Helping Google stifle Black Hat SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seemed to me a strategy that web vendors and spammers used to generate traffic to their sites. As a web user and novice web designer, understanding how Google separates white-hat and black-hat SEO—literally, the good guys from the bad guys—helped me make sense of it a little more.

Google also depends on regular searchers to help by pointing out when something is wrong with your search results. If you do a search, and there is something that doesn’t fit or is sketchy, you can point it out to Google. Kevin Purdy, in his TechRepublic article “Give Google better feedback and get better results” shows us how. 

screenshot of Google Feedback link and popup

Have you ever noticed the “Send feedback” link at the bottom of your search results and thought, “Yeah, no thanks. I’m not writing an email to Google or going to another tab to fill out a form. I just want some better search results, so I’d rather spend my time trying it again.”? As it turns out, it’s Javascript that keeps you right in the page, where you describe in words and then show Google by highlighting what was wrong. And you can go back to your search. Google takes the feedback seriously and uses the user feedback to improve its algorithms. Maybe you don’t see the direct results, but it’s for the “betterment” of the web!

I also have to give credit where credit is due, I learned the most about SEO and what Google does from this article I read in another library school course, LIS 451 (but liked Purdy’s visual view of one of the biggest takeaways I got from the article): Cahill, K., & Chalut, R. (2009). Optimal Results: What Libraries Need to Know About Google and Search Engine Optimization. The Reference Librarian, 50(3), 234-247.

Reference:

Purdy, K. (2012, February 21). Give Google better feedback and bug reports and get better results. TechRepublic. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/google-in-the-enterprise/give-google-better-feedback-and-bug-reports-and-get-better-results/ 

librarian things I must share!

Here are two resources that I am absolutely raving about:

  1. Bound By Law, a graphic novel all about copyright and fair use… Awesome! Thanks, Duke Law! Read it at http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/pdf/cspdcomichigh.pdf (And their main page, if you don’t like the PDF and want to get a paper copy or support them otherwise http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/digital.php) Fair use and copyright aren’t easy, but this helps.

  2. O’Reilly’s Head First tech guide series. They are using brain-based research to teach so that you remember. It’s like having a talented, real-live teacher built into your book. I am using Head First HTML and CSS as an optional textbook in my Information Architecture course this semester, and I feel like HTML might actually stick this time! Every time I try to learn it, it’s gone two weeks later. If you are looking to tackle a new tech skill, programming language, whatever–this is the way to go.

the draft

A progress update:

For the research project I’m working on, I chose to study how what heritage speakers need from a Spanish course that is different from what non-native speakers need. As a sort of case study, I have collected survey and observation data from the class of heritage speakers I teach at the high school.

Truthfully, I wasn’t really ready to write the draft when my instructor asked us to, nor have I been real good about using the research model as a framework (also as we were asked to do). I have collected and compiled a lot of great data though and the draft has helped push me along so that I am not leaving all of this project until the last minute… but holy cow I feel like there is still a lot left for me to do. That said, I’m glad there are built-in check points. I think we all need that, no matter how old we are.

Speaking of research models, I went with the Big6 model because I’ve heard some buzz about it in the local K12 communities and I thought it would be good career prep. I’m kind of wondering if I am working with a square peg and a round hole.

Sigh… I don’t feel like I’ve got my arms around this. Where does the time go?!

Annotation: Badges for Higher-Ed Assessment

Buell, C. (2013, August 30). Using Badges to Quantify Learning Outcomes at UC Davis. Edcetera. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from http://edcetera.rafter.com/using-badges-to-quantify-learning-outcomes-at-uc-davis/

This article examines the use of badges to measure learning outcomes in higher education, especially as developed by UC Davis and Joanna Normoyle, who won an award for the innovation at the Digital Media and Learning Competition. The idea is to quantify and standardize higher-level thinking skills gained throughout the course of a university degree and award a digital badge for the achievement, potentially making them useful to future employers trying to determine the skill-set of a candidate or even simplifying the process of credit transfer between universities looking for equivalent coursework. Badges in such a system also can be useful for helping learners to track their progress and customize an academic program. UC Davis is officially launching their program with students this fall. By extension, I could see this as an easy, practical way for academic libraries to jump in, partner with departments and get involved in assessing and communicating the information literacy of students.

