Tuesday, February 1, 2011

throw me a bone

When I teach students how to search, I typically ask the class to tell me what I should search for. This serves two purposes:
1. It's an attempt to engage the class. This is an opportunity for them to be creative, funny, and maybe, just maybe, smart (they almost never have me search for a topic related to their assignment or class...)
2. I get to show them what happens when they search using too broad of terms.

For example, yesterday I taught 4 classes. In 2 of them I asked the class to tell me what to search for during my demonstration of LexisNexis' Search the News. In the first class a kid said "dogs" then I showed them what happens when you just type in dogs. I asked for a narrower search. His answer? "Dog bones."

2nd class: A kid has me search for "partying." I ask him to be more specific. What ABOUT partying does he want to know about? "BEER!" "GAMES!" At least with this one I got to show them "beer and games not liquor."

So, sometimes these attempts to make class "exciting" DO work out. Other times it just becomes awkward for everyone involved.


  1. Do you have any backup searches in case they aren't playing along?

    I remember a blog post by a librarian who always used sexuality related searches as her examples--because students payed way more attention!

  2. Haha, I do this too! Usually, when no one is willing to play along, I throw out an "If you volunteer your topic, it'll be like we're doing your searching FOR you..." and that gets immediate results.

    One time, someone shouted out "Vikings!" (it was a history class) and it actually worked out really well because we searched "vikings" in the catalog and came up with a whole bunch of irrelevant books published by Viking. I love unplanned teachable moments (is that redundant?).

  3. Ha. I always wonder, do you ever wind up getting wildly inappropriate results, and if so, what do you do with them?

    I was worried that was going to happen during a Twitter workshop I did last winter... that someone would suggest something totally innocuous ("cats!") and we'd wind up with something very transgressive that shocked older patrons, who then decided they would never use that dirty dirty Twitter.

  4. Laura, yes I always test out searches before class on the databases I'm going to demo.

    Amanda, yeah I try to get that point across too. Sometimes classes come in and the students don't have any idea what they want to write their paper on! That's always hard.

    Gwen, usually there isn't anything too crazy. When I searched for "partying" in one class an article from a newspaper describing some sort of sex party came up (ha) but since LexisNexis's search results page is so tiny only me and their TA noticed.

    On Friday I let a student that participated a lot choose what Pandora station we would listen to during hands-on work time. He chose James Taylor and as soon as a song started playing a girl goes "EWW my DAD listens to this stuff!" College kids, lol.