Saturday, April 23, 2011

Google Instant - Help or Hindrance?

One of the features of Google search that I have mixed opinions about is Google Instant. This means that when you are typing a search query, predictions and results will appear as you are typing.

As a user I find it very useful and efficient, and it can offer the phrasing or search terms I was looking for and save a lot of time. But as a teacher, I wonder whether or not the pros outweigh the cons. The pros, of course, are that students are given the same efficiencies I am while searching. They can begin a query, and then if their question is listed below in the predictions, they can click on it, avoiding the need sometimes for having to spell tricky words.

It is the unpredictability of the content of the predictions that worries me. Even with strict filtering on, Google Instant can give pretty dodgy predictions, especially if a student's search query begins with the same spelling as something less savoury. Try "How to make ..." and you will see what I mean, depending on what the next words starts with.

Fortunately, from Settings at the top right of a Google page, it is a short step to switch Google Instant off.

I have put this setting on all of my students' computers for now, erring on the side of caution. In the Advanced Search menu there is also the option of selecting the reading level of results. This would be great if it were a setting that could be applied to all search results, not just individual searches.

The other option, of course, is not to use Google at all, but one of the many search engines that are designed especially for children. A favourite of mine is Kidrex, which I have linked to our class wiki, but there are others such as KidsClick (which seems to be under construction at the moment) and CyberSleuth. A great option for teaching children effective search strategies, using AND, NOT, OR and other boolean techniques is Boolify, which uses these phrases to jigsaw the search terms and narrow down the results.

What is your search engine of choice for children? Do you think I am right to switch off Google Instant for my 8-9 year olds? How do you teach your students to search safely? Please leave your comments below!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Craig. Media literacy and research skills in particular, are crucial skills for young 21st century learners to develop. I have to admit, I haven't explored all the features of the almighty google, so thanks for the heads up with google instant - I need to take a look at this further and reflect on how it will impact my own teaching for next term in regards to digital literacy:-)

  2. Cheers, Dave. Kathy Schrock has some great resources for helping students learn to approach web pages critically. Try setting your class a task about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus for a laugh! That will establish where they are at, for sure!

  3. Great - found it, thanks for that - looks like a real interesting resource.