a site for serious play


Searching for substance, or is it CRAP?

Part 1: Which search engine?

It only took 0.23 seconds for Google to provide me with just over 40 million hits to  my search on “graphic novels.” I was going to say that’s less time than a blink of an eye, but then I wasn’t really sure just how long that is, so that was my next search. Despite some variance in how long a blink is, it would seem that Google did in fact produce results in less than the 0.33 second blink-time that I found on one site. I think we take it for granted these days, but when you think 40 million results were found in less time than it takes to blink it’s pretty amazing! What puzzles me though is that when I did this same search about three weeks ago (yes, I started this PLN task some time ago) I got over 55 million hits on exactly the same search term. Why is that? I can’t believe that 15 million sites on graphic novels have been sucked into cyberspace since then.

I also wondered if using the speech facility in Google to do a search would yield different results. After some previous experience with voice-to-text software that obviously didn’t think I could speak English, I suspected the results would be different. Well, the top ten hits at least were the same, but there was no indication of how many results there were or how long it took to get them. I can only say it  seemed as quick as the written search, and I’m not really interested in how many million results there are as I probably wouldn’t look beyond the first 50 or so results.

In terms of the actual results that came up, as is the norm when searching through Google, Wikipedia came in at the top of the list, followed by a mish-mash of commercial, educational, and organisational sites. Since I’m particularly interested in information about graphic novels in education, I added a domain search (by adding Site:.edu) to “graphic novels.” That certainly narrowed things down to just 120 000 results (yes, that’s still a lot). So now a trip over to change the “Any” option just above the “hit list” to Reading Level and then Advanced, and I’m really cooking with gas in terms of finding some quality academic articles about graphic novels. Again, there is no indication of how many hits there are, other than saying it’s 37% of the original 120 000 hits. Using the Google search bar as a calculator, I soon found out that equates to around 44 thousand hits. Time to start looking at what other search engines can do.

Bing brought up just over 2 million results with Wikipedia again topping the list and the remainder of the first page looking similar to what Google had to offer. Adding “site:.edu” brought up 68 thousand results, a lot less than the Google offering and no option to further reduce it by reading level. Onward to try something else…

I guess I’ve been put off in the past using DuckDuckGo because of its rather silly name. However, I gave it a go and, apart from it yielding useful results, there are some features that I found really appealing: the options to change the privacy of my search history; the clean, ad-free interface, the absence of page breaks (so none of that annoying “next”), and the provision on the sidebar of tips and tricks such as search syntax options, keyboard shortcuts etc. I just think I might be returning to dive into DuckDuckGo a little more often!

Last but not least, it was time to try a visual search engine. I’ve tried instaGrok before and wasn’t a fan, but in the name of Vicpln13 I made a return visit. I knew it was a mistake. All those floating balls made me woozy. Whats more, a look at the glossary section to see their definition of “comics” as “Comics is short for \”comic strips\”, usually a section in a newspaper” and I knew this was no place for me to source material for academic study. Sorry Instagrok, but get your facts right if you want my vote.

One place I will have a bit more of a look around is the PLN course recommendation for the College of DuPage Library website. There’s a good list of search engines (including specialised ones for music, audio, video etc) here that is worth exploring.

Part 2: How do I trust what I  find?

I’ve seen the way students select information–if it’s at the top of the list of search hits, it’s the best source. So how do we move them beyond that mindset? How do we help them learn to be discerning researchers?

In a school that is all-boys until Year 10, the notion of using a CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate websites has a certain appeal for boys, as does using some hoax websites to demonstrate application of the test. A good starting point are the websites that even the novice researcher has to be skeptical about (I hope); sites such as the Aluminium Foil Deflector Beanie and Buy Dehydrated Water.    But what happens when we go to something far more realistic looking (and far more dangerous) such as this website on Martin Luther King Jnr?It looks authentic, the URL seems legitimate, and for all intents and purposes it offers students some historical information about the life of Martin Luther King Jnr. But when the boys apply the CRAP test they soon see otherwise; that this is a site hosted by a group whose racial and religious tolerance is beyond belief. It’s a great lesson about not believing everything they find on the Internet.

So let’s visit a site that we know passes the CRAP test. How easy is it to find all the CRAP information? I’ve toddled over to the website of National Geographic; a site that I often refer to teachers and students. And whilst most people of heard of Nat Geo, it’s still important to establish that this is in fact the “official” National Geographic site. In terms of Currency, the Homepage of the site clearly indicates the site has operated between 2006-2013.  The Daily News section indicates today’s date. As for the site’s Reliability, National Geographic has a world-wide reputation for the presentation of matters pertaining to the physical and human environment. Its statement that it is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world further encourages one to feel that the the site will offer a balanced perspective on issues of a science, geographical and anthropological nature. Re the site’s  Authority, the site carries the Nat Geo logo, has a URL that looks genuine, and has a clearly labelled and accessible ‘About’ section that provides us with the purpose of the National Geographic Society. Regarding the site’s Purpose,or Point of View, the reader can clearly see in the ‘About” section that one purpose of the Nat Geo Society is the “promotion of environmental and historical conservation.” A perusal of the site and the reader can see that this purpose translates to articles and resources that focus on issues such endangered environments and species, urbanisation, etc. One has faith that these issues are provided in a balanced fashion, given the reputation of the Society, and its involvement with education and research. So well done National Geographic–you pass the CRAP Test!


