Context

There are few skills more important to students in today’s world than the ability to search for, to find and to critically evaluate information. These skills are a key focus of my role in assisting teachers and students at Castlemaine Primary School.

In 1851 the discovery of the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfield in Castlemaine sparked a gold rush that transformed Australia. It’s something all Australian students learn about, but there are none for whom the story is more relevant than the students of Castlemaine Primary School. That’s why I chose ‘Castlemaine gold rush’ as the search term to illustrate the 21st century superpowers made possible by new search technology.

Google vs Bing vs DuckDuckGo

Our quest to search for, find and evaluate information about the ‘Castlemaine gold rush’ depends on Internet search engines. Three of the best are Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo. How do their results compare for the search query ‘Castlemaine gold rush’?

The number of highly relevant links in the first ten results returned by the three search engines was ten for Google, nine for Bing and eight for DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo provided two links to less credentialed websites than Bing or Google, though the information was still relevant. Bing also linked to a less relevant page of the Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings site than Google. Based on the first ten results Google performed best, though its edge over Bing was less substantial than its edge over DuckDuckGo.

All three engines allow advanced syntax making complex searching possible, nonetheless, Google provides more depth and variety of searches via menu selection on its results page. For the search query ‘Castlemaine gold rush’, Google demonstrated a clear edge.

How do we know search results are trustworthy?

The site that appeared as the fourth result for the query ‘Castlemaine gold rush’ with both Google and Bing was the Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings website at fomad.org.au. To check the trustworthiness of this site I used Kathy Schrock’s 5ws of website evaluation – who, what, when, where, why – since these criteria are specifically intended for student use.

By asking these questions of fomad.org.au students can judge with greater confidence whether they have found a reliable source of information.

WHO? One of the site’s main contributors, David Bannear, is a credentialed archeologist. A search for his name brings up three pages of Google Scholar results and three pages of Google Books results. A search for ‘fomad.org.au’ brings up ten pages of Google search results.

WHAT? The site states FOMAD’s purpose is “to protect, preserve, and promote the cultural heritage sites and artefacts which make up the Mount Alexander Diggings.”

WHEN? FOMAD was formed in 1999 and the site contains news updates from late 2012.

WHERE? The organisation’s address is a Castlemaine PO box. Castlemaine is the administrative centre of Mount Alexander Shire, the site of the site of Australia’s first large scale gold rush.

WHY? The website provides detailed information about the impact of the discovery of gold on the region during the 1850s. It also provides a list of FOMAD publications and links to relevant third party websites and publications containing information about the history of Castlemaine and the gold rush.

Whilst there are no guarantees that the site is free of bias or errors, based on Kathy Schrock’s 5ws, students should have a high degree of confidence that they have found a reliable source of information for their studies on the Castlemaine gold rush.

Conclusion

When I began teaching I could not have found this much relevant information without visiting a large library in Victoria. Today, students on the other side of the world can find detailed information on the topic in a fraction of a second. Evaluating that content takes longer, but search technology makes the task vastly simpler and quicker than ever before.

Many of my students take this for granted. I’m old enough to find it totally amazing!

Forest Creek (Castlemaine Victoria), 1852

 

 

4 Responses to “21st Century Superpowers – Search, Find, Evaluate”
  1. yen says:

    Thanks for comprehensive evaluation of the search engines and the ‘Friends of the Alexander Diggings’ website. There certaintly a wealth of wonderful resources up on the web, easily accessible and for free too!
    Keep up the good work
    Yen
    PLN team

  2. John says:

    Thanks Yen. ‘Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings’ have certainly produced a great range of resources for those interested in the gold rush commencing in 1851. Where we live in Glenluce there are a couple of large abandoned gold mine tunnels – one of which goes some distance under the hill on which we live, so it’s a topic of special interest to me.

  3. jevans says:

    Really enjoyed reading your review of search engines and l also feel that the 5ws is a great way to teach students basic analyis skills.

  4. John says:

    Thanks Jenny. I enjoy using the 5ws for unmasking clever hoax sites like haggishunt.scotsman.com. The first of April always provides rich pickings too. Getting students to check multiple sources and understand the ‘why’ is so important. Sometimes it’s this last question that finally overcomes students’ tendency to be too ready to believe that something is real or true. ‘It’s a joke! Look at the date!’ can be the best clue of all.

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