Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Refining and Finding Keywords

The keywords you start with are often not the keywords you need.

A good example of this occurred recently in a summer program I was leading. It wasn't an Information Fluency workshop, but it did give me an opportunity to show some middle schoolers how to find the information they were seeking.

The program was "Lifecycle of a Startup" at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois. Middle school students attend who want to experience being in a startup. We compress the first year of a startup into five days as a simulation game. Most of it is real--they pitch their ideas to real investors in a shark tank experience to raise (simulated) capital to get their business off the ground.

One team was having trouble developing its idea. It was Day Three and they hadn't firmed up what their new product was going to be. They had been toying with the problem of CO2 emissions and wanted to develop an ink that could absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. They just hadn't found a way to do this.

As I watched them search, this was a typical query:
how to remove carbon dioxide from the air using ink
The first article they found was one about using carbon nanoscale fibers to remove CO2 from the air. But since this didn't have anything to do with ink, they moved on, growing frustrated. Fortunately, improvements to search engines allows them to use a long natural language string and get results (it wasn't always that way).

They missed seeing a couple better keywords in the reading which I pointed out: carbon sequestration--the name of the process.

I suggested they query: carbon sequestration ink

I'm not sure the students had ever heard of sequestration before, but it's an effective term to query. Would they have used it on their own? Doubtful. But students should be encouraged to look for better terms in the results, even (especially) if the words aren't familiar. 

This produced a link to some Google Scholar articles which opened doors to what they were looking for. Of course, the girls had to skim the articles to see if they were relevant. Another search term popped out of the first article: reduced carbon-footprint concrete.

The girls eventually found a connection between what makes concrete absorb CO2 and what could be added to ink. It took persistence. They changed their idea to carbon sequestering paint, since that covers more surface area.

See if you can find the compound or chemical that may be added to paint to suck CO2 out of the air.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The High Cost of Trust

Trusting information turned tragic when Wei Zexi, from Shaanxi province in China, died on April 12 after undergoing experimental medical treatment promoted on Baidu, the Chinese search equivalent of Google.

The typical hasty grab for digital information is seldom so terminal, but the common denominator is a failure to investigate.  What's different in Wei's case is that Baidu is criticized for failing to investigate the claims made by the advertisers it promoted in search results.

So, who's to blame? A search engine for failing to vet its advertisements? A student for believing information provided by a search engine?

It's always a problem of what or whom to trust. It cannot be assumed a search engine can be trusted, even if the ads at the top of the page are paid by a hospital. It should be interesting how the case will be resolved in China. Breaking Baidu's search engine monopoly, which has been suggested, isn't necessarily an answer. Training searchers to investigate the information for themselves is a more responsible and trustworthy solution.

Start investigating here

Information Fluency Investigative Challenges

Friday, February 26, 2016

New Tutorial Challenges

Hone your Fluency Skills.

Yesterday I led a workshop at the ICE Conference in St. Charles, IL for teachers, administrators and librarians on the topic of Internet Search Challenges: Google and Beyond.

The themes included competencies on which fluency depends, challenges that require these competencies, search strategies and techniques, how to use challenges with individuals and groups. We never were able to try all the Challenges during the 2.5 hour workshop--even though we never took a break. I shouldn't be surprised: 47 tutorial challenges were created for the workshop.

The tutorials are grouped into three categories: Locate, Evaluate and Cite.  Locate is comprised of three sub-categories: Browsing, Querying and Pesky Search Challenges. All these categories are further divided into Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced Challenges. Elementary is suitable for young and new searchers (no matter what grade), Intermediate builds on those skills and Advanced represents skills high schoolers should possess before entering college (and beyond).

So what I told the participants, I'm telling readers of this blog: try out the challenges for yourself. Use them with individuals and groups. Experiment with them. Think about what works and could work better. I'd love to get your feedback.

Here's where to go to get started: http://21cif.com/tutorials/challenge/challenge-directory.html

An aside:  The Internet went down 10 minutes prior to the start of the workshop and didn't come back for a while. You might imagine it's hard to teach Internet skills without the Internet. We actually filled the first hour offline with a discussion about what skills are needed at what grade levels, when to introduce skills, and how to teach students pre-Internet skills without the Internet. When you think about the Digital Information Fluency model, the first two questions ("What am I searching for?" and "Where will I search?") happen before touching a computer. So being offline didn't slow us down and was still productive.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Declining Information Literacy

The following article captures what could be happening when it is assumed students who are savvy using digital devices are also able to "manage and process information."

Students smart on phones but going backwards in computer literacy

For example, the article claims:

"Year 6 students were asked to search a website to find appropriate material, format a document, crop an image and create a short slide show.  Students in Year 10 were asked to design an online survey, use software to add two new levels to an online game and create a short animated video.

