Google teaching search, lesson plans included

Todd Vandenbark

Information literacy logoNot only is Google improving the way it searches and presents the results, it is apparently getting into the business of information literacy instruction. As noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, Google has replaced its “Search Education Evangelism” site with “Google Search Education,” a site with resources for teaching how to search effectively using Google. It offers a matrix of lesson plans: five topics, each with three levels of instruction (beginner, intermediate and advanced). The topics include:

  • Picking the right search terms
  • Understanding search results
  • Narrowing a search to get the best results
  • Searching for evidence for research tasks
  • Evaluating credibility of sources

This video includes two librarians talking briefly about the transformation of their jobs, and the importance of overcoming the digital divide: those who can versus those who cannot search effectively.

While these lessons are aimed at primary and secondary school students, Google’s Search Education could also be incorporated in to college freshmen level courses, especially those that everyone is required to take.

Pros and cons

On the positive side, this package of lesson plans could be incorporated into any school’s curriculum, perhaps with testing to assure students are reaching certain levels of proficiency. If students moving from one level of education to another (primary to secondary to higher ed) bring sufficient levels of search proficiency, this provides opportunities for them to take these skills to the next level, creating and contributing new content. If librarians and other educators embrace this curriculum and can clearly demonstrate its value (grant-funded study, anyone?), it will eventually become required learning.

On the negative side, what if the librarian’s Masters of Library Science degree was replaced with a “Bachelors in Education with Search Certification” degree? If using Google and a few selected credible resources is all that’s needed for primary and secondary education, why would anyone spend the extra time and money to get an MLS? Colleges and universities may still need Information Specialists (i.e. librarians) to teach how to use specialized databases for a time. But what if Google decided to weigh in on the subscription database business, setting up a single standard for organizing data for searching? Google could become a single-point of access to any and all publishers’ content. This could make or break a publisher or other content provider. While major vendors such as EBSCO and LexisNexis could find the resources to adapt, smaller publishers could be pushed aside, and ultimately be absorbed by their larger competitors.

Could this happen? Why or why not? Tell us (in the comments)!