Search deymystified ~ with a little steam punk

Finding and evaluating information is a critical digital/information literacy skill~ perhaps more important than ever in 2010.

But researching is a learned skill, not something you’re born with. And while some people might be predisposed to learn things more easily than others, it’s generally not enough to make a measurable difference. By learning how to research, you can quickly and fairly easily become knowledgeable about just about anything.

Admirable sentiments from  How to Find Anything Online: Become an Internet Research Expert. Actually the article has some interesting links to pursue – but misses a critical point altogether that was picked up so cleverly in Too Fantastique to be True:  Story of what looks like a wonderful ‘steam punk’ musical instrument.

The claim is that the musical instrument is built mainly from John Deere machine parts and took over 13,000 hours to build, tune and perfect. The email, however, which most people simply forward, contains great clues for investigative searching:

Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory
Sharon Wick School of Engineering
Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall
University of Iowa

Fact Check: copy and paste any of the first three into a search query. Your students may find this an interesting challenge. The video is one of many similar animations first produced, not as a hoax, by Animusic.

Helping students to learn to search effectively includes demystifying the search and evaluation process. No, it’s not a good idea to start with Wikipedia then move to Google without having some quality mental filters in place at the start of that journey!

Information Literacy to the rescue!

The 21st Century Information Fluency team provide 50 learning games that teach how to locate and evaluate digital information.

There are literally truckloads of resources to support information literacy, including Resource Kits, Articles, Podcasts, Videos, Assessment Articles, Tutorial Games, Curriculum Connections, Annotated Web Resources.

Our Australian students should be introduced to lots of good resources to trawl for information beyond those mentioned if they are genuinely going to be internet search experts.

A good place to start is the  National Library of Australia search portal. Welcome to Trove!

It’s All Semantics: Searching for an Intuitive Internet

Newer generations of researchers not schooled in more traditional, library-based (pre-Internet) research methods are used to doing keyword searches on the Internet to discover information. “But if you come from outside a given field, you don’t necessarily know what those keywords are,” says Alyssa Goodman, a Harvard University astronomy professor. A Semantic Web setup would enable researchers to craft their queries in more natural language. Goodman adds, however, that a fully semantic Web that can read, comprehend and categorize information beyond keywords requires a level of artificial intelligence that is currently not available, something Rensselaer’s researchers are trying to address with this new tool kit.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., $1.1 million in October to create a software programming tool kit by mid-2010 that scientists and other researchers will be able to use to make data from their work available to all.

This project is an excellent example of the groundwork happening behind the scenes that ultimately will affect what we in school libraries and our classrooms should be teaching students about effective search techniques.

These are issues I’m very curious about, and am going to spend time in 2010 digging deeper to learn more about the changes taking place.

I will be sharing what I find out at presentations at ACEC2010 and ISTE2010.

I think I’m going to enjoy  this!

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Web 2.0 in Libraries – 2D and 3D

Thanks to Sheila Webber for providing a constant flow of information related to libraries. Her Information Literacy Weblog provides real up-to-date gems year after year – she saves me time I must say!

I have also always enjoyed Sheila’s photography that provides a nice contrast to the steady information flow.

Two recent posts to worth picking up on:

2D Libraries

The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) launched two new guidance toolkits at the annual SLIC Further Education Conference, on 3 December. One of them was A Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Libraries. Add this to your report collection/bibliography!

3D Libraries

Event in the virtual world, Second Life.

When: Monday 14 December 2009, 8am-9am SL time (for

times elsewhere see )  (oops, I’m not likely to make a 3am meetup!)
You need a SL avatar and the SL browser to participate

Kim Zwiers (Kim Holmberg in RL) “Researcher, lecturer, entrepreneur” from Abo Akademi, Finland will give a presentation (in voice) and lead a discussion (in text chat).

Scaffolding information pathways – easy as?

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Conference,  Bridging the Gap, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, June 29th – July 3rd 2009. the conference  focused on the best available evidence to improve library and information practice in all types of libraries.

Papers and Poster Sessions are available for download.

