Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Search Practice

Since last April, Google has published a daily search challenge called 'agoogleaday'.

These little challenges have only one correct answer but many ways to arrive at the answer. Since these are similar to the Search Challenges found in my blog, I thought I'd take a closer look.

Agoogleaday was created by Dan Russell as a daily trivia game to encourage creativity and search practice. Unlike the Internet Search Challenges found here, there is no timer or focus on a specific search technique or strategy and the search engine returns results only prior to April 2011. More on that shortly.

A nice feature of the puzzles is the hints that show effective keywords. This kind of scaffolding could be helpful to students. I found that I was able to solve some without searching at all, since I knew the answer to begin with. But the notion of practicing search skills has value.

Why return results that are no newer than April 2011?  According to the author, this is to prevent people from spoiling the puzzles for others by posting the answers online. This doesn't prevent people from posting the answers, it only prevents the Deja Google search engine from retrieving them. At one time I was concerned about this with my Search Challenges as well, but it hasn't proved to be a problem. In fact, people have posted the challenge questions online hoping someone will provide an answer. Most of the answers I've seen are incorrect, which ironically makes the challenges ever better and drives home the point that you need to evaluate the information you find online.

One aspect of agoogleaday for me has a less-than-positive connotation for learning and that is 'every search has one right answer.' While it may be appropriate for trivia puzzles, it is not how information usually works. There is seldom one right answer for significant questions. If the questions educators are asking students have only one right answer, we're not requiring enough thought from students. Or as David Thornburg has quipped, don't ask students questions that can be answered by searching Google (or posted by spoilers). You can still use a search engine. You just have to use your head to figure out a good answer.

That makes it more challenging both for the teacher and the student. And that's a good thing.

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