Three Search Techniques Every Teacher and Student Should Try

I’m in the process of updating my Search Strategies Students Need to Know online course. In the process of doing that I revisited Characterizing the Influence of Domain Expertise on Web Search Behavior written by White, Dumais, and Teevan at Microsoft Research. They found that domain experts (domain referring to subject matter) conducted searches with more branchiness than non-experts.

Branchiness is defined as: the number of re-visits to previous pages in the session that were then followed by a forward motion to a previously unvisited page in the session.

Furthermore, the search sessions of domain experts consistently include more pages, more queries, and more overall time.

The findings of White, Dumais, and Teevan were consistent with findings of previous researchers on the topic including Ingrid Hsieh-Yee who is cited by White, Dumais, and Teevan. Ingrid Hsieh-Yee found that students used more of their own search terms and fewer external suggestions when researching topics for which they had prior expert knowledge.

What does that mean for teachers and students?

It would be unfair to expect students to be “experts” before conducting a web search. However, it might be worth having students develop a bit more prior knowledge of a topic before turning them loose to search the web for information about that topic. This might be done through reading materials provided by the teacher. It might also be done through mastering some vocabulary terms before embarking on a search. Increased prior knowledge could lead students to have more branchiness in their search habits.

Two More Search Refinement Tips

If you feel like your students are varying their search terms but still ending up with the same basic set of search results, it’s time for them to try using a couple of advanced refinement options. Two of those that I always show to students are searching by file type and searching by top-level domain.

In this video I demonstrate how to do both of those things and why they are helpful to students. In the video you’ll see how I found a great lesson plan because I used a combination of top-level domain and filetype refinement.

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