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Improving Search Skills with Google Education Resources

Helping your students find academic resources used to mean a field trip to the library. In online courses, this has evolved to include multimedia tutorials about library database navigation and live sessions with online librarians. But there's more to access these days, as the Internet brings a wider array of resources to our computer screens.

As an online instructor you may encounter students that have varying search skills. A recent article from presented a series of studies, conducted by academic libraries at multiple universities, which showed that students not only have weaker research skills than previously thought, but also exhibit poor ability to locate and assess online resources. How do you teach them to be more search savvy in addition to all that is required for teaching the course content? I recently discovered Google's Education Evangelism site and the related resources designed to help you do just that.

Search Education Evangelism Resources

As the Google Education site states, "In most cases, a simple search works really well. But for more specialized questions, a bit of instruction in how to search improves all searchers – from middle school students to trained professionals – and lets you discover and use more, higher quality sources than ever before." I encourage you to explore the site to identify materials that are most relevant to you and your students, but here are a few of the resources that may be of immediate use:

  • Lesson Plans: Nine plans are available, with three at each level for Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced students. Each level includes lessons related to understanding search engines, using search techniques and strategies, and incorporating search features and operators. You'll find that each lesson plan includes learning objectives, related materials, and instructions, as well as slide presentations that incorporate demonstration videos and graphic illustrations.
  • Webinars: Archives of online presentations made between January and October 2011 are currently available and the topics range from assessing sources and using maps to writing search queries and understanding creative commons licenses. The WebEx platform allows you to both hear the audio narration and view the presentation slides and screen-by-screen demonstrations. Check out "Beyond the First Five Links" for a walk through of Google search that shows how a single, simple query can have different results using different tools.
  • Advanced Operators: For those who have already mastered the basics of Internet searches, this list of advanced search methods will help to further refine search results. Instructions for using Boolean connectors (i.e. and, or, not) are included as well as other options such as "allintitle," to restrict results to those containing all of your search terms in the title, and "filetype:suffix," to limit results to pages that are a specific kind of file (e.g. PDF).
  • Cheat Sheets: These tips and techniques can be tough to remembers and put into practice. Google provides printable versions of handy cheat sheets, or "goodies" as they are called on the site, that come in multiple versions and sizes, and include posters, stickers, and mousepads.
  • A Google A Day: Need some practice? This is a quiz-like interaction that presents a new search query daily. Your job is to find the answer, via Google Search, as quickly as possible. This feature is timed, and provides hints and tips if you get stuck. You can also share your results each day. 

Provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (CC BY-SA) license, you can integrate these materials with your course and/or provide them as stand alone supplements for your online students. The only copyright requirements are that you credit Google as the originator and share any new work you create (i.e. remix) with the same license.

Resources in Use

While many of these resources seem to have a K-12 use in mind, they aren't juvenile in presentation and are easily applied to higher level students, particularly those who haven't had much online experience before enrolling in online courses. Take a closer look at what several teaching professionals are saying about Google Education Evangelism Resources:

  • Ann S. Michaelsen, a high school teacher in Norway, blogged about the new Google resources and sparked an interesting line of comments with other teachers who are also interested in this kind of information.
  • Karen McMillan, a 7th grade teacher in California, writes about her experiences at Notes from McTeach. She had the opportunity to attend a Google Search class and now shares her plans for introducing the resources to her students. She also comments on the "cool tips" she learned about during the class.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker blog recently featured the Google Education Evangelism resources and asked the question, "How do you teach our students to search for (and evaluate) information?" The comments already posted here provide ideas for course activities and assignments, and additional search tips.

As the ProfHacker piece points out, students who learn techniques for conducting effective online research gain information and digital literacy skills. As you consider how the Google education resources might work with your students, remember that they are not discipline-specific and applicable to all fields, from English and math to criminal justice and nursing, and everything in between. Let us know more about your efforts to help online students improve their Internet search skills. 

Image credit: Carlos Luna, Flickr

October 17th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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