Search Mastery Interest Group

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

What is Search Mastery?

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.

Why is Search Mastery important?

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.

New to the Search Mastery space?

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.

UPCOMING EVENTS

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. The Search Mastery Speaker Series is finished for Spring 2022, but will get started back up again in Fall 2022. Upcoming events are posted on the college’s online events calendar.

(View Past Events)

PEOPLE

Meet some of the people involved in the Search Mastery community.
headshot of Sarah McGrewSarah McGrew
Assistant Professor College of Education/Affiliate Assistant Professor iSchool

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

headshot of Ira Chinoy 
Ira Chinoy

Associate Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Director, Future of Information Alliance
headshot of Elizabeth (Beth) Bonsignore Elizabeth (Beth) Bonsignore
Assistant Research Scientist, iSchool

Ursula Gorham Ursula Gorham
Senior Lecturer & Director, MLIS Program, iSchool

 

headshot of Ryan O'grady
Ryan O’Grady
Lecturer, iSchool

 


Mary Ann Francis
Adjunct Lecturer, iSchool

 

Faculty Interests

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.

Academics

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.

Public Library Outreach

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.

Sample Projects

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.

PAST EVENTS

April 14th, 2022 Talk: The Challenges of Updating the Second Edition of Online Searching

Speakers:
Cheryl Knott, The University of Arizona

Abstract:
Rowman & Littlefield published the 2nd edition of Karen Markey’s textbook, Online Searching: A Guide to Finding Quality Information Efficiently and Effectively in 2019, and it’s time for an update. Cheryl Knott has taken on the task of revising the book for its 3rd edition, and in this talk she’ll report on some of the challenges involved in updating a book about an ever-changing field of theory and practice. She will discuss how her years of experience teaching online searching, as well as the anonymous comments of reviewers who also teach, are informing her decisions about revisions. And, as this is the final Search Mastery talk this spring, she’ll reflect on how the series has helped her make decisions about the book’s content.

Bio:
Cheryl Knott is a professor in the School of Information at the University of Arizona where she teaches an undergraduate online searching course as well as graduate courses on information intermediation and government information. She is the author of Find the Information You Need! (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), a textbook designed for end-users of databases and other online information resources. In her research, which focuses on the history of print culture, she uses online searching to find secondary sources in a number of related disciplines and primary sources in physical archives and digital collections. Her book, Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015), won the Eliza Atkins Gleason Award from the American Library Association’s Library History Round Table and the Lillian Smith Book Award from the Southern Regional Council.

Download the slides from Cheryl’s talk

Check out Cheryl’s Talk on YouTube

March 17th, 2022 Talk: Manchester vs. Cranfield

Speakers:
Dr. Jordan Boyd-Garber

Abstract:
In this talk, I’ll argue that the intellectual nexus of computers searching through the web to answer questions comes from research undertaken in two mid-century English university towns: Manchester and Cranfield.

After reviewing the seminal work of Cyril Cleverdon and Alan Turing and explaining how that shaped today the information and AI age, I’ll argue that these represent two competing visions for how computers should answer questions: either exploration of intelligence (Manchester) or serving the user (Cranfield).

However, regardless of which paradigm you adhere to, I argue that the ideals for those visions are not fulfilled in modern question answering implementations: the human (Ken Jennings) vs. computer (Watson) competition on Jeopardy! was rigged, other evaluations don’t show which system knows more about a topic, the training and evaluation data don’t reflect the background of users, and the annotation scheme for training data is incomplete.

After outlining our short-term solutions to these issues, I’ll then discuss a longer-term plan to achieve the goals of both the Manchester and Cranfield paradigms.

Bio:
Jordan Boyd-Graber is an associate professor in the University of Maryland’s Computer Science Department, iSchool, UMIACS, and Language Science Center. Jordan’s research focus is in applying machine learning and Bayesian probabilistic models to problems that help us better understand social interaction or the human cognitive process. He and his students have won “best of” awards at NIPS (2009, 2015), NAACL (2016), and CoNLL (2015), and Jordan won the British Computing Society’s 2015 Karen Spärk Jones Award and a 2017 NSF CAREER award.