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Take it, pack it and tag it…

I’m moving house next week, so the notion of getting organised is near and dear to my heart right now. We’ve already moved quite a few times–twelve to be exact–and it occurred to me pretty early on how important it is to keep things organised and labelled. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of, “I know I put it somewhere!”

As I thought about the second aspect of this PLN course – organising information – it struck me that my current process of de-cluttering, organising, packing and labelling boxes, is a fairly good mirror of how we need to organise the mountain of information that we are asked to climb each and every day. I use a number of tools in an effort to work smarter not harder, but like anything, if I don’t keep up the maintenance it can soon get out of hand.

Here’s how I currently try to arrange my daily professional workflow…

Over a quick brekkie I usually start preparing for my work day with some electronic de-cluttering. I check my email, deleting anything that isn’t of interest, and give Twitter a quick look through to identify items of interest that have been posted overnight. I re-tweet anything I think might be of interest to my followers. Here’s a couple of posts on Twitter that I’ve saved to Evernote – I’m going to use these screenshots in an upcoming PD session on Twitter.

Most days I get to work early and use the quiet time before the hordes arrive to start organising what I’ve earmarked at home.  I reply to emails, and check out the flagged links that have come through on Twitter. I  use Evernote to save clips of useful/interesting web pages into various notebooks (the equivalent of my packing boxes), and tag them. If I happen to be accessing the Net on my phone, which seems to be happening more and more, I’ll either use the Evernote app or email the page URL to my Evernote inbox.

I’ve also managed to train myself to write notes in Evernote so I can access them from anywhere, and I try to store and read documents electronically rather than print off everything – good for the environment and good for my desk!  Other ways I occasionally use Evernote include uploading a photo of whiteboard notes or PPT slides. I found Evernote so incredibly versatile and useful, that I upgraded to the Premium account, which, amongst other things gives me more storage space and offline access to my notes.

I’m currently also running a Dropbox account for online storage and sharing. I’ve been wondering whether I could do in Evernote what I do in Dropbox, but this article  convinced me it’s worth keeping both. Just as the article’s author keeps his music in Dropbox, I have my photos backed up there. Also, there are some apps on my ipad where I can send to Dropbox, but not Evernote. So for the time being I’ll keep the two.

Before Evernote, I used Diigo to store my bookmarks, but now tend to see that as double-handling. I appreciate that I’ve lost the community facet of Diigo, but to a certain extent the ability to share through Twitter and Evernote  makes up for that. And where I formerly created pathfinders for students in Diigo, I now direct them to Scoop.it, which I think has a more engaging interface.

I use Twitter as my primary means of professional development and have the Yoonoo sidebar browser that gives me access to my Twitterstream. As well, my iGoogle homepage curates my RSS feeds and the blogs that I follow. I know it looks horribly crowded, but it’s a one-stop shop that saves me an enormous amount of time.


To share resources with my teaching colleagues, and others “out there,” I curate two Scoop.its  and follow quite a few. I’m the teacher librarian for the Geography Department and they just love Geography in the Classroom. I also guide Geography students to this Scoop.it and show them how to filter the posts using a tag search.

Last, but certainly not least, we use Libguides to host the Barker College Library website, where each teacher librarian has certain areas of responsibility. We have deliberately made this a public site so that we can share our resources beyond the immediate school community.

So to answer the question, “How have digital technologies and internet access changed the way we organise ourselves?” I guess my answer would be that they have helped me [us] work smarter not harder. The work that we do is more accessible and more easily shared; it’s more quickly achieved and more visually engaging; and there’s more time to spend on higher-order activities such as creating.There is, however, a danger that we feel compelled to keep up with the myriad tools that flood the “market,” and soon we can actually be working less smart and harder. I’m happy to test drive most things that come my way, but if the benefits don’t kick in early, and if it’s not user-friendly, I’ll let it go and move on.

It concerns me that many students don’t seem to appreciate the benefits of organising and improving their workflow. We seem to have a constant stream of students looking for a lost USB that has the only copy of their assignment on it — backing up in the cloud hasn’t come onto their radar. They also seem happy enough to spend considerable time re-searching for the website they used a week ago, rather than have access to an online bookmark in seconds. As for the idea of  being able to share work and create together online – it just doesn’t seem to be high on their agenda (or perhaps, their teachers’ agendas).

I suspect to date a large part of the above problem has arisen from the the hassle of  students having to work on shared computers,  which means they’re always having to sign in to services such as Evernote and Diigo. This year, however, we’ve introduced BYOD, so hopefully students will start to see how 24/7 online services and being able to personalize their devices can work to their advantage. We can’t assume, however, that they know these services exist and how they work, so it’s up to teachers and teacher librarians to be fluent in their use and show the students some real-life examples of what can be done.