According to a new study from the Pew Research Foundation, secondary school teachers report that most students now equate doing research with using Google. My own anecdotal research suggests this is becoming equally true among junior/intermediate and even elementary level students. Whatever one might think of this new reality, it’s further complicated by the fact that most students do not know how to use Google or other search engines to search effectively and to do effective research.
It occurs to me that Judaism provides us with an almost perfect laboratory to examine this issue. It has always been essential that students studying Judaism (and especially Jewish texts) needed to acquire the necessary tools to research and explore our vast library of resources. Studying Torah effectively requires knowledge and skills with which we must equip our students. We can and will disagree on what these tools and skills are, yet we cannot deny that the tools are necessary.
Someday, I might be writing in this column about a new research study showing how students equate Torah study with using Google. Far-fetched? Not really. Digitized versions of classic Jewish texts abound. There are web sites galore discussing and exploring Torah, Talmud, and just about every aspect of Judaism and Jewish texts. Not that many of the sites are accessible to our students – yes, they can reach these web sites, but they don’t have the tools and skills necessary to use what they find. It’s our job to give them the tools.
In my last column, I recommended “The Entire Guide to Google Search Features” and this is still a great place to start honing your online search skills.
There’s another type of search engine with which you should become familiar. Known as MetaSearchers, these tools combine the power and resources of the mainstream search engines, yet return more narrowly-focused results. They generally return fewer hits than standard search engines, but by aggregating the results from many different search engines, they’re more likely to find resources that you wouldn’t easily find if you only used Google or Bing by itself. MetaSearchers include Dogpile, Browsys, Altavista, Ask.com, Many of them include powerful tools to help your narrow and refine your search. Each has it quirks, and youwill have to invest some time in learning the best way to use it. The same, of course, applies to Google itself. It’s only as effective as the person using it makes it. So strive to be an effective searcher.
Want to help your students become better users of the internet for research? readwritethink.org has a great lesson plan: Wading Through the Web: Teaching Internet Research Strategies. While it is geared for grades 6-8, it’s a useful reference for creating similar lesson plans for other levels.
Keeping in mind that “R. Eleazar further said in the name of R. Hanina: Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings deliverance to the world…” (Talmud Megilah 15a) here’s tip: Son of Citation Machine makes it easy to create appropriate citations for sites used in your research.
Your students are using Google to do their research. If your particular setting doesn’t require research outside of class, you can still bet that when your student learned something in class that intrigued them, they’ll be using Google to learn more about it. Teach yourself to use online search tools effectively, and transmit that knowledge to your students. We’ll all be the richer for it.
As you use technology tools in your work, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Do you have a favorite online resource that might be unknown to others, or simply one that’s so useful you want to share it anyway to be sure as many people as possible know about it? I’d love to help you share the love. Need more information, some hand-holding, some translation of techo-jargon? You can reach me at my contact points for my Technology in Jewish Education consulting work: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @yoeitzdrian. I also blog and tweet as @migdalorguy and @havanashira. On Google+ I’m +AdrianDurlester