Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Neverquest

I’ve been having an interesting email discussion on the issue of how to teach students to do efficient and productive searches for academic literature in online databases. The discussion doesn’t relate to teaching the technical mechanics, but to teaching the conceptual strategies that underlie searching: we’re trying to respond to situations in which students will point, click and type in all the appropriate places, but then return to report things like “I can’t find any articles on the environment”.

Since I teach across a variety of methods courses, I run into this issue all the time – and, I have to confess, have a tendency to punt on it by referring the students to the library staff for help with search strategies. But we’re trying to figure out the best way to tackle the problem without… er… outsourcing…

Our discussion, however, is suffering from serious sample bias: everyone is a nerd, and therefore finds this sort of thing a bit too natural: none of us can really remember learning to do searches, and we are therefore struggling to figure out where the process breaks down, and what we need to do, in order to make the whole thing less abstract. And, since we’re all nerds, at some point I speculated about whether more time spent on text adventure games as a child might have made learning this whole search concept easier. And, of course, given my interlocutors, I immediately got back:

You are in a maze of twisting little library stacks all alike.
Exits are N, S, E, W.
> find research

I do not know how to ‘find research’

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4 responses to “Neverquest

  1. Joseph Kugelmass March 23, 2007 at 9:20 am

    When the guy who created The Sims was asked what would best explain the beginnings of human/computer interactions, he immediately responded:

    >You are in a room. There is a rock.
    >pick up rock
    >I don’t know how to pick up rock. You are in a room. There is a rock.
    >go east
    >You can’t do that. You are in a room. There is a rock.

  2. G Gollings March 23, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I’m not sure what all the fuss is about, this video clearly explains how to search, at the same time it gives you a clear idea of how simple it really can be.

    The task that is being performed in the video is finding ‘Time’ magazine in the library:

    http://www.youtube.com/v/tKvR0OC4nYc

    (or can I embed the video directly? …trying below)

  3. N Pepperell March 23, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Gus – No wonder you got trapped in the moderation queue – that is simply diabolical!

    Joe – Thanks for that :-) I think Gus’ video provides us with a GUI version of something similar… ;-P

  4. Edward Yates March 27, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    “…You are in a maze of twisting little library stacks all alike.
    Exits are N, S, E, W.
    > find research

    I do not know how to ‘find research’…”

    Being the uber nerd that I am, I found that tres amusing! :D Perhaps a little too funny!

    I remember text based adevnture games fondly, I even wrote a couple of text based adventure games, which looking back on it today I have no idea how I managed to do something quite that complicated!

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