Sunday, March 1, 2009

Searching the Internet: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

Research is a large part of teaching humanities. However, 'Googling' a topic has now became a bad habit that I find I am often trying to wean my students away from. Google is a great search engine, and you can always find at least one or two sites, if you know how to search properly. However, finding one million hits when searching an environmental issue, is not efficient.

So, what do I do?

Firstly, I have been attempting to help my students search on Google effectively. The following Youtube clips will give you tips on how to search and research.

I have also discovered the following three search engines that provide a more visual, clustered or specific search on a topic. Used either together, or by themselves, I find these are much more effective in cutting down the search to something much more manageable for your students.

The first search engine is called Clusty. Clusty queries several top search engines, combines the results, and generates an ordered list based on comparative ranking. This "metasearch" approach helps raise the best results to the top and push search engine spam to the bottom. Clusty is unique because it groups similar results together into clusters. Clusters help you see your search results by topic so you can zero in on exactly what you’re looking for or discover unexpected relationships between items.

Visual Search: Search Me is a search engine that displays results not in the usual text-list format, but as a slick image gallery of actual Web pages you can flip through and filter results by topic. The site also allows you to narrow your search by looking at specific categories. I use this search engine myself, as a quick glance at the web page is useful. It is also a great search engine for those students who find a page full of text a little daunting. Search Me was listed as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2008, in the Time Magazine.

The Boolify Project: An Educational Boolean Search Tool is definitely one of my favourites. It is “an educational boolean search tool” that graphically depicts boolean or basic web searches. Users drag blocks depicting elements of search parameters (OR, AND or NOT) onto a display area and choose to a web (default), news or image search." The Boolify Project was established specifically for upper primary and middle school students; however, it is also a great tool for senior students. Teaching students to use 'and', 'or' and 'not' will also prepare students for many of the university data bases, if they choose to undergo further study. Boolify Yourself, an article in WorkLiteracy, provides an overview of how Boolify can be used in the classroom.

There are many more search engines available. It is a bit like choosing your favourite pair of shoes, whatever you feel like at the time... The Youtube below outlines some others that may be handy in the classroom....

So, check these out and let me know of any others by commenting below... Hopefully my students can find that research needle in the haystack.


  1. Interesting piece, have tried the intitle. Do you use the "site" command? It can be good for finding things on a particular site. Especially good for sites that have poor search engines on them but are well indexed by google.

    I also personally use the approach of making the search very broad to start with and see what I get back and then if I need too, try getting more specific.

  2. I will second the site command. Looking for stuff the other night on earthquakes via the geoscience australia website (govt website=terrible search engine) i typed " earthquake" and found an excellent page for a colleague. Great site, btw, keep the updates coming.