Science & Tech

Doctoral student developing Internet search tool

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Wants to make web searches easier for students

Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student Kathleen Guinee is developing a computer-based tool to make searching the Internet easier for all students. Her research so far has focused on understanding students’ search strategies on the Web. Guinee gave 16 computer campers an assignment to gather information about islands of their choosing. The more successful searchers started with broad terms that they refined. So, “Hawaii” became “Hawaiian dance,” which became “Hawaiian hula dancing,” and so on. This approach is called “hierarchical searching.” Many of the campers used another technique altogether. They searched categorically. One 11-year-old wanted to learn about birds in the Bahamas. She searched for broad subject headings, such as “birds” or “Bahamas,” occasionally combining categories to create more narrow terms. “Categorical searching” wasn’t as effective, which may present a real problem for these students. While the “digital divide” makes computer technology an elite domain, a “cognitive divide” may hinder some students’ school performances and, eventually, their professional success.