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Tips for a better search

Few times do we reflect on the importance of figuring out a strategy to search for information that allows us to find faster what we need. An ideal search strategy is that which satisfies the user’s information needs and will be perfect as long as it exceeds the expectations of the original need.

If you need information for your assignments and/or a particular research, we propose you to consider the following steps for a successful search:

Content
  1. Define your search
  2. Refine your search
  3. Evaluate the results
  4. Incorporate your results
  5. Communicate the important information
  6. Evaluate the resources and the processes

1. Define your search

It is important to define with certainty what you need to find. This can depend on several factors. It is fruitful to answer the following questions: who, what, when, where, why. Defining the objectives and end of your search will help you have a starting point and will avoid unnecessary efforts of duplication or little pertinence of the information you find.

First, determine the level of detail and scope of your search. The depth in researching a topic will vary depending on the reason to look for information, e.g. a thesis project, a school assignment or just general knowledge on a particular topic. Consider the language of your preference. If you use two languages (for example, English and Spanish), you will considerably broaden the possibilities of finding what you need.

You will then have to identify the main concepts and words of your topic of interest. They will be the “key words” in defining your information search strategy. Besides, it is advisable to identify some alternative words (general, specific or equivalent) to use them in case your original search strategy so requires (synonyms).

To illustrate, let´s suppose that for your Ethics course you have to choose a topic of current social controversy and you have to present it in class. First, you have to define what your topic of interest is by considering the following issues:

  • End. Topic to present in class.
  • Level. Academic (Undergraduate program)
  • Topic of interest and chronology; you feel inclined to research something related to social discrimination and that it is current.
  • Key Word. You choose “racism”.
  • Language. Once you have defined your topic of interest with the key word “racism”, you identify related words (discrimination, segregation) and translations to Spanish (racismo, perfil racial)

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2. Refine your search

Now that you have thoroughly defined your topic of interest, you will be able to better identify the educational resources that will be useful to develop your assignment. There are different information sources to which you can go to find the information you are looking for. You can differentiate them by resource genre (books, journals, databases, periodicals, etc.), consultation means (text, video, audio, multimedia, image) so that you can narrow down your topic and refine the information search.

There are two ways to find the information and that you can use independently or combined: general search and use of filters.

By using the general search engine you only have to type the key word on the space for the search function and press the “intro” key. To continue with our example, you could write the word “racism”. Then you would visualize the different results. You can use the side navigation bars. You will see that each resource shown will have basic information (title, abstract, general topic, kind of resource, etc.) which will be useful to determine if you should further use it or not. Then, you only have to choose the resource by clicking on the title, and, once you have the full resource, choose the option “Go to resource.”

The search with filters can be very useful to do a search by approximation or by stages, refining and defining your search.

Some filters are as follows:

  • Topic: general
  • Audience educational level
  • Learning resource type
  • Status
  • Granularity
  • Date of creation
  • Format
  • Compatibility with mobile equipment
  • Type of final user
  • Language

Depending on the available resources, you can choose the most convenient filters to delimit your search.

To continue with our example, you should follow these steps:

  1. Choose in the “Educational Resources” tab the “Search and Browse” option.
  2. Choose the Philosophy and Religion category of the filter “Browse by Topic:General”.
  3. Narrow it down by choosing the topic “Philosophy” and then “Ethics”.
  4. Choose the “Audience Educational Level” which refers to the academic and continuing education levels to which the resource is geared: “Undergraduate program or College”
  5. The “Kind of Educational Resource” is defined by the kind of content it presents. Here you can choose “Course.”
  6. The “Status” refers to the level the resource has been ranked in the temoa® catalogue, depending on the work flow, you can choose “In Catalogue.”
  7. “Granularity” is specifically the dimensions an educational resource can have, depending on the length and organization of contents. Here, you choose “Course.”
  8. Finally, choose the “Date of creation” of the year of your interest.

You can combine both kinds of search, starting with a general search and refining the results by using the available filters depending on your interests.

In case that your search strategy has not given you the results or information you need, you can also use the “Supplier Sites Directory” found in the “Educational Resources” section. The suppliers sites are electronic addresses of collections of open educational resources already evaluated by temoa®.

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3. Evaluate the results

Now and based on the results, you can make decisions on what resource is the most convenient to match your information needs. Visualize relevant information related in each resource card. This could be useful to identify main ideas, relevant information to differentiate sources, etc. All the resources in the temoa® catalogue have been chosen by an academic community and belong to the suppliers that can uphold a good level of reliability in their contents, such as academies, non-governmental organizations, governments, etc.

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4. Incorporate your results

You are ready to use the information you found and make it part of your knowledge base. Each Open Educational Resource has a section called “Learning Context” which specifies the “Benefits for the Final User” and “Pedagogical Recommendations”. They can help you determine the usefulness a resource can offer you and in what ways you can use it to really take advantage of it.

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5. Communicate the important information

An important end of the resources in the temoa® catalogue is that you can reuse the resources. To ease this assignment, you can use different tools with which you can identify the following: “Best evaluated resources” (you can evaluate them too; “All users’ favorite” (consult the favorite resources of other users and mark you own favorite resources); “Topics and Courses” (create and design your own topics, courses and activities, enriching them with the open educational resources.)

Check the “User’s Guide” to know more about these possibilities.

It is very important to point out your responsibility to acknowledge the copyright of each resource. To help you with this, temoa® offers you the section “Authors and Allowed Uses”, in which you can see the origin of the resource and you can check it for further information under the Specific Use Terms, referred to the rights of use, reproduction, interpretation and material distribution.

In accordance with the federal law of copyright, any original piece (book, music, movie, video, software program, art pieces, design, etc) is legally protected. You can also find some material in public domain, such as documents published by the government or pieces which because of age have lost their copyright. In such case, you can use them freely.

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6. Evaluate the resources and the processes

The temoa® catalogue offers the option to enrich the catalogue resources. Observations of their content by means of educational reviews and critiques evaluate their quality, relevance and pertinence. For example, you can determine how the resource solved your information problem using the hyperlink called “Add a new comment.”

You can also report problems related to the functionality of the resources on the link “Report a problem”. This could be related to the following:

  • The site has a resource that responds with an error such as “Not found” or similar
  • The link to the resource works, but it does not correspond to the temoa® description.
  • The description of the resource within temoa® has a spelling or writing mistake or any other problem.
  • The supplying site of the resource does not have a legal section of the terms and conditions of use, neither is the web site subsidized or backed by a government entity.
  • The access to the educational resource is subject to subscription or payment.
  • The policy of the resource supplying site does not allow use of its contents for educational purposes, only for limited personal ends.
  • The publication of the educational resource is temporary. (Example: newsletters of internet news.)
  • The resource supplying site expresses or states a policy that forbids creating a link/ direct referencing to its content.
  • The educational resource does not have reliable back up. (For example: it is published on a personal site which is not backed up by any other entity as a blog.)

Congratulations! You now have the basic skills that will help you take advantage of the information of the temoa® catalogue, which you will be able to use in the different areas of your academic preparation.

You can check other aids, such as tutorials to improve your skills in handling information:

[Español] Habilidades para la investigación en e-recursos, Biblioteca Digital del Tecnológico de Monterrey, http://www.tecvirtual.itesm.mx/cursos/maestria/bib_digital/nivel1/homedoc.htm

[English] Tutorial: Database Search Tips, Course 3.093 Information Exploration: Becoming a Savvy Scholar, MIT OpenCourseWare, http://temoa.info/node/42230

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