A Teacher's Primer on Internet Searching by ps94506


									     A Teacher’s Primer on Internet Searching

        “Give them a link, help them today. Teach them to search, help them all year”

The purpose of this tutorial is to help teacher make themselves and their students more
effective users of the Internet. Students (and teachers!) sometimes develop habits for searching
the Net that are hit and miss at best and ineffective at worst. This tutorial will improve the
teacher’s ability find relevant information using search tools. Also provided are classroom
materials teachers may use for building these skills into their students.

What is the function of Internet search tools?

The purpose of Internet search tools is to aid the user in finding specific information. The
World Wide Web, the most familiar part of the Internet, has literally billions of pages of data
for viewing. Information exists on topics from the mundane to the bizarre. The challenge is to
find the information teachers or students want and need. Search tools permit the user to target
specific information and have it returned in an organized list. For teachers, the goal is to help
your students more quickly locate relevant resources.

How do search engines work?

Search engines continually scour the Internet using what are called spiders or robots (bots for
short). These bots look for key words or references. The information is catalogued and stored
into a database for retrieval when requested by the user. This information is stored, in part, as
a URL – Uniform Resource Locator. This is the address where the Internet page is located. An
example is http://schools.spsd.sk.ca/DE/PD/techskil/commtools/schwp.html. When a user
inputs the criteria for their search, the results are presented in some organized fashion as a
listing of URL’s. Usually, along with the link to the page, a brief example of the text from the
site is provided as a clue to the relevance of the data.

What kinds of search tools exist?

There are dozens of searching tools that vary greatly in focus, breadth and depth. Many of us
by habit simply use the same tools repeatedly, unaware of the differences. As with everything
else in life, quality varies greatly. These tools can be divided into 2 basic categories. A third
type, called a meta-search engine, will not be discussed here.

   1. Search engines – These are the more common of the 2 types. Search engines attempt to
      retrieve as many pages as possible and return a listing in some relevant order. As you
      will see, what you get isn’t always what you want. Search engines have a broader reach
      compared to directories. They are more likely to have something that fits the users
      needs. A search engine is also going to return irrelevant hits. A hit is a match, good or
      bad, to the search criteria. WWF returns hits for wrestling when you may be after the
      World Wildlife Fund. The more sophisticated the search request, the more precise the
      search engine can be in its results. Examples of popular search engines are Google and
   2. Directories – Unlike standard search engines, directories attempt to organize
      information into categories. This can increase the likelihood of finding related data. An
      example is Canada-Recreation and Sports -Sports-Lacrosse. The topic is nested within
      a broader category which itself may be nested within a broader category. This high
      level of organization can act as a guide to finding good results. This tends to mean
      however, that directories have fewer pages than search engines. Search results for
      popular categories such as sports and entertainment will often be successful. Returned
      results of more obscure material will be thinner and even non-existent.

Are some search tools better than others?

The short answer is yes…but. As teachers and students we can use several criteria to measure
the value a search engine or directory holds for us. These criteria are lack of bias and
accuracy/breadth of coverage.

         •   Level of bias – this refers to the common use of sponsored links a.k.a. paid
             placements that are returned as results to a query. Search engines provide
             preferential placement to companies that have paid for the privilege. In some
             cases the first 10 links may not even be relevant to the search! One of the better
             search engines, Google, clearly shows the user that a given link is sponsored.
             Look at the graphic and note the highlighted link on the right. Comparatively, the
             MSN search of “computers” appears to have included at least 4 sponsored links to
             begin the results. Some search engines will alternatively feature links that serve
             the purpose of cross promotion. Type “travel” into MSN and the very first result
             is a link to Expedia. The Expedia travel service is owned by Microsoft, which
             runs the MSN site. The problem arises when the results do not clearly delineate
             between paid and unpaid results. NB Good search techniques can greatly assist
             the user in achieving quality results.

             Clearly labeled sponsored links.
         Sponsored links appear as the first few hits

         •   Accuracy – this is a measure of the ability of the search engine/directory to find
             and list results that best match the criteria of the search. This means that the data
             is current and sourced from authoritative sites. Some sites have more pages
             catalogued and make a greater effort to refine results. This increases your chance
             of success. Google for example, will indicate that they are excluding some links
             because they are essentially the same as some of those already provided. Specialty
             sites that focus on specific themes will tend to be more successful at finding
             material within that field. For example, www.xrefer.com focuses on academic,
             history and art. The user may find more success using a themed search tool in
             some cases.