Check out Jordan Boyd-Graber’s Talk on YouTube

February 17th, 2022 Talk: Supporting Children's Online Information Discovery

Speakers:
Jerry Alan Fails, Boise State University
Sole Pera, PIRET, Boise State University

Abstract:
Children, like adults, frequently turn to the “major” search engines like Google and Bing to find what they want online. However, their interfaces can be challenging even for some adults sometimes. Additionally, these systems were not designed with children in mind. 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. In this talk, we present advances we have made in supporting children’s particular search needs with regards to query formulation and spelling, and algorithms and approaches to retrieving and ranking search results based on readability and educational value.

Bios:
Jerry Alan Fails is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. He has designed technologies with and for children using participatory design methods for the last 19 years. As part of his research, he directs an intergenerational design team called the Kids team. The team consists of young children and adults who work together as partners to improve and design new technologies. He leads research in child adaptive search tools (a Co-PI on NSF 1763649), security and privacy for children, and fitness technologies for children. He serves as the Graduate Coordinator in his department, is the International Interaction Design and Children (ACM) Steering Committee Vice-Chair, and serves as an IJCCI Associate Editor among other editorial and reviewing duties.

Sole Pera is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at Boise State University, where she co-directs the People and Information Research Team. Sole’s research strives to bring attention to how non-traditional users interact with systems that enable the completion of usual, yet complex, information access tasks. In the past ten years, she has focused on Children Information Retrieval: understanding how children interact with search and recommendation systems and building the algorithm bridges needed to facilitate those interactions. She is a member of the Steering Committee for ACM RecSys and part of the PC for several conferences on her field of expertise (e.g., SIGIR, RecSys, UMAP, CHIIR). Sole has also co-organized workshops at IDC and SIGIR intended to build community and promote awareness on the value of research about search and recommendation tools for children.

Check out Jerry and Sole’s Talk on YouTube

January 20th, 2022 Talk: What it means to do research on the internet... And why everyone is doing it wrong...
Speaker: Dan Russell, Google Inc

Bio: 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, PowerSearchingWithGoogle.com, 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)

Abstract: The internet is full of claims and counterclaims about everything—vaccines, uncivil society, 5G, politics, whether birds are real, and even whether or not Betty White flipped the bird in a famous photo.  Usually these claims are backed up with the argument “but I DID my research on the internet!”  And, as you might expect, the quality of most of that “research” isn’t great.  The root of the problem is that the loudest voices and most prolific “researchers” really have no idea what good research would be—they often don’t have any good models to follow, and in a Dunning-Krugeresque world, they don’t even know that they don’t know.  In this talk we’ll discuss what we’ve seen in poor research practices, and what we can do to help teach the world at large about how to actually do decent online research.

Check out Daniel Russell’s Talk on YouTube

November 18th, 2021 Talk: Search Engine Results: The Bing Perspective
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.

October 21st, 2021 Talk: Searching the World
Speaker: Douglas W. Oard, University of Maryland, College of Information Studies

Abstract: 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 https://terpconnect.umd.edu/~oard/

Check out Dr. Oard’s Talk on YouTube

September 23rd, 2021 Talk: HackHealth Studies: Improving Middle School Students’ Digital Health Literacy

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

Abstract: 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.

Check out Dr. Beth’s Talk on YouTube

May 10th, 2021 Talk: Designing for Youth: Invisible Work in Families

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

Abstract: 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.

Bio: 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

April 12th, 2021 Talk: Search Mastery as Critical Information Literacy: What LIS adds to the conversation
Speaker: Dr. Ana Ndumu, University of Maryland, College of Information Studies

Abstract: 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.

Bio: 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.

Check out the Ana Ndumu’s talk on YouTube

March 8th, 2021 Talk: “Extract of Techiness”: a study that did not work as intended
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

Feb. 8th, 2021 Talk: Problems, Practical Solutions, and Research Frontiers

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 talk on YouTube

Jan. 11, 2021 Talk: Achieving Search Mastery--How and Why?

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 (PowerSearchingWithGoogle.com), 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, PowerSearchingWithGoogle.com, 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 talk on YouTube

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