" UndoDog: Giant All-Powerful Robot Librarian

Monday, December 8, 2008

Giant All-Powerful Robot Librarian

When I'm teaching 3rd graders about the internet research process, one of the things I spend some time on is how even though it is the most popular search engine now, and even though it happens to be my favorite for most things, Google is not the only game in town.

I go back to an analogy that I used with them in first grade, imagining that the internet is like the biggest library you could ever imagine, except instead of being in a building, it lives in computers all over the world, and anyone who wants to can put their stuff in there for others to see. I suggest that if you think of it like this, then browsers are like the glasses that let you look at the internet and search engines like Google are like the not-nearly-as-smart-as-real-live-ones robot librarians that help you find what you're looking for.

So, for the not-just-Google lesson, I remind them that there are other librarians in this crazy library, and ask them to imagine what might happen if there weren't. I suggest that as other librarians went away, Google would get bigger and more and more powerful, and soon might be the only search engine left, and then what if Google said "Sure, I'll find a picture of a puppy for you...if you give me a dollar!"

I don't want to have them use search engines that are less user-friendly or less effective, and I sure do like the ease of the built-in Google box in most browsers, (Will Richardson makes valid points about how AltaVista and others can be useful for some types of advanced searching, but I haven't found that relevant yet for my 3rd-5th graders.) so I still let them use Google if they choose, but hope that the image of a gigantic evil robot librarian sticks in their mind.

In a perfect world (ie. if I could see every class every day), I would love to do an inquiry where we compare results for a variety of searches from a variety of search engines, but I'm already packing too much into each class period and we haven't even gotten to helpful keyword add-ons (eg. history, biography, kids), choosing from search results, tabbed browsing, the Wikipedia conversation, navigating a page, dissecting a url, evaluating sites, or taking notes.

How do you all teach internet research skills?
(Image from Flickr user Mykl Roventine)

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