Popular discourse suggests: Kids are natural users of technology They know more about tech than adults And they are fundamentally different than prior generations in terms of learning These are overstatements.
This is a quote from Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, “Program or be Programmed.” He suggests that we must not mistake instantaneous access to information as being the same as the in-depth, long-term inquiry that went into producing the information.
To be better searchers, students need to practice searching. We need to encourage students to be critical and literate users of the web/new media, and searching is a key part of this new digital literacy. Search is great for yielding lots of results (often too many), but it doesn’t do a good job of encouraging serendipitous finding (like searching library or bookstore shelves).
One important key skill for students to learn is how to modify and limit the universe of searches. Some sills students need to learn to be truly literate searchers include: Going beyond keyword searches (exact phrase) Using Booleans (AND, OR, NOT) Searching for specific file types (movies, audio files, pdfs, etc.) Limiting searches to more credible domains (.edu, .gov, etc.) Searching for Creative Commons-licensed materials/rights relaxed content Using linkto: (or similar commands) to help assess the credibility of a site by finding out what other sites are linked to it Recognizing paid search results Bilingual students are at an advantage in many ways when searching, as they can access a whole other world of knowledge that is not simply limited to English results. It’s also important for students to learn to journal their searches – and to start by casting the net wide and narrowing in to a more focused topic.
There are literally a web of interests in search: Corporations/site owners Advertisers Search engines Legal system Users In whose favor does search tend to tilt? Probably not the users’.
This is a seemingly normal search. Students should know how different search engines display content and the various parts of the search results page. But look at result #3. If we visited this site, or did a linkto: search, we’d see that this page is created by Stormfront – a white nationalist organization – and is clearly not a credible source. How did this happen?
A vastly oversimplified view of Google PageRank. PageRank: Links in = votes Sites linking in that are more popular – increase PR PR also looks for fewer links out (so rewards nodes of the web like CNN.com) As a result of the obvious suspects (white nationalist organizations), but more importantly, the the not-so-obvious suspects - (a bunch of libraries linking to the MLK site as a good example of a non-credible web site) this site has a high PR. Implications: Most popular sites get more popular (more linked, higher PR, higher placement on the page, more likely to be linked again) Google views links as votes, without any indication of why people are linking to a site (think about PETA linking to McDonalds – clearly different intent than American Beef Council linking there) This means less diversity of opinion – less exposure to those attitudes that don’t fall into the center of the mainstream
Google doesn’t index everything. DMCA challenges often require Google to de-list sites. Can’t index proprietary sites, those that dis-allow indexing, databases requiring payment, or some complex web technologies (but this is changing) Google’s searches of the social web, like YouTube videos, etc. are only as good as the tags used to label these media – that is, not so great
Wolfram|Alpha – “computational search engine” useful for statistics, figures, interesting infographics related to a concept Notice, too, that WA provides search hints on the right of page, so users don’t have to leave the page to get help with search syntax. It’s probably not a Google or Bing killer, but useful for students (and teachers) to know about.
Often students are frustrated by databases like NewsBank, as they’re so used to the Google one-box-one-click that it seems a chore and not worth using. We know there’s great stuff in these non-Google indexed spaces, but we need to make sure our students know what these databases contain, and how to create good searches.
And how to understand the results.
In summary, we have an important perspective to offer digital natives on both the wonderful resources that the web offers and also the importance of understanding the limitations and politics that shape the way we search the web. Most importantly, we need to help them understand the importance of thoughtful, meaningful inquiry and how the web is just a small part of this endeavor.
“The acquisition of knowledge used to mean
pursuing a prescribed path and then getting to
the knowledge desired when the path reached
there. The seeker had to jump through the
hoops left by his predecessors. Now, the seeker
can just get the answer.
And in some cases—many cases even—this
is a terriﬁc thing…. We only get into trouble if
we equate such cherry-picked knowledge with
the kind one gets pursuing a genuine inquiry”
- Douglas Rushkoff, “Program or Be Programmed”