I was particularly interested in the presentation by JoAnne Witt (Australia) - Scaffolding students to an academic standard of information literacy. Download presentation

Questions looked at included:

  • What effect did the library training have on student selection and referencing of sources?
    Were students using “library sources”?
  • Did the mode of delivery matter?
  • Which changes to the program resulted in improvements?
  • Were students using ‘library sources’?

The research covers issues related to use of Google vs Databases -of great interest to schools. This research shows what they did to scaffold learning and improve learning outcomes.

Skimming connections and content

My – how times have changed! When I began to write this blog connecting online was a new thing, and it was all about creating a social focus for information exchange.

Now I connect and reconnect, share, distribute, collect, throw away – live and breath online to empower my day to day work, and enliven my friendships and opportunities for professional learning. The speed around this has also changed – as has the fluidity of daily interactions.

Take this blog – I don’t have to write nearly as much as I used to – even though  there is more to write about!  Why? Well,  I don’t have to write paragraphs to share – that was blogging of a couple of years ago –  I TWEET to share!! I DELICIOUS to share!!  I FACEBOOK to share!!  I VODPOD to share!!  All this is fast, effective, and  what’s more, it’s easy.

As I read my RSS feeds in my favourite reader Feedly, I can quickly tweet anything I come across that I know will interest others, and will often send the same information to my Delicious account, and off to Facebook as well.  Similar thing happens when I add a video to my Vodpod collection, only the places I can distribute information at a click are even more extensive.  Admittedly,it could get pretty crowded out there online as more and more people move to this style of thinking and connecting  …so let’s see how the next couple of years go with these tools.

We all have our own favourite ways of navigating our online spaces and sharing information – the great thing about it all is the flexibility and speed of this information gathering and distribution. The downside is that there is a LOT out there!!

A really nice tool that fits into this new mode of skimming is the Article Skimmer by The New York Times, recently highlighted at Free Technology for Teachers.

The New York Times has tons of great content everyday, but trying to sort through even a portion of it can be very time consuming. The New York Times now has a new way for readers to browse its content. The New York Times Article Skimmer is a grid of headlines and article stubs that enables you to quickly skim many articles from your choice of sixteen article categories.

It’s a lovely interface. Perfect for keeping up with the latest information, and reading it right within the skimmer interface. This is a great tool to introduce to senior students who need to keep informed of the latest developments in areas such as business, technology and world events. In terms of tracking (understanding) reader interests, it is interesting to be able to view the ‘most emailed’ articles. Another feature of the skimmer is the option for personal customization of how you access the articles. Loads of schemes and lots of different ways to view the content.

All this connecting needs words, words and more words.  I really enjoyed finding out about Save the Words, and viewing the astonishing collection of words that are falling out of favour.  From Oxford Dictionaries,  we are encouraged to introduce a new word a day into our vocabulary. I spotted a great word to adopt – my friends often tell me I should obacerate myself!

obacerate, v, 1656 -1658. to stop one’s mouth. “”When Kermit saw the huge swarm of flies, he did not say a word, but simply obacerated himself.

Content used to be king

There was a time when books, newspapers, magazines and journals were the prime source of content and information.  It was always your move! navigating the authority maze,  enjoying slow reading of (limited) information sources in order to gain a knowledge base that matched a particular curriculum outline.

This was when content was king and the teacher was the sage on the stage.

Now communication is the new curriculum, and content is but grist to the mill that churns new knowledge. Why?  I came across a few good reads this week that set me thinking and wondering about the changes that we must support in our teaching and in our library services.

Think about this:

The era of Teacher Librarians  ‘taking a class’ in order to show kids how to search, get basic skills, or navigate resources is over. This is a teachers job!!  Teach the teacher by all means (that’s professional development) but don’t waste time doing repeat performances for a teacher who hasn’t caught up with how to integrate information resources into the curriculum.  How can they claim to be good teachers if they can’t model how to use information effectively?  How to use new search tools? How to navigate databases? These ARE NOT specialist skills any more – they are core skills for learning!

The era of collaborating, communicating and integrating resources flexibly and online is here to stay. Every form of interactive and social media tools should be deployed by school libraries to support learning, teaching and communicating with and between students. Are teachers ready for this?  Are your own library staff ready for this?

