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The missing link
how search engines can support the informational needs of teachers

By Faezeh Seyedarbi / April 2006

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My perception of the academic usefulness of online searching has changed dramatically since I became a lecturer. As a student, I often used search engines to find information to support my studies. I knew that finding accurate and relevant information was never guaranteed, but I felt quite privileged to use a search engine that was powerful and much more convenient than a visit to the library. As a lecturer, however, I need search engines to use the pedagogical vocabulary and classification of teachers to provide personalized search results to aid in the location and selection of resources for my students.

When I started to teach computer science to A-Level students (coursework usually undertaken by students in the final two years of secondary education in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland), I wanted to make my lessons enjoyable and productive. I prepared lessons well in advance and incorporated both offline (text books, training CDs, etc.) and online resources. I expected to find relevant online resources through searches just as I had when a student, but this was not the case. Search engines did nothing to support me as a teacher or as the mediator between the information and my students, especially where the needs of my students themselves vary substantially.

At first I thought my lack of experience might be at the root of the problem. So I surveyed my more experienced colleagues and found that they too have the same experience.

I found that teachers are not well-assisted by existing search engines in locating the three main types of materials they need: cross curricula materials (topic work); differentiated materials (e.g., materials for talented students, materials for gifted students, and materials for students who have English as their second language); and project-based learning materials. The main problem is the discrepancy between the teachers' pedagogical vocabulary and the metadata used by search engines.

I believe the solution is personalization: the use of a custom search tool as the front-end of search engines that allows teachers to specify their search according to their own pedagogical vocabulary. For example, if an English teacher wanted to locate online resources on a specific poem written by Simon Armitage for SEN (English as a second language) students, he or she would be able to search using the term "differentiation" and then select "SEN" as the required level.

As part of the iClass Project, which was initiated to develop a cognition-based learning system for schools (and for which I served as a researcher), a personalized search tool was designed and implemented called PoSTech (Personalized Search Tool for Teachers). It is currently being tested by teachers in the UK. This type of personalization, if it proves successful, may apply to other professions with specialized vocabularies.


This publication is partly a result of work in the context of the iClass project, funded under the 6th Framework Program of the European Community. The author is solely responsible for its contents. The European Community is not responsible for any use that might be made of information appearing therein.


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