Archive for September, 2010

Search results in an Instant

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Google Instant provides search results as you type, but is this necessarily a good thing?

The latest search innovation from Google is to provide search results as you type. It aims to deliver faster searches, smarter predictions and instant results.

However, this appears to be at the expense of some key features that savvy searchers may have come to depend upon over the years.

Alex Chitu over at Google Operating System has highlighted some of the features that are no longer available in instant search mode, including the fact that it only returns results 10 at a time and that it  stops users from searching within a set up results.

But it certainly does appear to save time as Lifehacker has tried to show …

What effect will this have?

The race to the top of the Google Rankings may become even more fierce, as sites compete to become the first predicted result for each letter of the alphabet.

People will become used to this level of speed and responsiveness from search products and will come to expect it elsewhere.

But will it help searchers to get to the right answer or just to get to an answer a little bit quicker?

At least, it has lead to some creative videos showing how it works …

On a purely personal note, my preference to see 100 search results per page when I query Google means that for now I’ll be turning off Google Instant.

Back to school special

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

With the new term about to start in only a few short weeks tutors and librarians may be looking for some help in pointing students to some online resources for their course. Luckily, some of the key technology blogs have been rounding up links to educational resources in a kind of “Back to School” special.

Open Culture has a list of over 150 Free Textbooks: A Meta Collection covering subjects from Art History to Psychology, via Engineering and Mathematics. It includes texts that have been specifically designed as online resources, as well as texts that are conversions of existing traditional books.

Mashable has a nice list of 10 iPhone Apps to Get You Back to School – while some may not be much help to those outside the US, the Blackboard Mobile learn app for iPhone will be relevant to many UK students and the Open Culture app will help you wade through the mass of online audio and video, to pick out the most educational bits.

MakeUseOf provides another name check for Open Culture in their list of 10 Best Websites For Free Audio Books. Free audio books are usually classic texts that are out of copyright or fiction titles from aspiring authors, but if your course requires you to get to grips with some Dickens, Plato or Chaucer then this list could help you.

Lifehacker tries to draw these threads together by advising people Where to Get the Best Free Education Online. It features some old favourites such as MIT OpenCourseWare and the Khan Academy, as well as some lesser known sites such as Textbook Revolution and the Open Learning Initiative.

However, if you would like a pre-culled selection of websites aimed at your specific subject of study you could the Virtual Training Suite tutorial for your course!

Further education students and the Internet

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

As further education students start their Autumn terms, what sort of experience will they have and how will they use the Internet for their courses? Further education is a different beast in many ways from higher education (I’m speaking as someone who worked for many years in F.E. ).  The student body is really varied, unlike the mainly 18-21 undergraduate profile in universities.  Students can range from apprentice electricians, to mature bookbinders, to access students, to A Level students, to people in employment who are taking part-time professional qualifications.

Like everyone, they  probably use Google and Wikipedia a lot – there are a few interesting studies like the one from First Monday on Wikipedia (about students in the USA but still relevant). It looked at how frequently they used it, when, and how it’s used in relation to other information sources.  Findings? Students tended to use Wikipedia as a starter or ‘presearch’ tool, but then they realised they must go on to other sources.  Students stuck to a comfort zone of known resources – no surprise here.  These included scholarly resources and public Internet sites.   Does The Wisdom of Crowds apply too? Does working in groups for example, actually help students to find better answers to projects?  Personally, I find the book fairly convincing. It isn’t about dumbing down quality.

The Virtual Training Suite

Back to F.E. – how can students be helped to move on from Wikipedia? They are often in a hurry, sometimes don’t have much time to look for good online stuff and are not sure where to look.  The Virtual Training Suite offers some possible flexible learning tutorials to help –  how about Fashion and Beauty, Performing Arts,   Sociology or Health and Social Care?  Quick fix – Get the students to look at the TOUR section of one of these, and bookmark a few good Internet sites for their first project.  Maybe get the class to pick out their 4 favourite sites from here and compare and share in class.  If time, get them to work through the rest of the tutorial – it will help them to evaluate what they find online, saving time  in the future. No passwords are needed and the tutorials are free.

Any comments from the F.E. community on these tutorials? How could we make them better?