(Video) Search Mastery Speaker Series: Supporting Children’s Online Information Discovery

iSchool News Staff - April 6, 2022

Dr. Jerry Alan Fails and Dr. Sole Pera present CAST, a new search engine interface developed to empower emergent searchers and improve their information literacy.

Elementary students in a computer lab with the teacher observing.

Children, like adults, frequently turn to the “major” search engines like Google and Bing to find what they want online, despite the availability of child-friendly search engines with more appropriate interfaces. These major systems were not designed with children in mind, so things like spelling errors, navigating SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and comprehending the search results provided are not accounted for. In order for children to be able to master search, the whole system (interface, interactions, results, etc.) needs to be adapted so that they can better support children’s online information discovery.

Dr. Jerry Alan Fails and Dr. Sole Pera, Associate Professors in the Computer Science Department at Boise State University, present their work on a new search engine interface called CAST  (Child Adaptive Search Tool), an NSF-funded project (#1763649) to develop a search engine tailored to the skills and needs of children ranging from ages 6-11. CAST is being designed across three main phases to model and respond to users’ literacy and maturity levels, as well as search intent missing from their formal queries. 

“Not just as adults, but as average search engine users, we’re used to typing something, then we get results, we scan through, and go to what we think we need; if we don’t see it there, we start a new query. That’s not how children approach search,” Pera said. 

One of the issues major search engines fail to address is children’s developing skills related to spelling and language use. Fails and Pera introduce the CAST team’s original KidSpell algorithm, which transcribes a word typed into the CAST search engine into a phonetic representation by removing all vowel sounds and then maps out appropriate results using the age of acquisition database. The team also explored ways to integrate audio and visual cues into the algorithm to help users more accurately find and select the word they originally intended. 

“The overall goal here is to adapt systems to support children’s search needs, and provide mechanisms or scaffolding for their learning along the way,” Fails said.  

Additionally, Fails and Pera share curriculum standard-aligned lessons that provide children opportunities to search and find information, and go through this process in a live search environment using CAST. The team used this opportunity to not only conduct research, but provide community support during the COVID-19 pandemic when teachers were naturally taking advantage of conducting assignments related to online search. 


You can watch the full Search Mastery Series event below or watch it on YouTube here