Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Trivial Nature of Search Challenges

If you google internet search challenge, the top results are published by 21cif, including this blog. But there are other challenges out there:

Internet Search Challenge

Kim Bauman put together 10 questions that can be answered using a search engine, such as:
  1. Define garrulous.
  2. Who stated that The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do?
  3. Where is Mosi-oa-Tunya located?
The answers are on the site and may be used as a quick set of challenges using Google.

Jr. High Internet Search Challenge

St. Marys Schools (OH) published this 73-item pencil and paper trivia information challenge with items such as:
  1. Find a copycat recipe for Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion
  2. Who was the voice of Darth Vadar in the Star Wars movies?
  3. Who is the current head coach of the Arena Football League’s Columbus team?
They link to it as a Junior High Search Challenge, although the url or the pdf doesn't describe it that way. Searching for 73 items would take a pretty good block of time, but it's possible to select fewer items. No search key provided.

Internet Search Challenge

This one or two player game published by Boise State University has automated features, like dice to select the type of search tool to be used, and timed search challenges. The objective is to find the correct answer to the question before the hourglass runs out (there's also a stop watch function). Sample questions include:
  1. What was the name for one of the first computers invented in 1946 by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania?
    Bonus: How much space did it take up?
  2. What is the name for a number followed by 100 zeros.
    Bonus: How do you write this number with exponents?

Internet Search Challenge

Tom Sloan at University of West Virginia has posted a search exercise (9 items) for his English 102 course, including questions like:
  1. What is the real name for Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan?
  2. What is the meaning of the Welsh word "cymru?"
The directions for this exercise include explaining how the answer was obtained.

As this sampling makes clear, the task in most search challenges is to locate obscure information, usually intended to be of interest to the searcher. In addition, the task may be to use a specific type of tool in the process and to keep track of one's search to explain how an answer was found (a difficult thing to remember, actually). The task in all these is what I consider 'speculative searching': you don't know for certain what words to use or where to look.

There are few 'investigative searches,' yet this is where students need the most help. They tend to accept information uncritically; they don't often have investigative questions in mind when they search. So let me leave you with one: what is the author's real reason for producing the site: Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? It's a hoax site, but why? Why does the author invest the energy in keeping the site fresh (and misleading)?

This is a deeper type of search challenge and requires more thought than answering trivia. In fact, the answer is not known. It's a real challenge. If you or your students want to tackle the question--what motivates the author of the Tree Octopus site?-- feel free to add your comments here.

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