Search Mastery Interest Group

Exploring the foundations and practice of search skills, education, and literacy

Search Mastery refers to the ability to effectively search for information online and to make use of search terms, operators, tools, and specialized search engines to adjust a search based on one’s information needs. Further, search mastery encompasses the ability to effectively evaluate information that results from a search-- including scanning and selecting from results as they appear on a search engine results page and evaluating a webpage once it is opened. 

Search Mastery promotes informed decision-making and problem-solving by increasing the opportunities that individuals have to learn the knowledge, skills, and practices that they need to efficiently and effectively find necessary information. Proficiency in the use of search engines enables users to understand and harness both the basic and more advanced features and functionalities of the tools. After completing Search Mastery training, users understand how search engines work and how to use their many built-in (but often hidden) features that can help them to optimize their searches, navigate through and select among the results returned, and assess the credibility of online content. 

Search Mastery can give you the evaluation skills, decision-making chops, and info-management powers to find and act on available information, instead of being limited by what search engines and other mediating technologies present.

There are many resources available to develop your search capabilities and to promote the concepts included in the Search Mastery program. To take the Search Mastery Modules or to learn about including them in a course or a program you are working on, contact Sarah McGrew or Mary Ann Francis. 


The Search Mastery Interest Group holds a guest lecture series. All live Search Mastery events will be held in a recorded Zoom webinar with meeting information shared after registration. All times are Eastern Standard Time. (View Past Events)

Dan Russell - Search Mastery
1/20 - What it means to do research on the internet... And why everyone is doing it wrong...

Speaker: Dan Russell
Google Inc.
Thurs, Jan. 20, 2022 @ 11:00 am

Link TBA



Sarah McGrew

Sarah McGrew
Assistant Professor
College of Education/Affiliate Assistant Professor

Beth St. Jean

Beth St. Jean
Associate Professor, iSchool
Affiliate faculty member, Horowitz Center for Health Literacy

Ira Chinoy

Ira Chinoy
Associate Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Director, Future of Information Alliance

Beth Bonsignore

Elizabeth (Beth) Bonsignore
Assistant Research Scientist, iSchool

Ursula Gorham

Ursula Gorham
Senior Lecturer & Director, MLIS Program, iSchool

Ryan O'Grady

Ryan O’Grady
Lecturer, iSchool

Brian Butler

Brian Butler
Professor and Senior Associate Dean, iSchool
Co-Director, Social Data Science Center (SoDa)

Mary Ann Francis

Mary Ann Francis
Adjunct Lecturer, iSchool

Morgan Adle

Morgan Adle
MLIS Program Manager & PhD Student



Information Foraging Theory
The central tenet of information foraging theory is that what is scarce is no longer information itself, but our attention – each of us must decide how to allocate our limited attention across various sources and types of information. How people allocate their attention is influenced by considerations of information overload, selective exposure, selective attention, and serendipity. Democracy is threatened when people have to wade through vast quantities of information to find the minority of information that is relevant, credible, and actionable; when they tend to only be exposed to information they already know and agree with; when they only pay attention to information that confirms their existing beliefs; and when serendipity is most likely to result in only more of the same for them.

One potential project entails a preliminary investigation into the information-seeking habits of college students as they aim to catch up on current events. How do they search for political news? What keywords do they use in their searches? Do their keywords reflect their preexisting beliefs and influence the search results they obtain? How do they select from among the various search results? Are there specific sources that they tend to turn to? What do they do when they encounter information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs? The results of this preliminary investigation will then be used to develop an online tutorial that will enable young adults to become more conscious of their searching processes and the ways in which their preexisting beliefs and their searches are simply reinforcing their views and potentially limiting what they can find out. They will also learn about a wider array of credible political news sources and learn searching skills that will enable them to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of their search results. 

Curriculum enhancements developed by the Search Mastery Interest Group are designed to improve students’ understanding of search and search engines. These materials are currently deployed across the iSchool in undergraduate and graduate programs and at the College of Journalism. All faculty are encouraged to explore how improved search skills might benefit students in their programs.

While there are many opportunities for the general public to use search engines, there are FEW opportunities available to develop basic knowledge and skills to use these critical tools effectively. The Public Library Outreach initiative is working with public librarians to develop a Search Better! offering for adult library patrons. Search Better! means finding the information you want instead of what the search engine returns to you. Goals include helping patrons understand what to do when they:

  • Find too many results
  • Want specific sources of content
  • Want specific structure of the content (image, PDF, HTML)
  • Want to control a date range
  • Want more relevant results
  • Want to validate the information

The centrality of search platforms in almost every aspect of modern society makes searching better a critical aspect of daily life and civic engagement.

