21st Century Superpowers – Search, Find, Evaluate

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

 

 

Professional Networking – Learning from people I’ll never meet.

Social Networks and Online Communities

Learning through Social Networks and Online Communities is mostly about learning from people I’ll never meet. Occasionally, to my delight, the unexpected happens, and I get to meet a person I’ve interacted with extensively online. When that happens we greet like old friends.

I’ve learned a great deal from my direct teaching experience, from face to face PD sessions, from my students, from my teaching colleagues and from reading material they’ve recommended, but I’ve learned still more from connections online.

I’ve connected through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and online communities like the Google Teacher Academy, the PLP Network, and more recently, VicPLN. The sharing and discussion in the VicPLN and the Australian-e-Series Facebook groups illustrate just how useful online communities can be for discovering educational ideas and resources.

I’ve still much to learn about professional networking online, especially on Facebook, which I’ve used mostly to stay in touch with family and friends, and Pinterest, which I’ve used less frequently. I’m looking forward to learning how to better use Facebook professionally this year. I’ll continue exploring Pinterest too, though I’m less sure how active I’ll become there.

Google+ and Twitter

I do most of my networking on Google+ and Twitter which are now the second and third largest social networks respectively. They make it easy to read the thoughts of interesting people and to share my own thoughts with them. We can converse, argue, laugh, learn, engage, and, if we’re busy, ignore one another – something we can’t do face to face. Often the discussion revolves around a shared link to an online article or resource outside Google+ or Twitter, but it can also be a direct conversation with no external linking involved.

The key to success is making connections – to circle people on Google+ and to follow people on Twitter – the more the merrier. If you don’t do this, you’ll suffer the ‘ghost town’ syndrome or, if you’re a celebrity with many followers but minimal people you’re following, your ‘networking’ will be no more than advertising.

It’s also important to share, though you can start by ‘lurking’ as a follower or circler until you gain confidence. With Twitter it helps to use hashtags like #VicPLN or #edtech. They make it easier for people who don’t follow you to see your tweets. With Google+ it helps to join Communities which function like Facebook Groups.

Managing the Avalanche of Information

As I write this post I have more than 4000 people in my Google+ circles and more than 7000 people have circled me, so there’s too much information to show in readable form on screen. The flow is filtered automatically by Google and Twitter so that it’s possible to read, but it’s too rapid to digest. I use three strategies to manage the avalanche of information.

Firstly I use simple search. Both Google+ and Twitter allow me to enter searches that return posts or tweets relating to whatever search term I enter. If I want to read what people are saying about the Gonski education reforms, all I need to do is search for ‘Gonski’.

Secondly, I filter the stream to narrow the results. In Google+ I do this by switching from the full Google+ stream to circle streams or community streams. I might browse my ICT in Education circle’s stream or my Philosophy community’s stream. In Twitter I use TweetDeck to display separate columns for streams like the #vicpln hashtag and for individuals I find especially interesting.

Thirdly, I use automatic collation tools like Flipboard and Paper.li that present my streams in digital newspaper format. These provide a relaxing magazine like experience and, since I’ve only chosen to circle or follow people who share my interests, I invariably find interesting things to read.

Hanging Out

Google+ Hangouts also provide a great way to communicate more directly with others. Hangouts are similar to Skype except that you can have up to 10 people appearing on screen at one time and you can stream Hangouts to YouTube so that others can watch live or view a recording later. I’ve sometimes used hangouts to bring distant experts into discussion I’m having with teachers. The most impressive hangout recipe I’ve seen so far comes from Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen whose weekly ACCELN (Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network) Google Hangouts offer great value. You can read how they manage their hangouts here.

Google+ vs Twitter vs Facebook

Twitter and Google+ are very different tools. Twitter is better for discovering and discussing breaking news. Google+, like Facebook, is better for longer and more detailed discussion. I prefer the clean advertising free interface of Google+ and the ease of managing sharing compared to Facebook. Facebook’s advantage lies in its massive user base. If I want to find out about the next big family gathering, I go to Facebook, not Google+.

Google’s network began as a place for geeks, but that’s changing.  Already it has passed Twitter to become the second largest social network behind Facebook. I highly recommend it as a place for intelligent discussion. If you want to start Google+ with a bang, here’s my simple four step recipe for success.

Block or unblock? You can’t learn if you can’t do.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked at my primary school. I think that’s reasonable for students, but not for teachers. We expect to unblock Twitter and possibly Facebook this year after we’ve completed some staff PD on professional networking. If I was at a secondary school, I’d favour unblocking Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They all offer powerful educational potential and, to stay safe online, students need to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. We also need to teach them how to manage and control the distraction of social networking – no easy task, but an important one. When we teach students to ride bikes and drive cars we use real bikes and real cars. When we teach students to use social networks, we should use real social networks too.

More About Google Plus

Here’s a presentation that provides an excellent overview of Google Plus.  From my post of one month ago you can see that I’m a fan of Google’s new social network.

For students of marketing, this is also a great illustration of how to make an effective presentation. The clever use of infographics and clean slide design make it a pleasure to watch. SlideRocket Blog praises the presentation for the way “the viewer can digest the high-level message about Google Plus in just a few minutes, and then view it again later to glean the details. Presentations like this are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge, creativity and get the word out…”

Google Plus

It’s been a long time between posts and this is the main reason.

GooglePlus

Google Plus combines many of the best features of Facebook and Twitter and has become my favourite way to learn from and share with others engaged in education and technology. Unfortunately Google has restricted G+ to those aged 18+, but in the future it may be rolled into Google Apps for Education making it available to both primary and secondary students.

I highly recommend Google Plus for those aged 18+.

Update: 28/10/11. Google Plus has just been incorporated into Google Apps for Education. Unfortunately the 18+ restriction still applies.

Update: 26/01/12. As of 26 Jan 2012 Google Plus is available to users aged 13+.