How do I use search engines and directories? Tips and Tricks

Now that you are more aware the shortcomings of some search tools, we can focus on
techniques for effective searching. By following these guidelines, you will spend less time and
find better results.

Tip 1 – Think like a tourist

If you have traveled abroad you may have had the experience of feeling lost and overwhelmed
by what to see and how to get there. Imagine that the search engine is a tourist looking for
directions. Provide the engine/directory with as much useful information as possible to
successfully direct its search. Use key words that most closely connect to the desired outcome.
Tip 2 – be aware of advanced search functions.
The majority of engines and directories have advanced search features that allow the user to
specify a broader list of criteria. These options allow you specify dates, inclusion or exclusion
of terms, geography, and even file type. Shown here is an example from the AltaVista search
engine. To use the advanced functions, it’s important to know some things about Tip #3.

Tip 3– Learn the 3 most important words a search engine wants to hear.
The words, borrowed from math, are referred to as Boolean operators. The terms are and, or
and not. “And” links two or more words to refine searches. For example, hockey and college
will return hits that refer to college level hockey and tend to exclude NHL. Many search
engines include by default the Boolean AND between terms in the search criteria. Use the +
sign to force inclusion. “Not” attempts to reject associations to hits that appear to link the
words presented. For example, WWF NOT wrestling will reduce the number of false hits.
Some search engines allow you to substitute the negative sign “-“ instead. “Or” will broaden
the search to include any of the terms bordering the operators. A fourth term is the Boolean
near. A handy operator, it helps improve results by returning hits that associate the search
criteria by their nearness within a document. An example is wine NEAR France. The results
will include French wines.

                     Number of hits                                  Parameters

                                                     hockey and college not NHL
Tip 4 – Empress yourself
A search engine can look for phrase associated with a given activity or person/event. For
example, “how do I claim a tax refund?” will search for an incidence of that phrase.

Tip 5 – Decode the URL
As previously mentioned the URL is the full address. By looking at the address returned in a
hit, the user can guess whether the link might offer valuable content. Here is an example.
Prospective parents search for baby names on the Internet. The search engine returns the
following link.
Every single forward slash, /, indicates a subdirectory. Moving back 2 slashes we see the
domain, www.parenthood.com. Everything after this domain is stored within and is part of that
site. We could reasonably conclude that this site might have other information valuable to
expectant parents. To search the site, simply scroll back from the end of the URL erasing as
you go. When only the main domain is showing, hit the enter key.

Tip 6 – Use quotation marks
Type in rolling stones and among other things you will get reference to wheels and rocks. Place
quotation marks around the words and capitalize to get “Rolling Stones” and the search will
force the terms to be in the same page.

Tip 7 – Open a new web page
If you are using Internet Explorer and Windows, here is a
handy technique for viewing your search results without losing
your original page. After getting the initial results, move your
cursor over the link you wish to view. Now take one of two
actions. 1. Click the right mouse button and choose, Open in a
New Window. 2.Hold the Control (Ctrl) key while clicking the
link. In either case a new window will open showing the web
page. The benefit is you preserve the original page for further


Rather than include a long list of links, the recommendations
will provide a short list of search engines and directories that
currently enjoy a good reputation.

General Tools
   • www.google.com (also www.google.ca) - currently the fastest and most thorough
      engine that also possesses a clean interface
   • www.yahoo.ca - a well organized directory that is partnered with Google
   • www.about.com - a directory style tool that features editors that review sites and offer
      guides to major categories. Note that it does make significant use of identified
      sponsored sites.
Specialized Tools
   • www.itools.com - offers general searches, dictionaries, translation and a people search
   • www.libraryspot.com - a great site that provides direct links to classic research tools.
       The list includes collections of dictionaries, encyclopedias, books of lists, how-to
       instructions, etc. Nearly every possible school related category is covered. Worth
       bookmarking for every teacher and student.
   • http://www.academicinfo.net/- an edited and annotated site of special interest for those
       in high school and above. The site groups links by subject area.

Further Help
   • If you wish to examine some of the many other search engines in existence, follow this
       link. Search engine list

To top