The Search Mastery Interest group occasionally undertakes projects to support the online research needs of internal and external clients. If you have such a project to discuss contact Brian Butler.

The team is currently supporting a charitable foundation wishing to research grantees’ progress in their education and careers.



Speaker: Michael Schecter, Microsoft

Every search engine result page is a reflection of the technical capabilities, product philosophies, and applied policies of the teams developing them. With people relying on search more than ever, and the expectations of users continuing to grow, these unseen factors play an increasingly critical role in how information is presented and consumed. In this talk, Michael will shed some light on how some of the algorithmic decisions Bing makes came to be, with the goal of empowering a more critical understanding of how search results are presented in any product. Michael will also discuss why Bing’s unique perspective on search plays an important role to the health of the web, and give some insight into how Microsoft is looking to solve the unmet needs of searchers everywhere.

Speaker: Douglas W. Oard, University of Maryland, College of Information Studies

The World-Wide Web’s first name is World-Wide.  Despite that, we live much of our lives in an English-Wide Web, limited to finding content in the language of our queries.  In this talk I’ll start by demonstrating how content in other languages can be found and used.  We’ll then take a peek under the hood of the search and translation technology that’s involved to get a hint of what we might expect to be possible in the future.  I’ll talk a bit about what it means for a search engine to be “good,” and how developers draw on that perspective to make search engines better.  Finally, I’ll wrap up with a few pointers to where you can learn more about the search and translation technologies that we’ve talked about.  

About the Speaker:
Doug Oard is a Professor at the University of Maryland, with joint appointments in the College of Information Studies and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.  He has a passion for building search engines, for text, speech, and scanned documents that might be in any language.  For more about his work, see

Check out Dr. Oard's Talk on YouTube

Speaker: Dr. Beth St. Jean, the University of Maryland, College of Information Studies

In this talk, Beth will share her team’s findings from working with local school librarians on the HackHealth after-school program. She will cover three HackHealth studies: (1) Bit by Bit: Unpacking Health Literacy Instruction for Young People, which focuses on sharing the specific health literacy-related challenges faced by participants; (2) “There’s a creepy guy on the other end at Google!”: Engaging middle school students to elicit their mental models of Google through their drawings; and (3) Impacts of the HackHealth After-School Program: Motivating Youth through Personal Relevance which shares participants' and parents' thoughts about the impacts of the children's participation in HackHealth.

Speaker Bio:
Dr. Beth St. Jean is an Associate Professor in the College of Information Studies, Associate Director of the Information Policy and Access Center, and an affiliate faculty member of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, all at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. St. Jean holds a PhD in Information and a Master’s degree in Information (Library & Information Services specialization) from the University of Michigan School of Information. Dr. St. Jean’s research aims to improve people's long-term health outlooks by exploring the important interrelationships among their health-related information behaviors, their health literacy, their health-related self-efficacy, and their health behaviors.

Speaker: Dr. Jason Yip, University of Washington, Information School

Approximately 8 million U.S. children have at least one immigrant parent. Lower-socioeconomic (SES) immigrant parents often rely on their children’s language skills to problem-solve family needs—a practice known as brokering. Yet it is unknown how children use their language and digital literacy skills to search and broker information online. This talk examines how children with lower-SES immigrant parents search and broker information online. In study 1, we focused on Latino families as they are the fastest growing U.S. minority group. We conducted in-home interviews and observations of search tasks with 23 parent-child dyads. In study 2, I will provide new updates on co-design work we have been partnering with an East African community group and their youth.  

We demonstrate: (1) how Online Search and Brokering (OSB) is impacted by familial values and resources at an individual, family, community, and digital infrastructure level, and (2) through search vignettes, how parent child dyads problem-solve family needs through OSB. Our work demonstrates a different purpose of technology use in families: intergenerational, bilingual, and online co-searching to problem-solve family needs.

Jason Yip is an assistant professor at the Information School and an adjunct assistant professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. His research examines how technologies can support parents and children learning together. He is a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation Cyberlearning project on designing social media technologies to support neighborhoods learning science together. He is the director of KidsTeam UW, an intergenerational group of children (ages 7 – 11) and researchers co-designing new technologies and learning activities for children, with children. Dr. Yip is the principal investigator of a Google Faculty Research Award project that examines how Latino children search and broker online information for their English-language learning parents. Finally, Dr. Yip is the recipient of the Jacobs Foundation Early Career Research Fellowship 2020 – 2022 and the National Science Foundation CAREER.

