This blog post is in response to Topic 2: Researching from my Education 4764 course.
I’ve always been a denizen of the internet. I know many, MANY things about its use and applications that a lot of other people wouldn’t have even speculated at. That being said, even I was impressed and amazed at this week’s topic content provided for us on Moodle. I almost exclusively use Google for web searches, although when I’m searching for something academic, I will often augment that research with searches using arXiv.org. I know all about the use of symbols in Google searches, as well as specifying titles, content, and tags. It seems to me that Google, despite the possible millions of pages that it can return, is also quite good at finding what you’re looking for and giving it to you right off the bat.
That being said, I think one of the biggest hurtles for using Google in the classroom is the reliability of said information. In my PS2 practicum, I would often have the students use the internet to find information on topics that we’re studying, and I would always warn them that sites like Wikipedia are unreliable and that they shouldn’t take that information as a given. Yet inevitably, ten minutes into the activity, almost every student would be exclusively on Wikipedia. I tried many approaches like having them go to the sources at the bottom of the page, or telling them outright to not go on Wikipedia, but it was the easiest way for them to find answers and they kept coming back to it.
This is why I was so tickled pink at learning about InstaGrok. The visual layout in particular is amazing, and it’s something that I wish I knew about before. It gives real virtually physical links between topics and allows the user to save those links for later use. It takes from academic sources and even provides the links to the pertinent information in the Journal section, introducing the idea of providing sources referenced. Quite frankly, it’s astounding in its classroom use. I haven’t delved too far into the aspect of the quizzing yet, but I feel like the search, research, and organization functions alone make it a tool worth teaching.
Thinking back on my PS2 experience, InstaGrok (and maybe some of the other search pages listed on Moodle) are tools that I would have wanted my students to learn. The problem here is that there is a learning curve to teaching these new tools, especially if I want my students to be able to use them effectively enough that it’s better than a regular Google or Bing search. That’s why I feel like introducing this tool as a semester-long (and beyond) learning apparatus is something that would best be done at the beginning of the year/semester and to allow time for that learning to happen organically. My idea is that I would design some sort of search activity and have the students do it their own way first. I would ask them what techniques they used and what they got frustrated with. I would then introduce InstaGrok and show them a few features at a time. I would probably follow up the next day or two with more activities to allow the students time to get familiar with the website. In this way, I would be introducing it early on as a tool that we’d be able to make use of again and again. By necessity, a tool like this would need to take away some time from outcomes directly pertaining to the curriculum of whichever subject I was teaching, but just like with establishing classroom management, the rest of the semester would end up being even smoother as a result.
On the whole, I am a big fan of students finding their own information and doing their own research. It’s one thing to be told that all fish are blue, and quite another to be able to be posed the question and to find that result on their own. One of the best university physics courses that I ever took was a nuclear energy course wherein we had to teach ourselves. The professor facilitated us, directed our questions, and clarified information, but it was up to us to find answers to the problems we were faced with. As a result, I remember more about the content from that class than I do from any other, and I gained practical research experience to boot.