Researching Google Style

I recently was able to present a couple of sessions at the first Korean Google Apps for Education summit, held at Seoul Foreign School. These events are always high energy whirlwinds, and I’m always left impressed by the many innovative things that people are doing with their students.

In one session, I focused on using various Google tools (Google Scholar, News, and Books) and conducting smarter Google searches when undertaking research. While the slides from my presentation are really just an outline, they may help to build an understanding of just how much is possible when you dig deeper with these very helpful free resources.

As with most things Google, the various interfaces, toolbars, and menu options for these tools regularly change as the products are improved. In its attempt to simplify things (which will be appreciated by the majority of users), advanced settings and features can sometimes become hidden away. But these options can be critical to allowing users to explore the full potential of a given tool, and so it’s worth spending some time playing around and finding the settings and filters that can help you to become a more effective researcher.

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New Ways to Search Google

Thanks to some wonderful colleagues, I recently learned about two new powerful Google search features that promise to make searching the web even easier. The first is Google Images’ ability to now search by dropping in an image file as a sort of reverse look-up a la TinEye. Here’s where to access this new feature (make sure you’re in Google Images first by choosing the ‘Images’ tab at the top of Google.com):

The second new Google search method is more interesting though for a couple of reasons. First is that as near as I can tell, it no longer exists (or at least not as I type this). And more importantly, when it was working, it only worked in Google’s Chrome browser. The new feature is called Voice Search, and it allows you to search simply by clicking on a microphone button and speaking aloud your search term.

The video linked above (and again here if you’re lazy) illustrates how the function works, and when I tried it last weekend, it did seem to work quite well, and I could see it being of great use for people who are still learning how to write in English.

I find it very interesting though that Google is actively installing features into its website that only function on their own proprietary web browser. While I can understand why Google would want to do this from a business perspective (control, control, control), this raises all sorts of questions about some of the connections that technology companies are making. While most of these synergies will ultimately benefit the users of these sorts of tools (after all, if we don’t like something, we generally take our business elsewhere), I see how they could also quickly lead to a decrease in competition (see this article about Google’s new flight search feature) by packaging together products that were previously available independently from one another.

So thanks Google for the new search functions. They do look very useful. But please, keep them open to everyone, and remember ‘Don’t be Evil’.

P.S., if Google keeps defaulting to a country specific domain on you (like google.co.jp or google.ca), you can force it to google.com by using http://www.google.com/ncr

 

Learning online does not impact classroom performance

As part of my grad program, I’ve been looking into online learning and its effects on student performance and grades. I’ve posted about this a few times already, but wanted to share my research in its final state, and so I’ve included the full paper below.

In a nutshell though, I found that taking an online course causes no impact on student grades. I looked at grades of students in traditional face-to-face (f2f) environments and compared these with grades of students taking one online course and the rest in a f2f format. While both of these groups did experience a decline in their grades from tenth to eleventh grades, the decline was at essentially the same rate in both groups. The difference between the two groups, at less than 1%, is negligible and reinforces the value and integrity of online learning.

At the end of the day, those who are successful, continue to be successful whether in classes that are 100% f2f or partially online, and the inverse is true of those who struggle in their classes – they continue to struggle in either environment.

Google search by reading level

The screenshot above from the Google for Educators site should explain it all, but basically, you can now filter your Google search results by reading level. This would be much more effective if you didn’t have to click on ‘advanced search’ to get the option to use this filter though, as students are used to just quickly typing in their search term, especially younger students that this would be most beneficial for. Still, this is a great way to be a smarter googler.

The Wikipedia Problem

I know that this discussion has librarians everywhere bashing their collective heads against the wall, but our students (and staff) somehow remain enamored with Wikipedia.  Let me be clear on my stance – Wikipedia is a valid source for quick answers to unimportant questions but it is not a reliable credible academic source.  Yet.  Simple as that.

The Globe and Mail published an article as part of their annual university review dealing with Wikipedia, with a brilliant quote from non other than the founder himself.  Jimmy Wales summed up his thought on the prevalence of Wikipedia in university level essays by saying “For God’s sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”