"Choose" updated

Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need has been updated!

Motivation for change

For well over fifteen years, From Now On has shaped the thinking of librarians and educators in the U.S. and abroad. Jamie McKenzie’s ongoing analysis of teaching and learning, school technology and information problem-solving is delightfully provocative and timely, and shaped by his practical experience as a teacher and administrator and the in-depth work he does in schools. When Jamie recently asked us for permission to reproduce “Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need” for an article he was writing on the deep web, we decided that we’d better take a careful look at every line of our advice.

The history

“Choose” was created in 1996, four years after Debbie Abilock’s school was wired by parents and teachers and three years after the first Web browser, Mosaic, was deployed. It was apparent that students were confused about what to use (Gopher? Veronica? FTP?) and what they needed (gateway? data? document? image?), but most online advice was framed in terms of “do this, try that” with the assumption that the searcher had already identified and articulated a need — certainly not true of the students Debbie was teaching or of the teachers in the multi-year PIPE initiative (Public/Private Internet Project for Education) for which she served as Project Manager. As part of the professional development for PIPE’s 10 public and private schools, Debbie expanded “Choose” from a single screen to a very long Web page of advice to help PIPE teachers work together online to develop cross-site cooperative curriculum in order to improve the education of all their students. Apparently, the idea of asking the user to identify a need for information before selecting a search strategy brought other visitors to the school library’s Web site. The popularity of the static “Choose” page served as the inspiration for NoodleQuest, an interactive version that provides a search strategy recommendation given a combination of information needs.

The update

Despite their similarity in content, “Choose” and NoodleQuest haven’t stayed in sync because each was a static, hand-edited page. However, with our recent rework of NoodleQuest, this has changed. “Choose” is now auto-generated from the content in NoodleQuest (with less elaborate descriptions of the recommended sites so that “Choose” remains concise and easy to visually scan), and NoodleQuest sports a nifty administration interface that allows us to make changes easily and often. Both tools stay consistent with eachother, and updates are frequent. Thanks to Jamie, “Choose The Best Search for Your Information Need” has morphed into a dynamic, ever-improving page organized into logical categories, with links to some extraordinary new deep web sources, social software search tools and multimedia search engines. We’ve dumped some obvious needs that seemed less useful because, with 5.48 billion American searches in January — 42% on Google and another 43% on Yahoo and MSN — the need “to find a few good hits fast” doesn’t seem as urgent as in those earlier Mosaic moments. And we’ve added some advice relating to defining and refining a topic that teachers requested.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done to reorganize a page that business employees refer to during their work day, and that has been linked to, printed and used for teaching in schools and universities worldwide. Most recently we granted permission to a Professor of Communications to reprint”Choose” in an Allyn and Bacon textbook he’s writing called Principles and Types of Public Speaking.

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