Showing posts with label Google Alternatives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Google Alternatives. Show all posts

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Other Search Engines for Students to Try

While Google is the default search engine for many students (either mentally or technically because of browser settings), there are other public search engines for them to use. In some cases using an alternate search engine will give students a different list of results and or may give them the information they’re seeking a little faster than Google does. Here’s a short list of alternative search engines for students to try:
  • Bing 
  • Wolfram Alpha 
  • DuckDuckGo 
  • Get The Research
Bing
A search on Bing.com often produces the same results as a search on Google.com. The difference in the results is found in the order in which they are presented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one set of results is better than the other. It simply means that students may end up looking at different websites because of the rankings produced by each search engine.

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha bills itself as a computational search engine. It’s probably best known for helping students solve math problems as they can enter a problem and be shown the steps to solve it. An often overlooked aspect of Wolfram Alpha is the ability to enter a query and see a fact sheet displayed about the subject of the query. For example, entering “Martin Luther King” into Wolfram Alpha will result in seeing a fact sheet containing a list of key biographical facts about King’s life. Enter “Martin Luther King” and “John F. Kennedy” as part of the same query on Wolfram Alpha and you’ll see a side-by-side display of fact sheets about each man and see a timeline of where their lives overlapped. For students who need to quickly find just the basic facts about a topic, a query on Wolfram Alpha often leads them to the information they need faster than entering the same query on Google.com

DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo is increasing in popularity because of its claim to offer private, untracked searching. Whereas Google and Bing will track your search history (through users’ Google or Microsoft accounts and or via browser settings), DuckDuckGo doesn’t track search history. There is a potential benefit to students using DuckDuckGo in addition to the privacy aspect. By not tracking search habits, DuckDuckGo’s search results are not influenced by a user’s past search and click histories. This has the potential to break students out of a bubble of results that are influenced by their past actions.

DuckDuckGo does offer search results refinement tools similar to those offered by Google. However, you do have to enter those refinements into your query as there is not an “advanced search” menu as there is for Google.com. See the video here for directions on refining DuckDuckGo search results. 

Get The Research
Get The Research is a fairly small search engine that is focused on helping people find academic articles. A search on Get The Research will yield a small summary of the searched topic and a list of published academic articles. The articles in the search results will be a mix of open-access articles and paywalled articles. You can filter results to show only open-access articles.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Challenge - Introduce Students to Academic Search Engines and Databases

In the minds of many students yelling “Hey Siri, tell me about Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “Hey Google, when did the Soviet Union collapse?” is conducting research. As teachers we know that research is a process that goes far beyond telling a machine to give us some information. The challenge is to get students to understand that research is a process and is not just typing a question into a search box or speaking a query aloud in the hopes that some AI-powered machine spits out new, useful information.

To move students past entering simple queries into Google and onto conducting research, we should show them that Google.com is not the only search engine they can use. There’s a good chance that your school library and or local public library pays for a subscription to a database of academic articles. A few examples of those include JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and ScienceDirect. The librarians in your school and public libraries will be happy, perhaps thrilled that you asked, to show your students how to access those databases through a library login.

In addition to the aforementioned subscription-required databases, there are free databases that your students can use in their research processes. Some popular choices include ERIC, Semantic Scholar, and Get The Research.

History teachers should also be sure to point their students toward digital archives such as those housed by The Library of Congress, The World Digital Library, and The Commons hosted by Flickr. Additionally, most countries, states, and provinces have digital archives of their own that can be freely searched. Some of the records in these databases may appear in Google search results and some may not. In either case, the records within the archives aren’t likely to rank highly in a Google.com search result and it’s therefore worthwhile to compile a list of the digital archive databases that you think will be helpful to your students. Somewhat ironically, the easiest way to find these archives is to type into Google.com the name of the country, state, or province followed by “digital archive,” “national archive,” “state archive,” “provincial archive,” or simply “archive.”

Another good source of information for student researchers is in the digital archives of libraries, museums and historical preservation societies. The largest of these, like The British Museum and The New York Public Library are well organized and relatively easy to search. Smaller ones like those of small-town historical societies may not have a search function at all. In that case students will have to browse through archives in hopes of finding a useful piece of information.

One of the primary differences between searching for information through Google.com compared to searching through academic databases and digital archives is found in the organization and presentation of search results. Google.com ranks search results based on five key factors; meaning of your query, relevance of webpages, quality of content, usability of webpages, and context and settings. In short, Google is trying to predict what you’re searching for and serve up what its algorithm predicts is the best thing for you to read or watch. The results are therefore a ranking based on that combination of factors and some lesser factors that Google doesn’t always publicly acknowledge. With few exceptions, academic databases and digital archives are not in the prediction game. Their search results pages are based on matching your query to the content of items in their databases.

The difference between how search results are organized and presented matters to students for two reasons. First, in a quest to appear at the top of Google search results website owners often publish material in a quest to satisfy Google’s algorithm which leads to lots of superficial or basic content rather than in-depth academic content. Deep, academic content is rarely written to satisfy Google’s algorithm and therefore rarely appears in the first pages of Google search results if at all. Second, the predictive text or suggested search terms provided by Google can lead students into searches that distract them from their original search strategies.

Finally, many academic papers are not indexed by Google at all because they are behind the paywall or login of a database and or the owners of those databases have requested that Google not index their content. Students who rely solely on Google.com for their research needs are missing out on valuable information.

This writing and image originally appeared on FreeTech4teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Writing and feature image created by Richard Byrne.