Magazine article Technology & Learning

Ten Tips for the Tech No-Challenged: Most School Administrators Have a Good Conceptual Grasp of Technology and Understand Its Value in Education. Yet Many Are "Closet Techno-Incompetents" When It Comes to Personal Use. Here, Some Practical How-Tos

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Ten Tips for the Tech No-Challenged: Most School Administrators Have a Good Conceptual Grasp of Technology and Understand Its Value in Education. Yet Many Are "Closet Techno-Incompetents" When It Comes to Personal Use. Here, Some Practical How-Tos

Article excerpt

You're in charge and supposed to know everything when it comes to technology. But shhhhh, you don't. Not to worry. Here's your chance to secretly learn a few key, time-saving facts about Internet research.

First, some assumptions: You use Internet Explorer 6.0 (or later) or Netscape 7.2 (or later) as your Web browser of choice. If you use an earlier version of either, it's time to upgrade! If you use Opera, Safari, Firefox, or some other browser of the avant-garde, you probably are not technoincompetent, though you may still learn something here. You use some version of Microsoft Word (whether you want to or not), and you know the difference between a click and a double-click. You already use somebody's Internet search tool (Google? Yahoo?) to find information. (If you do not, write to me, and I will tutor you over the phone--really!) Finally, you know that there are always differences in the specific ways things work depending on your operating system, your version of software, and the settings on your particular computer. The suggestions below may need to be adapted a bit to your circumstances, but the general ideas should apply in most situations. That said, let's go!

Finding things

1. Keywords: No matter which search tool you're using, you have to type something in the little box. A keyword (or words) is the something. In this age of frenzied multitasking, it's easy to just type in the first words that come to mind. Don't. Internet search tools scan text for the words you enter. Try to think of unique words--words that would appear in the text of the documents you're looking for and not in others. Try synonyms--if you're looking for something to do with evaluation, also try "testing" and "assessment." To expand your results, try the shortest version of your keyword--e.g., for "assessment" try "assess." Finally, tiT permutations--if you're looking for data-driven decision-making, try it with and without the hyphens.

2. Advanced Search: On their home page, most Internet search tools provide a single box for you to enter search terms but also offer a link to an "advanced search" option. The advanced search has a number of boxes you may fill in, such as "must contain the following words" or "limit search to the following domain." The latter is an especially helpful way to search for information on a single Web site that does not have its own search option or has one that doesn't work very well. Ironically, a search tool's "advanced search" page may better enable the beginner searcher to find what he/she is looking for in far less time than using the supposedly "simple" approach.

3. Boolean: No, Boolean is not an extraterrestrial language. It's the logic that underlies most, if not all, search engines. By using the terms AND, OR, and NOT, along with a few well placed parentheses, you can dramatically improve the accuracy of your searches. For example, I wanted to know if there was research out there about the relationship between student e-mail use and student achievement. Knowing that the term e-mail has not been standardized, I entered my search phrase as "(e-mail OR email) AND student AND achievement." The parentheses tell the search engine I'm looking for either the term "email" or "e-mail," and the rest of the string says that documents must also contain both the words "student" and "achievement." The State University of New York at Albany has an excellent primer on Boolean at library.albany.edu/internet/boolean.html.

4. Portals: In Internet parlance, a portal is a Web site that pre-selects and organizes links to information that exists on other sites. The best portals have done some of the research work for you. For example, the TICAL site (www.portical.org)--sponsored by the California and Arkansas departments of education--maintains a database of 400+ online resources specifically for K-12 school administrators with an interest in educational technology. Each entry in the database has been screened, selected, and annotated by a practicing school administrator. …

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