When working with students on search there are two things I see pretty regularly:
- Students start opening links seemingly at random
- Students scroll up and down on results, unable to decide what to click on
Neither, obviously, is a great strategy. Students end up deep in a source before thinking carefully about the results of their search, or end up searching and searching, perhaps hoping that the “just right” link will open of its own volition.
We want students to click mindfully, but they’ve rarely been given the tools and the time they need to learn how to make sense of their search results. Luckily, I have a History teacher colleague who has noticed (and is frustrated by!) the same thing, so we developed a plan to help students slow down and think about their searches.
We started by giving students printouts of two different Google search results, asking them to notice the difference in results when using search terms. We then looked at the “anatomy” of a result – what can you tell about a source before clicking through. What words are in bold in the results? Is there a date (and does it matter)? What does it mean when a result includes “cited by #”? What is the title of the source (oddly enough, the last thing they noticed)?
Next, we showed them some strategies for more effective Google searching. Students were still finalizing their area of focus, so their searches were pretty general. Our main goal was to have students pay attention to their results and think about what they might want to click on and why. Inspired by something I’d seen from Tasha Bergson-Michelson, I created this grid for students to use as they tried different search strategies and evaluated their results (you can use this link to make a copy if you’d like). Many thanks to Tasha for sharing this, and for knowing what I was talking about when I emailed to ask her to share it!
After giving students some time to practice, and debriefing their experiences, we moved onto databases. Many of our students had not spent significant time searching in Gale, so we wanted to orient them to how to refine their results. Knowing that we couldn’t teach them everything about databases without overwhelming them we decided to focus on the different “categories” of sources, and using the Subjects filter to refine results. I tried to adapt the grid we’d used for Google, but I feel like it still needs some work – or students need more orientation to the databases. Or both. It’s probably both. In any event, you can make yourself a copy here, and please let me know if you have ideas for how to improve it.
This is part of a larger project, for which students will be asked to create something that tells “the story” of their search. We wanted to take the pressure of a paper or presentation away, and ask students to really focus on articulating how they’re searching and why. It’s our first time doing this, so definitely still working out the kinks, but I feel very lucky to have the time and space to dig into these skills with students. Would love to hear how other folks are teaching click restraint, and overcoming click paralysis!