ONE cannot deny the unlimited opportunities offered by the World Wide Web for our children’s quest for knowledge nor the challenges they are slammed with at an impressionable age.
The volume of information gushing out of the computer screen just with a click is so overwhelming, frequently leaving our children submerged, struggling to pick the right ones to stay afloat.
The information glut puts students on the brink of intellectual indigestion. They are not able to digest the overabundance and at the same time unable to distinguish between the needed from the optional, the relevant from the irrelevant and the good from the bad.
Simply said, it is like drinking from a fire hydrant where the superfluity is too much to handle.
When I thought of sharing my views on the above subject, the first person who came to my mind was my teenage daughter who spends most of her out-of-school time, doing armchair research for her homework, games and other contents.
Mind you, the digital generation does not plough through the library for scholarly materials. In fact, a library in the physical form has become a stale subject to this media-rich, network generation.
They rather search the digital sphere for information than flip through the books.
While some may have the knowledge to stay focused and streamline their search, others may go astray and stumble across inappropriate materials. On a few occasions, I noticed this happening to my daughter. She strays out, or ends up at sites that are out of context because search results displayed by semantic search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, at times are superfluous. During a search for images on netball, she was returned with unsavoury content. Though her search was sincere, she was challenged with inappropriate materials that needed further filtering at the user’s end.
The search powerhouses, in its original form (minus the custom search operators) are prone to displaying anything that contains the searched word together with spam, trash and advertisements.
They index pages by following one hyperlink after the other, causing the displayed search results falling into the “context deficit”phenomena. This forces our students into taking a stroll into cyber space and spending longer time to extract information that are of exact relevance to them.
In many cases, students stumble onto wrong sites and extract materials that aren’t reliable. With the school-based assessment gaining momentum and students expected to work on projects and assignments for grades, searching strategies have become a subject of interest for many. Our students need help with time-saving searching strategies that bring the correct information resources to their doorstep.
Properly activated Internet options and third party tools may help to contain unwanted sites but what our children really need is search results streamed to their specific educational needs. Discussions with virtual friends on this issue led me to discover educational-based search engines inherent with safe surfing (child-friendly) features, customised by search operators.
Some search engines accentuate their infallibility by having the searched sites go through stringent reviews and recommendation by a team of experts, teachers and librarians. Parents can rest assured that the displayed results are of an academic nature.
My friends were appreciative when I recommended e-Kids (http://www.e-kids.org.uk) to their children. e-Kids has its’ very own image search, dictionary search and wikipedia search and searches the entire web for sites that have been vetted and approved under the child safe content category.
Another search engine that falls into the same category as e-Kids is FAMHOO?. It draws on the collective results of the mainstream search engines, filters the results and sorts them with the most applicable sites listed primarily, giving our students a safe and relevant web-browsing experience.
Search engines powered by Google such as KidRex, DiBDaBDOOanDDillytoo and Google SafeSearch use Google’s safe search technology to filter inappropriate materials. I personally like the DiBDaBDOOanDDillytoo because unlike other search engines in the same genre where a user types the words or quotes to be searched, this search engine allows students to choose from a wide range of domains reviewed and classified by experts before streamlining their search for a more specific topic.
Guided search as afforded by this tool provides a balancing point for younger children as they are not able to form their own search in the open web space.
If you are interested in modelling Boolean Operators in search, then BOOLIFY is the right tool for you. By dragging and dropping the colourful jigsaw puzzles consisting of words and moderators, students can expand and modify their query. Apart from the appealing interface, BOOLIFY helps to build computational skill among students.
Another educational search tool, WolframAlpha would be of great use for students from kindergarten to graduate level and beyond. It uses its very own internal knowledge base to compute and generate answers to your queries on what, where, when, why, who and how.
Sweet Search searches 35,000 websites that have been reviewed and approved by a team of librarians, teachers and research experts, increasing reliability and relevancy of the searched results. Google scholar, which is geared towards tertiary students, searches scholarly materials such as articles, theses, books and abstracts, providing a solution to students’ crunching time.
The above described tools do not represent a comprehensive list of children safe or academic search engines.
They are a collection of bookmarks, though may fall short to being highly infallible, but noteworthy for easier and time saving searching. When all is said and done, it is imperative to educate our children to become intelligent researchers of information, harnessing the power of the Internet to the fullest.
By DR MALLIKA GOVINTHASWAMI
The writer has a PhD in Web-based Learning and is lecturing at the Teacher Education Institute, Johor Baru, Johor.
Source: The STAR Home Education Opinion Sunday March 4, 2012