Monday, July 04, 2011

Google University: Lecture 1: Searching Smarter

By Tzvi Pittinsky

The following posting is cross-posted on

A number of years ago, I had the privilege to work closely with a soft-spoken network administrator, Ken Dwyer, who seemed to have the answer to all of my technology questions at his fingertips. When I asked him how he knew so much, he answered "Google University". He was not referring to an educational institution sponsored by Google. Rather, he was referencing the power of Google as the repository of information, if you know how to find it. Since that conversation some seven years ago, Google University has greatly expanded it's "course offerings" to include a whole suite of knowledge tools all free of charge. The following, is my first in a series of postings I am planning based on information learned at the recent ISTE 2011 Conference on the power of Google University to transform our teaching and learning.

Lecture 1: Searching Smarter
Fundamentally, Google is a search engine, and every experienced user has developed their own strategies on how to find what they need using Google University. I will focus on some of the tools to refine one's search and filter the results that are less well-known.

Below is a sample Google search screen:

You will notice while typing that Google is already doing two things. 
1) It starts showing results both from the Internet and results that Google has "starred" because they appear from your online Google bookmarks.
2) Google starts suggesting other longer searches that you might be interested in. If you watch what Google suggests and click on your desired search rather than continuing typing, it will save you time.

You will also notice tools to your lower left to further refine your results.
1. Sites with images: Results can be limited to sites with images, a handy tool for finding images. (I will focus on Google image search in my next posting.)

2. Related searches: This will give you a list of searches related to your search terms. This tool will help you to perfect your searching skills. If you are not sure exactly what to search for, just type anything into Google, even a question. If you do not find exactly what you are looking for, then click related searches to see other search terms you can use. (Another great tool for refining your search terms is the Google Wonder Wheel which I will talk about later in this posting.)

3. Timeline: With this tool, you can search for items relevant to a range of years and then view your answers sorted along a time line.
  • For example, let's say you do a search for Abraham. You could be searching for Abraham Lincoln or Abraham, the first of the Avot (Patriarches) in the Tanach. Through the timeline, you can easily limit your search to Abraham from the Bible by only looking for results from the range of 2000-1500BCE. 

4. Time: You can also filter your searches by time. This is different from the Timeline because you are not searching for results about a specific time period. Rather, you are searching for websites created after a certain time. This is great for researching something that has changed in the recent past.
  • For example, let's say I want to know why the Google Wonder Wheel no longer is listed in the Google search tools. (I will describe the Wonder Wheel's great utility later in the posting based on my experiences using it just last week but for now it has mysteriously disappeared.) You can search for "Google Wonder Wheel" and limit your search to the past week.

5. Wonder Wheel: I will end this lecture by discussing the Wonder Wheel, a great tool for seeing related searches.
  • For example, let's say you start by searching for Twitter. You can refine your search further using the wonder wheel to search for Twitter Teaching tools. This will bring up, further categories to search for like flickr teaching tools, facebook teaching tools, or youtube teaching tools. Every time, you click on a category, it opens a new search and if you select to view all results, instead of the Wonder Wheel, you will then see all results for that search term. I would tell you to give the Wonder Wheel a try but for some reason it has disappeared. Hopefully it will come back soon.

This ends my first Google University lecture on Searching Smarter. Stay tuned for future lectures on Google Image Search, Google News, Scholar, and other search tools, Google Docs, and much more.

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