So what is the situation with content?

Dave Pollard wrote about The Future of Media: Something More than Worthless News. Agreed, the reason he wrote the post is quite different to mine – but in a lateral kind of way, what he wrote has huge relevance to information professionals. Media is changing, and the way media can work for or against learning is deeply concerning. Dave writes

Few people care to take the time needed either to do great investigative work, or to think creatively and profoundly about what all the mountains of facts really mean.

There’s the rub – mountains of fact. Authority and relevance are as nothing when we are confronted with mountains of information to sift and verify. The alternative is to grab ‘something’ and miss the opportunity to engage in real metacognitive knowledge activities.

The diagram Dave offers provides a strong framework for information professionals. How do we deal with new and urgent information need? What value do we place on media scrutiny?

Of course we can’t answer these questions effectively without taking into consideration the shifting dimensions of interoperability and semantic search. We are datamineing on the one hand, and creating data on the other.

Now what’s the implications of this? Semantic search depends on our tags! and our tags depend on our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in data sets.   It all depends on how things are defined and linked! Duplicate and meaningless content is created by poor  search engine optimization and keyword cannibalisation.  This means that the info junk pile continues to grow. The Search Engine Journal provides a good set of graphics (with explanations) that spell out these problems .

Here’s a simple image that demonstrates a good interlinking strategy. Then go and examine the canonical solution – looks like the stuff of good information professionals to me!

Of course, alongside the need for good search engine optimization is the growth in search functionality and growth in search engine options. Google has  some new features that have been tested in the past months. Google wants to expose some advanced search options that allow you to refine the results without opening a new page. The options are available in a sidebar that’s collapsed by default, but it can be expanded by clicking on “Show options”.

You’ll be able to restrict the results to forums, videos, reviews and recent pages. There’s an option that lets you customize the snippets by making them longer or by showing thumbnails, much like Cuil. Google wants to make the process of refining queries more fun and exploratory by adding a “wonder wheel” of suggestions.

Maybe I’ll just stop thinking and wander right off and do some Semantic Web Shopping!

What? more issues to consider?  not my move anymore? ….. massive change is pushing us into a  21st century information maze.

Change is coming (image by Maria Reyes-McDavis)

Change is coming (image by Maria Reyes-McDavis)

Search engine optimization

Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide is a document that first began as an effort to help teams within Google, but we thought it’d be just as useful to webmasters that are new to the topic of search engine optimization and wish to improve their sites’ interaction with both users and search engines.

Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When
viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined
with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results. If you are a webmaster, you’re likely already familiar with many of the topics in this guide, because they’re essential ingredients for any webpage, but you may not be making the most out of them.

From teachers or an information professionals point of view, understanding this guide is also important. It’s a level of understanding that can be used by us to help guide our own student’s interaction with the online world. They need to know about search optimization – because the world is often more about marketing than it is about altruistic sharing of information!

Search cube!

searchcube is a graphical search engine that presents search results in a compact, visual format. It searches

the World Wide Web for websites, videos and images and displays previews of each result on a unique, three-dimensional cube.

Once your search results appear, you can use the arrow keys, the SHIFT key and the mouse to interact with your searchcube.

Mouse over the images and get a visual preview of the site. I have a lot of fun with the results of my search on information literacy. I don’t think we are looking at a tool to drill for in depth information here – but I can see a very good discussion around research, information literacy and more using this tool with kids.

Problem? images included in the search make it a bit more complex to identify the source than traditional image searching (what has happened to the world when a Google image search can be described as ‘traditional’). Advanced searching ? no! But then I suspect this is just a new niche, not a replacement for other tools.

There has to be something fun I can use this for as well as a teaching tool! What do you think?

Innovative interfaces in Information Literacy

Studying my SLED calendar (which I have embedded in my Google calendar) more closely yesterday I stumbled across a morning (in my time) meeting from Sheila Webber, Information Literacy expert and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, UK. The meeting was too early for me, but I was intrigued nonetheless.

