Tags: You’re it!

Students and educators are embracing all the advantages of digital technology; they are writing blog posts, sharing annotated diagrams and photos, creating video clips and much, much more. Many of these digital items are being uploaded/shared in the hope of attracting an audience and engaging in real world conversations for authentic learning. So, why do some items receive a lot of attention, while others are ignored? Often it is because of the way an item has been tagged, which makes the item much more ‘findable’.

Tags are words or short phrases attached to items posted online. You might see them on blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking sites; you’ll definitely find them on social media sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, and Facebook. (It’s even possible to add tags to your own Word documents and all the photos saved on your hard drive.) New media explorer and consultant, Robin Good explains them simply as:

… short keywords that define what your online digital content is all about.

Social Media Word Cloud

Social Media Word Cloud by Rubber Dragon (Flickr CC)

Why tag?

Tagging is the primary way of labelling items on Web 2.0 sites so they can be easily found when searching/ browsing, but it can also be used for:

  • organising
  • classifying
  • applying identity/ownership

While tags look like keywords, they work a little differently. Tagging is an informal system and often a personal one; tags are chosen and assigned by the creators (and sometimes the viewers). This can make a search more meaningful or less so, depending on the creator’s and user’s understandings of the tag words attached. By including tags that go beyond browser-assigned keywords, the content becomes even more accessible. On many sites, tagging is a collaborative activity, so the more people tag on an item/site, the more accessible items become and the more useful the site becomes. Tags  also increase searchability because they are normally visible on pages so can actively link users to related items with the same tags.

Smart Tagging

If you have never tagged in item before (or even if you have), here are a few tips:

  • choose tags that are descriptive
  • choose tags that are specific
  • be comprehensive (most sites allow you to tag generously)
  • think like your potential audience, choose tags effective for their searches
  • tag with singular and plural forms of a word, if relevant
  • use suggested tags, if relevant (many sites have tools that offer suggestions)
  • do a little scouting on the site you are using (eg. Flickr) to see what tags others are using to describe items similar to yours
  • do the same on Google to see what comes up (Tip: watch Google’s auto-suggestions as you type in search terms)

Understanding and using tags is a digital literacy skill that any teacher can discuss and encourage with students, and one that could generate positive results for your students’ online efforts.

Research skills: searching strategies

Research is a process. Think of it as a series of problems we solve as we come to them. The more problems we solve, the better we become at doing research; because we bring our new knowledge to the next problem we have to solve. So, where do we start?

1. Understanding your question

It’s important that you understand what you are trying to find – dictionaries, the internet, or books can help.

Take the following question as an example:

Women’s lives in the seventeenth century

The research topic is rather straight forward, but then we might wish to draw some boundaries such as’ where’? In England? In Australia? Or in a specific community?

2. Identifying the concepts in your research question

Women’s lives in the seventeenth century in England

We have three concepts here: 1) women, 2) lives, and 3) 17th century

3. Brainstorm synonyms for the key concepts

Using different combinations of synonyms for your search. Be aware of spelling variations (eg civilisation and civilization), and the differences of word usage in different parts of the world (eg. bathers and togs, or bush and forest). See below for an example of the different synonyms we could use for our search.

4. Search

Now comes the fun part: search by stringing the concepts together. You do not need to use ‘AND’ when searching the internet, library catalogue, or databases because the ‘and’ function would have been built into the system and set by default. Try searching in as many combinations as possible using the synonyms you’ve brainstormed. For example:

women lives “17th century” England
(note: I’ve used the ” “sign to ensure that 17th century stays together and in that particular order)
woman role “17th century” England
women livelihood “seventeenth century” Britain

5. New knowledge gained

You’ll find that you’ll gain new knowledge as you gather your information, and this could influence you to change your question to something a bit more specific – and that’s quite alright. Good luck!

findingDulcinea: librarian of the internet

Big sister to Sweet search, findingDulcinea is a must see site for school library staff. The aim of the founders of the site is “to bring users the best information on the Web for any topic, employing human insight and methodical review.”

