey.asp
9. . UCL. “Information behavior of the researcher of the future”: 11 January 2008.
10. Media Post: Google Research Focuses on Search Failures, September 21, 2010