Check out Dr. Yip's Talk on YouTube

Speaker: Dr. Ana Ndumu, University of Maryland, College of Information Studies

Critical Information Literacy (CIL) provides an orienting lens by which to theorize, teach, and apply search mastery. A response to normative, prescriptive approaches to information-seeking, CIL scrutinizes knowledge production and the information economy. Dr. Ndumu will explain connections between CIL and search mastery, and situate both within the broader Critical Librarianship or #CritLib movement.

Ana Ndumu (she/her) is an Assistant Professor who researches and teaches on immigrant information behavior and promoting racial representation within the library and information science (LIS) field. Her work explores the cross between social identity and information access. Dr. Ndumu was a UMD President's Postdoctoral Fellow as well as a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Futures Fellow.

Speaker: Dr. Michael Twidale, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, iSchool

Often when we are stuck with a technology we search online for help. Sometimes this works just fine – you type your problem into Google and an answer pops up – sometimes even a ‘how-to’ video. But not always. You may not be sure if you can trust the results, or the ‘answer’ is way too complicated to understand  – and sometimes you don’t know what to type in for help because you don’t know the right words to describe your technical need. How come some people (who we often call ‘techies’) seem to be able to find what they need in just seconds, while other people (who often call themselves ‘non-techies’) struggle and get confused and irritated? We did a little study to find out – and it all went wrong. I want to tell you what happened.

Michael Twidale is a Professor in the School of Information Sciences, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests are at the intersection of computer-supported cooperative work, computer-supported collaborative learning, human-computer interaction, and sociotechnical systems design. Current projects include studies of informal social learning of technology, technological appropriation, ubiquitous learning, and problem-solving activities at the intersection of search, learning and creativity. He is interested in how people learn new technologies and new features of existing technologies; how they succeed, fail, struggle, tinker, help their friends, and try to search for tech solutions online. He likes it when things go wrong.

Check out Dr. Twidale's Talk on YouTube

Speaker: Dr. Joel Chan, UMD iSchool

A crucial component of search mastery is knowing what kinds of queries are possible (or easier/harder) to answer in a given search system. In this talk, I will discuss what questions are possible (or easier/harder) to answer in existing search systems. I will focus mostly on what is hard/impossible, and share some current practical solutions I am aware of, as well as some research frontiers I am exploring.

Joel Chan is an Assistant Professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (iSchool) and Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL), and Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of Communities and Information (CASCI). Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Scientist in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University, and received his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. His research investigates systems that support creative knowledge work, such as scientific discovery and innovative design. His long-term goal is to help create a future where innovation systems are characterized by openness and sustainability. His research has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, and received Best Paper awards from the ASME Conference for Design Theory and Methodology, the Journal of Design Studies, and the ACM SIGKDD Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD).

Check out Joel Chan's past talk on YouTube

Speaker: Dan Russell,  Google Inc.

I've been teaching people how to augment their cognition by becoming more effective online researchers for the past decade.  In that time, I've taught thousands of people (think students, librarians, professional researchers, and just plain folks) how to find out what they seek through Google (and many other online resources and tools).  This talk covers my experiences in learning how to teach these skills, and what I've learned from direct interactions with my students and from various studies I've run in the lab and with live search traffic.  I'll discuss my MOOC (, which has had over 4.5M students, my live classes, and various publications in paper, book, and video formats.  I can tell you which methods work best, why, and how it changes the way people think and answer difficult research questions.

Daniel Russell is Google's Senior Research Scientist for Search Quality and User Happiness in Mountain View.  He earned his PhD in computer science, specializing in Artificial Intelligence.  These days he realizes that amplifying human intelligence is his real passion.  His day job is understanding how people search for information, and the ways they come to learn about the world through Google.  Dan's current research is to understand how human intelligence and artificial intelligence can work together to better than either as a solo intelligence.  His 20% job is teaching the world to search more effectively.  His MOOC,, is currently hosting over 3,000 learners/week in the course. In the past 3 years, 4 million students have attended his online search classes, augmenting their intelligence with AI.  His instructional YouTube videos have a cumulative runtime of over 350 years (24 hours/day; 7 days/week; 365 weeks/year).  His new book, The Joy of Search, tells intriguing stories of how to be an effective searcher by going from a curious question to a reliable answer, showing how to do online research with skill and accuracy.  (MIT Press)

Check out the Dan Russell's past talk on YouTube


Research Home     Interest Groups Home     Contact Us