Screen shot 2010-08-24 at 7.45.43 AM

So what exactly does findingDulcinea provide?

FindingDulcinea selects and annotates credible, high-quality and trustworthy Web sites, saving time for both the novice and experienced user.

Each piece, whether a Web Guide, a Beyond the Headlines news story or a Netcetera feature article, undergoes the same meticulous research. The Web sites included in each piece are connected through original narrative, providing users with information on each site before they visit them.

  • Web Guides
  • Beyond The Headlines
  • Netcetera
  • Custom Search

findingDulcinea provides a range of web guides to popular research topics. Their FAQ page explains:

Our Web Guides provide resources on thousands of topics.

Our collection of Web Guides began with the original Guide to Web Search. With the Guide to Web Search, you should be able to find any Web resource you need, but we’ve drilled down into much more specific topics to help with more targeted search.

Our collection of nearly 300 topic-specific Web Guides is always growing, and the Web Guides already on the site are updated frequently by our research team.

The Guides include fun topics such as Family Travel, academic subjects such as Elementary School Social Studies Resources, serious health topics such as Leukemia.

To find a Web Guide use our site search function (in the upper right corner of any findingDulcinea Web page) or browse our guides from the most general guide on the Web Guides main page to the most specific guides by using the Web Guide topics shown on the right side of any Web Guides page.

More information is available in this video:

Although the site has a US bias, there are plenty of web guides and other resources for global audiences.

Alan November: effective searching

I recently attended a workshop by Alan November that focused on ways to teach students effective internet use and searching. Alan had some interesting tips and tricks that readers may find useful (I certainly did!)

  • Wikipedia puts title of article at end of URL, so there is more chance of it coming up first in a Google search.
  • After that (as long as there has not been a payment for boosting results), it’s the number of links from other sites that affects ranking.
  • Alta vista is a good search engine for finding links coming in.

How do you find the author/publisher of a website?

  • Go to easywhois.com where you can look up domain name registration application.
  • On the web, you often don’t know if something is true or not. We need to teach students tools for cross referencing and validating information. More information and examples here.

Websites to validate

  • Have a look at some of these websites. Purposely show this to help students make meaning.

How to read a web address

  • Chop off end of web address to go to root site, sounds easy enough but more information on teaching this here.
  • See which organisations use which domains:
  • Go to alta vista link:web address host:edu.au
  • Britain schools sch.uk higher ed ac.uk
  • Url:k12 to see which schools are using it. great ideas on how other teachers are using it.

The history of websites and leaving your digital footprint even when you think it’s been erased.

  • Teach students not to ruin the rest of their life today! www.archive.org finds sites even when sites have been deleted. Copy URL, delete http:// then paste, click ‘take me back’. Archive also shows website changes over time. Can show origins of websites. See here for more information.
  • ~ means personal subdirectory, which is someone’s own opinion.
  • US Freedom of speech protects all sites, even if they are malicious ones.
  • .org in the US is not designated for non profit sites.
  • Anyone can apply for a .org

There is a grammar, syntax and punctuation to the web. Once you know the rules, it is a different animal. Every teacher should teach and these reinforce skills.

Wolfram alpha answers all maths and chemistry problems. Maths and science teachers may like to reassess homework they set because of this.


A totally different way to search than Google, Stumpedia is

a personalized social & real-time collaborative discovery tool that relies on human participation to index, organize, and review the world wide web.  Stumpedia does not depend on automated bots, proprietary algorithms, or company insiders to make decisions on the relevance and ranking of search results.


Stumpedia allows you to submit, rank, and personalize your own search results. The relevance of search results are unique to you and are determined by your social graph in the following order: you, your social network friends, friends-of-friends, your followers, and the overall community. A spammer who submits and ranks irrelevant results can be easily identified, blocked, and unfollowed to prevent your search results from being polluted. Users can personalize and customize search results by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. This data is used to determine the relevancy of search results for the people in your social graph and vice versa.

