more on instruction

Since my initial post expressing my frustration with teaching a Google class, I have taught 4 or 5 more sold-out Google classes. When I say sold-out, I of course am not being literal, as I unfortunately don’t charge. 🙂 Luckily, all the classes since the one I wrote about a couple weeks ago have given me a little more hope about my teaching abilities and class structures. For one thing, no nuns who have never used Google (or, seemingly, a web browser) before came (this class is billed for advanced users). One of them, I completely ran out of time and had no time for in class practice. That seems sort of horrible, considering my belief that hands-on practice is what cements learning in these kinds of classes, but was actually an indication of how engaged the class was. They came out with question after question after question. Here’s a run down of some of the recent questions I’ve had on Google and Google Scholar:

  • When you connect to Google, is it going over the phone lines, and where does it go? My answer: No, our institution connects to the Internet via fiber optic cables–specifically a T1 line–and the traffic gets routed through various hubs across the country before it gets to Google’s servers. (Or something like that. I really should tell him to watch Goldeneye for a visual.)
  • What is I’m Feeling Lucky?  My answer: (an aside first–almost no one EVER knows.  I’ve only ever had one student who knew.  It’s funny that people are curious, but not curious enough to risk trying it on their own.) It takes you directly to the first Google result for your search without you having to go to the list of results–you have to be feeling lucky to try it.
  • What is BL Direct (a Google Scholar thing)?  My answer: The British Library’s document delivery service that you’ll never need to use because you can get document delivery from the library–free.
  • Is there a way to only get recent Google results?  My answer: Well, sort of, but I wouldn’t trust it.
  • Can I see more results per page? My answer: Indeed you can–it’s in the Preferences.
  • Why are there so many Wikipedia results? My answer: I usually vary this answer, depending on how wordy I feel, but I’ll start with a quick check of the class to see how many of them know what Wikipedia is, then I’ll describe Wikipedia, then I’ll talk about how Google is starting to be known as Googlepedia in the SEO circles because of how many times Wikipedia results are getting top or very high billing, and then I’ll go into why it happens (PageRank, self-linking, popularity, yadda yadda yadda).  I get asked this pretty much uniformly now, so it is not just the SEO guys who are noticing this.
  • And so on…

I make people come up with a couple of searches on their own, investigate the results for things I haven’t discussed, and then bring them up so I can explain them.  Search Engine Land (much more so than Search Engine Watch, these days) and Google Blogoscoped are pretty much critical to my daily life, because for these classes, I absolutely have to know what Google has done today.

One of my work colleagues suggested (when I was whining about my classes filling so often) that I pass my class on to another department who could teach the class more often.  Another colleague, who was harassed by the patrons calling to sign up for my classes en masse and having to tell them it was filled, suggested another librarian should teach it, too.  In addition to being, well, okay, extremely shallow and possessive, I honestly think that to teach the class right, you need to dedicate a rather large chunk of time to keeping up to date with search engines every day–and I am not sure how many people are willing to do that, time-wise.  It’s not like teaching Ovid or PubMed, where changes are so infrequent that you can teach the same class 2 years later without too much changing–search engines experiment with their design, layout, ranking, results pages, content, and everything else constantly.  (When is Ovid actually going to release their new version?  I saw their beta version over a year ago, and have heard absolutely nothing since!)

Teaching Google Scholar is always interesting, especially after teaching Google.  I can go on and on about Google and how it rules, but I find a lot of what I say in my Google Scholar class is somewhat derogatory.  🙂  I’m no Jacso, certainly, but when you use Google Scholar enough, you get really familiar with its flaws.  They are decidedly obvious once you start going beyond simple searching.  But what is really interesting is seeing how people think about constructing their searches.  I give them a sheet of questions and/or search topics to research while I walk around peering over shoulders and answering questions when people get stuck. And, because I am me, I make these questions hard.  Each one is designed to teach a lesson.

For example, one question might ask the attendees to find articles that use a Likert scale as part of the research design.  Then, I might throw in a question asking them to find articles about how to design a Likert scale.  Then, I get to talk at length about the difference in strategies and why Google Scholar is a pain.  🙂  That question usually produces some consternation, though today, one of the students picked up on what I was looking for right away.  I’ll pose those same questions to my readers: stick your answers in the comments if you want to test your advanced Google Scholar searching skills!

I know that Google just has such an aura of excitement about it that people gravitate to these classes.  I know that even though most everyone who comes uses Google every day, they come because they are frustrated, thinking they just aren’t searching right.  I sometimes wish that people would come if I taught other classes (like PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, Scopus, etc, etc), but I know that until these library databases have the name recognition and potency that Google has, no one would come.  Why do people think that they can search PubMed and Ovid just fine while they think that their Google skills need so much improvement?  It is a total mystery to me, because I know that nearly every person I teach any form of MEDLINE to has absolutely no clue how to use it right, even if they think they do, and yet, most people intuitively use Google pretty well.  A mystery.  Any thoughts?

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One response to “more on instruction

  1. I’m also developing a Google class to teach this summer, so, again, thanks for the useful post.

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