I have followed Sheila’s Information Literacy Weblog for some years, but made direct contact with her as a result of the publication of Information Literacy meets Library 2.0 to which we were both contributing writers (have you got a copy yet?).

All librarians should keep an eye on Shiela’s blog and the work she is doing. I slipped up myself, so was delighted to catch up on one of her current initiatives The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy. Do pick up The Seven Pillars of Information Literacy model which are available for download and use.

The Seven Pillars model was designed to be a practical working model which would facilitate further development of ideas amongst practitioners in the field and would hopefully stimulate debate about the ideas and about how those ideas might be used by library and other staff in higher education concerned with the development of students’ skills. The model combines ideas about the range of skills involved with both the need to clarify and illustrate the relationship between information skills and IT skills, and the idea of progression in higher education embodied in the development of the curriculum through first-year undergraduate up to postgraduate and research-level scholarship.

I was actually on duty as Docent at ISTE Island, when the sim was shut down in one of the usual Linden Lab restarts. Being on the loose in Second Life I spotted the fact that Sheila was also inworld, and after a quick IM she kindly invited me to take a look at the work they are doing on the Seven Pillars over at Infoli iSchool in Second Life: iSchool/95/38/22/

Can I say, this is really an interesting project to watch!! I was so excited to see the framework growing in a 3D environment, allowing students to ‘walk the walk’ of the information literacy process. This is a model that can work not just in higher education, but in secondary education just as effectively (in teen second life).

As Sheila explained, she had students exploring and applying this information literacy model to their research and information needs during her course, after they had completed another unit which had included Second Life learning. This struck me as ideal!

We do need to look at innovative ways to capture the interest and commitment of our students to understanding the deep thinking involved in the information search process, and as the learning world becomes more and more immersive, these initiatives are an important step in the right direction.

The model not only allows students to ‘walk through’ the stages of the information process, but it also includes powerful investigation of both quantitative and qualitative research.

In fact, I would venture that using the 7 pillars in Second Life would very nicely tap into the cognitive AND affective domains of the information search process. By allowing collaborative discussions about the research process and by involving the students in use of such interesting tools as the Opinionater, a Likert scale social grapher (puts voting with your feet into a whole new perspective LOL), I can see an amazingly powerful application to information literacy instruction not just in tertiary, but also in school environments.

Wonderful experience. Thanks Sheila!

Photo: Moleskin Hack

‘Buy in’ is low!

We often talk about the challenge of developing our 21st century learning capacity amongst our teachers. But I, like so many, have to start at the beginning. Personally I love that challenge, because it makes me reflect deeply on my own core beliefs about learning and teaching as we find it today.

So here’s our latest challenge – introducing all of Year 7 to the Resources Centre (library).

Shudder – well at least that is what the older boys do when they remember their time in Year 7 undertaking their 7 week project. I have the blue printed book on my desk. I opened it once. I rejected it immediately. We now have the Science Research wiki instead!

So we are developing a new approach – the is of course delivered online, that builds in to the program key points of information fluency. Let me tell you, this is just the beginning!  This is very new for my teachers, and is being welcomed with open arms so far.  So that’s the trick isn’t it. Start small, turn around the tide.

This is what I wrote about it at school:

Staff in the Resources Centre are always keen to find ways to promote reading and literacy as well as thinking in all areas across the curriculum.
We believe that thinking should be treated as a fundamental literacy skill, whether the ‘language’ in question is Maths, Science, Art or English! There is no question that reading, writing, speaking, and listening are interconnected skills that develop synergistically and are key to teaching thinking. The more fluent students become as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners, the clearer, more coherent, and more flexible their thinking will become.
So we look constantly look for new opportunities – and a few have come our way this term.
We have launched a new Year 7 Science Research program in collaboration with teachers, to introduce students to what the Resources Centre can offer, coupled with research techniques, learning strategies, note-taking ideas, web evaluation, using a bibliography, and more. This new programme has been launched as a web-based wiki that provides the pathway for learning, without being didactic about the approach. Each class is different so though key areas are covered for all, the learning experience is modified to suit the needs of each student. You can find the Research Wiki at

Photo: Solar System