"By Year 10, just 52 per cent of Australian students were assessed as able to reach or exceed the  proficient standard."

This represents a significant decline in this measure since 2011.

Better search engines aren't necessarily helping. Test your students' abilities. Here are some flash-based resources on the Information Fluency site for doing that:

Search Challenges
Evaluation Challenges
Ethical Use Challenges

See also:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Squishy Boolean

This is an interesting concept that affects every searcher who uses a highly developed search engine--and probably others as well.

As the original blog states, Squishy Boolean represents a loss of user control:
"what we now have in most search systems is squishy boolean imposed upon us whether we want it or not, and often there is no way of finding out what algorithms have been used."
Read the rest here: https://thelibrarycauldron.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/squishy-boolean/

I doubt if most users of Google, etc. would choose to return to a state where control is completely in the hands of the searcher. That would require a lot of work and thinking (and no time-saving). If one of Google's tacit objectives is to make searching as 'brainless' as possible, algorithms are the solution. Therefore, the search algorithm quickly does its work, although no one knows for sure (other than Google employees with a high level clearance) what's going on behind the SEARCH button.

It would be helpful to some, however, if there was a way to turn off the algorithm. But that would be like going back in time. Control or convenience? One has to dominate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tracking Down Missing Pages

This just came across my daily "information literacy" feed from Google:

Just how to Finish An Investigation Report
Modify Post How to Use AutoFilter in MS Excel For moderate-to- substantial levels of info, using Microsoft Excels AutoFilter can be a straightforward ...

I thought I'd check out this report, but when I did I got the 404 message: Page not found. Try the link yourself.

Can you find the report? It's still out there.

[Scroll down for an answer]

It's possible http://informationliteracysummit.org will fix the problem. But until they do, the report has been cached. If you've never used the cached feature on Google before, access it by clicking the tiny down arrow after "Uncategorized."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Satanize Me?

A report of a secret McDonald's menu is going around the Internet. I learned of it today thanks to this DIGG post:

McDonald's Has A Secret Menu And Other Facts link

Digg's source is Lucky Peach, where Lucas Peterson gives the details, along with photos, of secret menu items:
  • Sausage Egg Big MacMuffin
  • Mash Brown
  • Blankets in a Blankets
  • The McLuminati
  • “Derrida-Style”
  • General Ro’s Chicken
  • Mommie Dearest
  • The Burmese Python
  • The Captain Nemo
  • “Diorama-Style”
  • Satanize Me!         
Short of walking in to your local McDonald's and asking for one of these menu variations (under your breath), how could you really know for sure if a secret menu does or does not exist? Maybe you don't mind if the counter person gives you a blank stare. Or laughs--I'm sure someone has already tried this.

After all, other fast food places have secret menus, why not McDonalds? 

One place to start is with the author. Lucas Peterson (If you want to make sure you get the right Lucas Peterson, include "Lucky Peach" in the query.) Top results are his Twitter page: https://twitter.com/lucaspeterson, another piece he wrote in Lucky Peace entitled, An Official Complaint Against Oriental Ramen, his LinkedIn page, where he lists his occupation as eater, Lucky Peach, LA Weekly, Serious Eats, Flaunt Magazine, Film/TV.  So we gather he is a public figure with an interest in food topics that can sometimes be humorous.

Another place to go is Lucky Peach. What kind of publication is this? From skimming results, it's a
"cult indie magazine founded by chef David Chang and writer Peter Meehan" [link] about all things food. It is a "quarterly journal of food and writing. each issue focuses on a single theme, and explores that theme through essays, art, photography, and recipes." [link]. The style of the magazine is ad-driven with loud cartoons and other attention-grabbing stuff. So an article about a secret menu fits in, although no claims are made whether it's true or not.

So, a writer that can be serious (at least at times) and a magazine that can be serious (at times) have paired up and released this story. Is this one of their not-serious moments?

The investigation returns to those customers who have tried this. They should be able to verify whether any of the creations bulleted above actually exist (I personally believe any McDonalds can deliver on Mash Brown). Where can you find these people, these witnesses?

Try Twitter.

A search for #secretmenu (guessing that's been used) turns up hits for secret menus submitted by members. Down the list is an entry by Lucky Peach with a picture of Sausage Egg Big MacMuffin, captioned: "We like to have a little fun sometimes, too!" Not quite definitive, but a sign the article is more fun than serious.

What other evidence can you find--without actually going in and muttering, "Satanize me?" (Note: I suggest not actually trying this. Keep in mind: McDonalds crew members read the Internet--they might actually comply-- in which case it doesn't have to be an official secret menu, but an underground one.)