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Developing students' Web searching skills : Exercise 1

Exercise 1: You have developed a back problem and a friend tells you that you should look into Yoga and perhaps some other alternative therapies.  You fire up your Web browser.... now where do you start?  Select an appropriate Web search tool and find some general information on yoga.

The exercise was to find a good starting point on the Web for someone new to yoga, possibly one that referred to many other resources on yoga and not just any old yoga site.  Once found, such sites can be returned to again and again.

The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate that search engines are not always the best choice of search tool.  Here we are looking for very general information.  A search engine will return thousands of hits but a subject directory will highlight a few good starting points.  Most of the students used a search engine and found a selection of general yoga related pages.  A better strategy would have been to try a directory such as Yahoo and follow the path:

Health > Alternative Medicine > Yoga

However as there are so many Websites dealing with Yoga and as most cross-link to particularly good sites, it is difficult to fail to find good resources eventually and most achieved the aim of the search.  Also, due to the ranking system adopted by such second generation search engines like Google, a simple search term like ‘yoga’ is likely to throw up useful highly linked-to and therefore well considered sites.

Two typical assignments:

‘The first exercise was fairly straightforward in that I searched for Yoga on the Google search engine and found a plethora of general information. From a general search for the term Yoga, brought up, a rather unmanageable 3,290,000 results. I then refined my search to Yoga information –, which reduced the number of results to 809,000. I found within the first 10 results, a useful general yoga site focusing on the problem of back pain.'

‘For the first exercise, I used Google and searched for “yoga + back problems + health” and found a number of websites with information about yoga, yoga centres, organisations, clothing, videos, and poses.  There was also a website listed that serves as a forum for individuals to ask experts questions about yoga.’

One student employed a Meta-search engine:

‘I don’t know anything about Yoga, so I decided to use a metasearch on the basis that it will give me some idea of the type of information that is available.  I went to Ixquick and typed in Yoga+Information..'

Meta-search engines are useful for searching for obscure information (which this was not) or to get an overall feel for the information available.  It was not an appropriate tool in this case but of course could not fail to come up with some suitable resources.

Where Ask Jeeves was used in other exercises and by other students, it was generally unsuccessful as it was misunderstood.  However, in this case it was a good choice and the questions were well designed to get the best from it.

‘In order to find out general information on yoga, I utilised the search engine I had used it before, and found that its main strength lies in general information on subjects that can be fitted into the parameters of a simple question. I typed in “what is yoga?” as my keywords. Among the questions that could be answered and were displayed in the results was “where can I find general information on the alternative health treatment yoga?” Clicking on this link took me to a website called Health World Online'

Interestingly this student saw a parallel between the search technique and a method in his own discipline which seems to demonstrate a deeper level of thinking about the process.

‘For the first exercise I typed in the search box ‘general information yoga.’  From the listings that popped up I was able to select various different web sites, some of which were specifically helpful for the back problem I have.  Other web sites had more general information, such as the history of Yoga.  Many web sites had links which I could use to find other related web sites, reminding me of a sampling method known in sociology as ‘snowball sampling.’

This student was filtering manually for a certain type on site when this might be more easily done in the search terms themselves e.g.

health AND yoga AND (charity OR society)

‘ For this exercise, I used google and was overwhelmed by the mounds of information on yoga.  I realised then that I had to be discriminating about which sites were the most helpful and valid, so I looked mainly for society and charity websites and did a new search under “health AND yoga”. ‘

Search terms

  • Yoga
  • ‘“yoga for beginners”’
  • “introduction to yoga”
  • Yoga AND “back problem”
  • Yoga information –
  • “yoga + back problems + health”
  • “Yoga Information”
  •  alternative therapy yoga
  • “yoga+exercise+back”
  • +yoga +”back problem”
  • ‘yoga therapy, uk
  • ‘yoga and therapy’
  • ‘Yoga’, ‘Back problem’ and ‘therapy’
  • ‘yoga and health’
  • for ‘yoga alternative therapies’
  • ‘general information yoga.’