Search and Teaching Your Kids to Research

by Ruud Hein September 19th, 2008 

To kick in an open door, whether we think instant access to instant information is good or bad, beneficial or not, it's a fact of the matter.

That means that at any given time your children and mine are likely to access the World Wide Web in order to answer a question, find school material, corroborate facts, and learn.

Search + Research = Skill

Searching the web to find responsible, verifiable, genuine information of the professional or educational kind is a skill. Like all skills, it's an acquired one.

Purely technical there are search operators to learn. political freedom, political freedom -site:wikipedia.org, and political freedom site:edu are, after all, different searches with substantially different expected levels of quality of search results.

It's not only important to teach that the results of these searches aren't impartial, objective or in some logical order but that they're ranked according to a calculation which combines measures of relevancy and popularity.

It's important to show that how this is measured and calculated differs from search engine to search engine. Doing our .edu search about political freedom on Google, Yahoo and Live returns quite different search results.

As the grouping of 10 popular titles might suggest to the searcher a topic, value, philosophy, relation, causation, agreement, majority angle or even truth that's simply not there but for the grouping of the results, these differences are not to be overlooked.

Just as important as the differences between the major search engines is knowledge of specialized search engines. Thomas from the US Library of Congress has different information on political freedom than the NTIS' fedworld.gov will, while both are totally different from the Libarians' Internet Index directory.

Evaluation

With 10, 30, 50 or 100 results in front of them, how is your kid going to pick and use the really good ones?

The fact that the search results are ranked has to have a tremendous impact on her perception of these results.

In a library our search would return alphabetically sorted authors or book titles. Each source would appear once. There would be no way to distinguish between Nationality in History and Politics (Friedrich Hertz, 1944), The Supreme Court and Fundamental Freedoms (George W. Spicer, 1959) and Ignorance and Liberty (Lorenzo Infantino, 2003) but by taking them off the shelf, checking what they say, seeing who they reference and, later on, who references them.

On the web however the order in which we see these titles has been arranged in such a way as if to convey relevance, meaning, value. Is popularity-based ranking relevant?

Likewise, which indicators can there be of a search gone wrong? Which signals indicate that a SERP might contain too many junk entries?

Going deeper into the results, to the sources it references, and thus outside the scope of what we're thinking about here, search, we would have to teach how to verify the validity of a source, of what it claims, teaches and postulates. This is a deep skill and one that will only become more valuable over time. For example, traditionally the "barrier to bullshit" has been much higher with the cost of publication, distribution and audience access for books being manifold that of a web site. Thus publication by itself was already one filter applied. With that cost removed the filter has been removed too.

Responsibility

Now, your kid has to learn these things, master these skills, in order to make it. And we're not talking about a far-off day when she'll need it at work either: it's now, today, when she's going to do her homework. It's next week's school paper she should be able to write without you grabbing the mouse in panic going "whoaaaa!!!!!"

In the best of worlds this would be taught at school. But you know what? I'm already happy the 133MHz Pentium machines (I'm not kidding you…) were upgraded last year to 512 MB 266MHz ones… OK? Besides which, they've just gone through a reform. I don't know where you live but I bet yah there's been a reform just now as well. Or was last year or will be the next. And with everything that we already think schools should teach, I'm not so sure adding Advanced Search to the list will help.

So that leaves you and me and the publishers of titles like "Google for Complete and Utter Idiots… dimwit…"

Which is kind of great because as it happens, you and I are also co-responsible for the overall quality of search.

Small, funny, ironic world, isn't it?

Just Between You & Me

The photo of the boy tying his shoelace comes from chefranden. Sweet. I recognize this – heck, I think I remember this.

The two kids on computer are Joey and April and the photo was taken by Extra Ketchup. I don't know them but I do know the size and thickness of those keyboards and it says a lot about the speed of these computers. Judging from the screen it's running Windows 95,98 or ME. This is why only you can prevent forest fires should be taking responsibility for your kid's computer skills: to you they're a priority…

The photo with the responsibility sign was shot in a Ben & Jerry's ice cream store. Just that single fact makes it worth for inclusion, if you ask me.
Ben & Jerry started out in 1977 wanting not only to make great ice cream but to make a difference in the world. They started out by immediately giving back to their community; they launched with a local festival during which they gave away ice cream. To this day they donate huge portions of their profits to charity, make awesome ice cream and have people like me talking about them.
ATIS547 took the photo, by the way!

I was listening to Last.fm; you're welcome to hook up with me there too. I had some mellow Brasil Santos and after hitting publish are going in for a green tea.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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12 Responses to “Search and Teaching Your Kids to Research”

  1. Abhinav says:

    Your correct on one point. Searching is an acquired skill. And in the coming times, its gonna be all on Searching …

  2. What a post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, particularly concluding paragraphs.

    I am not yet in the elite company that needs to worry about these matters but at some point of time, may well have to!

    In the meanwhile,I agree that I am as responsible for the quality of search.

  3. SEO Services says:

    I have to agree with you that kids must start learning how to search or research and the ability to verify the credibility of the source. Although search results are considered to be relevant, many pages that are displayed on the top page are still not as relevant as we may think.
    Rif Chia

  4. Metaspring says:

    Teaching the youngster to research is very vital to their learning.

  5. MichaelD says:

    The photo in the computer lab brings back memories. The monitors and PCs don't look too old but the keyboards are hefty.

    You make some interesting points Ruud and I think kids generally are going to surprise us. I wonder if the kids (in the same age group) of SEOs perform searches differently than say kids of a dentist.

  6. Utah SEO says:

    Kids are quite curious and inquisitive. I guess the common answer to them is.. "Google it!"

  7. Granite says:

    The photo in the computer lab brings aback memories. The monitors and PCs don’t attending too old but the keyboards are hefty.

    You accomplish some absorbing credibility Ruud and I anticipate kids about are traveling to abruptness us. I admiration if the kids (in the aforementioned age group) of SEOs accomplish searches abnormally than say kids of a dentist.

  8. Marble says:

    eaching the youngster to analysis is actual basic to their learning.

  9. Eva White says:

    Well it is such a simple and practical thing when you think about it. It is a skill that they need and who best to teachit to them than a parent.
    Can't wait for my son to grow up enough to teach him all the cool stuff on the net!

  10. I'll be sure to refer to this post in the future when I have kids of my own!

  11. Chris says:

    Interesting point. We all worry about teaching our kids to be safe on the internet, but very little thought is given to how they search. I guess, I just assumed they pick it up as they go. Computers are very intuitive to them, as they've had them all their lives. A little guidance is probably a good idea though.

  12. Thomas SG says:

    We already live in an era of technology where the internet plays an important role. Having the ability to research is a must these days, for it helps on the educative side, the professional side and the pass time side. Teaching our kids to research is none other then a wise decision.