I have to give a big shout out to Helen DeWaard for tagging me in a Twitter message this morning.
— Helen DeWaard (@hj_dewaard) April 2, 2018
The message contained a link to a blog post “RESOURCES – ON AUTOMATED SYSTEMS AND BIAS“. The blog post gives quick reviews to a number of books. One caught my eye, not because of the title or author but on an exercise to do with a search engine using the terms “black girls” and “white girls” and the author’s interpretation of the results.
I did a personal test here on Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo!, Lycos, and SearchEncrypt. A quick analysis of the results served as a reminder that there are no absolute answers when searching on the internet.
I had to do a dig into the Wayback machine to dig this out. Ignore the date at the bottom, the page is semi-live on Wayback and so it was kind of neat to see that the scripting that I had used at the time still works.
We were worried about the same things way back then. (Can’t believe I just did that) While people laughed at Altavista using a Portal approach to finding thing on the Internet, it made so much sense. So, a group of school contacts and myself used this as a way to create a portal launchpad for our students – we called it the Student Reference Portal.
It was installed by the IT Department and was the default page for students (and teachers) accessing the internet. Unlike your default settings on a browser, it didn’t just go to a search engine. We totally bought into the concept behind a Webquest that the important part of the Internet experience in education was using content and not wasting time finding content.
There does come a time when becoming sophisticated in search and critical literacy becomes important. To help along the process, the portal didn’t link to the landing place of the search engines; we linked to the Advanced Search to encourage thoughtful searching rather than “feeling lucky”.
So, is this another rambling from someone who remembers life being better before sliced bread?
As it turns out, no. Not by a long shot.
There are some great minds concerned about critical thinking and we do live in a time of increased awareness about “Fake News”. Witness the posts above and from last Friday’s This Week in Ontario Edublogs’ post by Deborah McCallum.
And good ideas don’t deserve to die. The notion of the Webquest (created originally when you had to build your own webpages) has been modernized in the form of a Hyperdoc. Don’t be lulled into thinking that it’s just another Google thing. Anyone who creates a resource in Microsoft’s online offering or OneNote will show you that the concept is the same. Many people are offering up their own created Hyperdocs for anyone to use. Like any online resource, they do have to be evaluated for purpose – I’ve seen some that are no more than a worksheet gone digital. The key takeaway though, is that a properly crafted one removes the search engine from the learning process.
Sadly, I think, we’ve grown so quickly that we just accept the default as the norm and all the biases that go with it. Take a look at your browser. What happens when you type something in the URL bar. Or what happens when you click the home button. Or the new tab button. In today’s modern browser, you do have options. You can change those defaults to what meets your needs best, including your own website. Or, there are some nice portals already to go – Excite, Web Lens, or Sympatico to name a few.
You just might want to try the search terms noted in the beginning on your favourite (default) search engine and see if it gives you the results that it should. If not, what are you going to do about it? More importantly, what can a student do about it?
Thanks, Helen, for sharing that resource. It gave me the opportunity to do some reflecting.
So, back to you, reader. How do you search? Are you happy with it? Is there something you’ll do if you aren’t?