Can Google help me?

I came across a good post on another blog recently and, stupidly, I didn’t bookmark it or make any other attempt to remember what it was. I quite distinctly remember how I found it … I Googled the term ‘eLearning advances’ and started reading.

Guess what (some of you may even be ahead of me by now, but bear with the rest of us slow ones)? I re-typed it into Google and got a completely different set of results. How annoying!

This does, however, raise a few questions. Can we rely on a search engine to help us research/read around the subject? Can we (or should I say ‘should we’) rely on getting the best results from a search engine?

As we all know, the Internet is not subject to any control. As well as there being a wealth of valid information readily available, there are also many ‘dodgy’ sites.  So what do you look for to see if a source is authoritative or reliable?

When using print media, you look to see if it is published by a reliable source, and if papers are peer reviewed, edited by well-known people in the field. Web pages don’t go through the same kind of review. However, here are some things you can look at.

  • The domain name and URL. These can give you clues:
    .ac, .edu – academic or educational institutions
    .co, .com – commercial organisations or private websites
    .gov – government organisations
    .org – non-governmental, non-profit making organisations
  • The Header or Title
    This may sound obvious, but is it a name you know, or has been mentioned somewhere else. Many websites use names which are similar to well known ones e.g. Harverd University (as opposed to Harvard University)
  • Correct Bibliographic information
    The site should contain the correct bibliographic information – who wrote and published the resource. Look for:
    – Author’s/Organisation’s name
    – Contact details
    – An About Us section
    – Whether the information is presented with a minimum of bias (political, ideological or other)
  • A respectable site should say when the resource was published. Look for:
    • A publication date – when the resource was originally produced
    • A last updated date at the foot of the page
  • Common pitfalls
    • Do not solely rely on Internet resources; use a variety of materials to be thorough in your research.
    • Pages which are linked to are not always as reliable as the one you’ve come from and must also be evaluated
    • Don’t always expect to find everything you are looking for on the Internet – use other resources as well.
    • Cite your references clearly just as you would printed items.
    • Many sites are emotive – they may tell the truth but not the whole truth. Are they selling something or is it someone’s personal soapbox?
    • Don’t forget that appearances (and addresses) can be deceptive – think about the reasoning behind sites.
    • Don’t lose track of valuable sites – keep track of your favourite sites using “Bookmarks” or “Favourites” – and print out your Link

So … can Google help me? Honestly, I believe it can, but you have to be so very careful with making sure the information is both trustworthy and reliable.