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I’m not quite sure what is wrong with me – this is the third time I’ve started this post thanks to accidentally closing the other two without meaning to at all! Why in the world does WordPress not have an autosave draft function? Or a save draft function at all, from what I can see? Crazy horses indeed.

So Lesson 1! It covers the following:

– Selection of keywords! Check for bias within your selections, it might exist even when you think it doesn’t. An interesting example was given of the Falklands and Malvinas Islands – same islands, different names with different perspectives on the history.

– Google does not rank results by credibility, but by popularity. This has a few important implications.

  • The act of ‘Googlebombing‘ can influence results to rather amusing/political effect
  • The first result of a Google search receives 36.4% of ‘click throughs’ and so the order of results is clearly very influential. There is quite a nice interesting table here, although I haven’t looked at whether this information is reliable at all, please forgive me!

– A handy tip to check facts is to use the date range limiter. An example was given of a quote attributed to Martin Luther King which was used everywhere when Osama Bin Laden was killed. There is no sign of this quote prior to 1999 however, quite unlikely if MLK really were the author! There is an article here which shows how this can be used.

I’m sure I had more to say about Lesson 1, but as this is my third time around I rather think I’m just going to leave it at that and move on to Lesson 2!

Lesson 2 is all about Variant Data and avoiding confirmation bias when searching. The example given is to compare the results of the circumference of the Earth – you may not know that it’s slightly different if you’re measuring round the equator or round the poles, and may assume that one answer is the right answer, but that’s not the case.

It moves on to a discussion of verifying your sources and consistently asking “where did that information come from?” and “how was it measured?” By asking these questions you’re effectively employing critical thinking skills. Google lets you know that you shouldn’t be “baking” your answer in to your search query as this will skew your results; this is confirmation bias! I like the explanation of confirmation bias as I sometimes struggle to articulate this effectively to students. Ultimately, what you should be doing, “as a good searcher, is to try to gather information about the entire space of what’s going on, and then use your skills to synthesize, filter and organise that information to get to the bottom of it.”

On to Lesson 3! This looks at using Books to verify a quote. So this involves selecting the ‘Books’ tab on Google and searching through the texts of books. By going to Advanced Search it is possible to select only those books with a preview, full view or ebook available. This could be useful for students trying to track down a quote they inevitable forgot to write the details down for!

Lesson 4 is about using WHOIS and looking for other site information. I’m relatively familiar with WHOIS already but it’s a potentially very useful tool and could be worth mentioning to students. The site basically provides detailed information on who the site administrator is and so on, and can often provide clues as to bias or influence that may not necessarily be overtly present.

Lesson 5, and the final lesson for this class, is Occasional Misconceptions. This lesson is Dan Russell explaining away a few misconceptions that are apparently held about Google, how searches work, or the internet in general.  The first is that businesses can not buy their way to the top of a search result – they can place ads, of course, but that’s a different story. It’s also stated that Google does not necessarily have involvement with websites or products that use it for their own purposes, i.e. to search through a website. Basically, Dan Russell is declaring from the rooftops everything we try to explain to students; Google has not vetted the websites, they are not ranked authoritatively, there is no ‘judgment’ placed upon the websites by Google at all. He concludes by saying that the information is provided for you to make a judgment on, to form an opinion and establish whether it is authoritative and accurate. It’s interesting to hear Google themselves clearly state what they aren’t in order to highlight how great they are at what they actually are.

And that’s Class 5! Only one more class to go and it’s all done with. I’ve actually already completed the final assessment, I’m just behind on updating this, but I’ll catch up shortly!

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