Upon search results being displayed, users are given the option to

  • like
  • save
  • share
  • dislike
  • bury

specific results. If users click on the appropriate buttons, this then changes the ranking of search results.

Wikipedia defines Stumpedia as

a social project and community effort that relies on human participation and folksonomies to index, organize, and review the world wide web. The aim is to help build Natural Language Processing and the Semantic Web.

Certainly an interesting project and would be useful to show to students just how public opinion can change the way information is presented.

Cooperative Library Instruction Project resources

The Cooperative Library Instruction Project resources is a fantastic website with tutorials for students on internet use, searching, citations and more. The website explains it origins:

CLIP is a partnership between Western Oregon University, Oregon State University, Willamette University, and Chemeketa Community College whose mission is to design and develop sharable, web-based tutorials to assist in library instruction and information literacy.

The following tutorials may be of use to your students and you are able to embed them into your own website.

Evaluating Internet Sources:

Developing a topic:

Incorporating Sources into your Research Assignment:

What is a Library Database?

Generating Search Terms:

Why You Need to Cite Sources:

Internet Searching Tips:

Popular and Scholarly Sources:

Primary and Secondary Sources:

Also included are guides to compiling both APA and MLA style bibliographies.

Librarians can also request access to the CLIP quiz page as well as apply to become a writer for the site (you must join the site before you can apply.

Thanks to Joyce Valenza for blogging about this useful resource.

Interactive Web Search Tutorials

Richard Byrne from Free Technology for Teachers recently posted an excellent article on free animated web tutorials to help students with web research strategies.

The tutorials include:

  • Credible Sources Count
  • Research It Right
  • Searching With Success
  • You Quote It, You Note It

Although a university site, these tutorials are ideal for secondary students. Please see Richard’s post for more information and links to the tutorials.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha has now been launched. What is it? More than just a new search engine, Wolfram Alpha intends to answer your questions rather than direct you to other websites as per other search engines.


Students are bound to latch onto this site quickly as it can answer mathematical equations as well as other school-related questions. Wolfram Alpha acknowledge this and as listed below, they encourage students to acknowledge Wolfram Alpha as a source. 

Wolfram Alpha’s FAQs include:

Education & Research

What educational levels is Wolfram|Alpha suitable for?

Any level, from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond. On the elementary end, Wolfram|Alpha can do arithmetic showing steps, make clocks, work with colors, and so on.

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha to do my homework?

That depends on your teacher. If you do use it, don’t forget to cite it as a source.

Why does Wolfram|Alpha give a different answer from my textbook?

Check to see if your book’s answer appears under “Alternate forms”. It’s pretty common for some forms to look different but be effectively equivalent.

Should I cite Wolfram|Alpha when I use results from it?

Yes. For academic purposes, Wolfram|Alpha is a primary source.

How should I cite results from Wolfram|Alpha?

The citable author is Wolfram|Alpha. Don’t forget to include the time and/or place at which the query was made, as it can affect the result. You can reference results in individual pods by giving their names.

How can I find out what to cite when I use data from Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha should be considered the source, just as an encyclopedia or other reference would be. If you include the Wolfram|Alpha URL in your document, your readers can go to the “Source information” button to get further references. Note that Wolfram|Alpha often combines and adapts data from multiple sources.

Is the content of Wolfram|Alpha peer reviewed?

Yes, the content is reviewed by domain experts. It is also extensively validated using automated testing. For external data, we strive to use the most reliable sources available.

Can I find out how specific results in Wolfram|Alpha were derived?

Elementary math results often have “Show steps” buttons, and combinations of data have “Details” buttons. “Source information” buttons give information on background sources for external data.

Does Wolfram|Alpha contain “adult content”?

No. It has no adult images or narrative. It gives only factual answers to factual questions.

More information is available in the BBC News item, ‘Web tool as important as Google’.

Perhaps as a result of Wolfram Alpha’s development, Google has announced enhanced search tools.  

Further information about Google’s new search tools is available here.