Improving Your Searches

This is part two of a series on media literacy and education.

When teaching media literacy and acceptable use of information, an important lesson must center on usage rights. It is surprising how many people misuse information in a digital climate. Educators are especially notorious for using/blending/modifying work they find, but how often do these same educators lead by example when citing their sources?

I know at least for myself, the answer is not as often as I should. And when it comes to students creating multimedia presentations, a great first conversation should begin with usage rights. Out of curiosity, I began with asking my students about their search engine strategy, to which I received dumbfounded looks and the obligatory “duh” comment following the word Google. Interestingly enough, students haven’t even begun to unlock the potential of even a simple search.

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We have all seen horribly pixelated photos used before. This can be remedied by clicking on the “tools” icon in your regular Google search. A whole new drop-down appears which includes helpful items such as size, color, type, time, usage rights and more tools! Depending on the end result, I instruct students to select larger photos than the thumbnail version they first see. The time drop-down is also a really helpful selection when we are talking about narrowing search results to more recent pieces. Nothing is worse than outdated data.

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Sadly, the drop-down students rarely, if ever, notice is the usage rights one. This is where the conversation shifts to Creative Commons.

For those who may not know, Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that “works to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) available in ‘the commons’ – the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing.”

According to, the organization “helps you legally share your knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world.”

In my opinion, Creative Commons is a far too underutilized tool. If you remember in the previous article about the makers of Creator Commons combining the power of their efforts with the Met, now an entirely new CC beta search is available, just to help the public navigate the extensive collection of art.

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Students also don’t realize other hidden features that would boost their searches. I love the different tips and tricks you can find online. Some of my favorites include:

  • Use Quotes
    • Using quotes around a word or phrase helps to minimize the guesswork. It gives the search parameters and will give you specific information in your return.
  • Hyphen
    • Using a hyphen can exclude words you don’t want the search engine to assume. Like searching cowboys could return information on the football team or the wild west cattle wrangling version. You can eliminate the version you don’t want by typing: cowboys –football
  • Colon
    • Colons can help narrow down the search on a specific site. For example, if you want to know more about Apple products but specifically from, your search would look like this: Apple products
  • File search
    • Looking for a specific file type? Say for instance you were teaching Hamlet and wanted to find Powerpoints out there. This can be easily searched. A sample would look something like this: Hamlet filetype:ppt

And believe me, these tips just begin to scratch the surface!

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In an academic setting, I think Google Scholar is one of the best secrets out there. I even love how their site opens up with: Stand on the shoulders of giants. Within this search engine, scholars can search across a myriad of disciplines and sources, including: “articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.”

The search engine even “ranks documents the way researchers would by considering where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature.”

This would have transformed my research in college days. It certainly should transform the way your students research now.


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