Setting assessment policies in the syllabus

Part two of the syllabus analysis I began earlier this week…

My sample syllabus (the culinary arts one) addressed assessment as follows:

Assessment Strategies Used: cooking labs in the kitchen, quizzes, tests, homework, and projects.

The instructor neglects to explain if they are using a total points system or are weighting grades based on category. There appear to be 16 course standards, divided into 2-3/unit, sometimes repeating in later units, over 12 units. I suspect that course grades are simply based on competency for each course standard, with each course standard being worth the same value in the final grade.

For example, for this course, Standard 1 is, “Demonstration of proper cooking techniques that result in a quality end product while employing safe and sanitary methods.” Standard 8 is, “Knowledge of food service equipment, including identification and use, mise en place, knife skills, and seasoning.” I am speculating here, but students might be asked to do assignments, tests, quizzes, etc. that give the instructor a piece of evidence/an article that reflects their learning as a competency for each standard–but that it would be at the instructor’s discretion, not pre-announced. The idea is to get kids to focus on learning, not just the acquisition of points.

The syllabus doesn’t actually confirm this thought though. It’s hard to say if it would be a fair assessment of student learning or if it’s qualitative/quantitative assessment without more information on how the gradebook is set up.

To me, removing the points-game is really important. The focus should be on learning, not jumping through hoops. And grades should reflect said learning, not ability to play the game. On the other hand, when students know how they are being held accountable, they have more ownership, which encourages the intrinsic motivation that we want learners to have and leads to real learning!

A look at the instructional design of a syllabus

This week, I chose to look at the instructional design of a syllabus from a high school culinary arts course. (Isn’t it cool that they offer this? It’s a year-long, two-period course.)

First of all, it is worth saying that high school syllabi are typically MUCH different from what people are used to seeing at the university level. Any teacher who is organized enough to lay out course activities/objectives for 180 days is 1) insane and 2) not as good of a teacher as they claim to be because they don’t leave flexibility for responding to formative assessments–like when kids need to be retaught something or to be taught in a different way. That said, I did once work with a middle school science teacher who had her outfits laid out from Christmas through Spring Break. She was 1) hilarious and 2) amazing, so I wouldn’t put it past her to pull off what I just declared impossible. She may have evolved since the outfit planning days. (I sort of hope she sees my shout-out to her here.)

While I appreciate having all of the information up front in a university course, where I’m planning out work schedules and other class demands, in a high school, I think it’s probably not the greatest idea. Kids aren’t usually comforted by information overload; they are stressed. So, if you want to deal with perpetually fielding multiple, individual complaints of “I don’t get it,” try giving all of the information at once. This goes for scaffolding a project just as much as a detailed syllabus. Also, if you want kids to be responsible for the information in the syllabus, you have to go over it with them, and when they sit through that 6-7 other times during the first week of a course, short and sweet is usually good advice. The five pages in my sample syllabus is pushing it, though the “meat” really consists of two pages.

The syllabus I looked at was divided into these sections:

  • course description
  • texts and resources
  • behavior/discipline
  • class units for 1st and 2nd semester (12 in all)
  • standards-based instruction explanation
  • assessment strategies
  • field trip policies
  • contact info

Our school is big on standards-based reporting, assessment and instruction. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how RARE true standards-based reporting and assessment is after elementary school. Elementary schools actually do. Think about your report cards with different skills listed and all the Es, VGs, Ss and Us (or whatever your school called them)–this is standards-based reporting.

How do I know that secondary ed (and higher ed) don’t really do this? Because parents and students continue to be fixated on their percent and letter grade. Also the computerized grading tools out there (PowerSchool, Skyward, Infinite Campus, etc.) don’t really support standards-based reporting yet–though they are very good of showing a list of assignments with a percentage and letter grade. I also see a lot of tests in my role as a support teacher. There are also a lot of teachers out there still giving tests with one grade at the end–not several grades broken down by the standards-based skills.

That said, I believe that our school is ahead of the curve when it comes to standards-based assessment (though standards-based instruction is different–we are still a work in progress there). What I liked in this syllabus is that the standards were listed in the description for each unit, instead of a large list for the whole course (which is sort of what I do :/ for my own syllabi). Raising awareness to the foci of each unit as the unit begins is a great way to plan instruction, because students can reflection on their learning process (metacognition!)

The section on assessment strategies, though brief, was good too, since students want to know how they will be graded and held accountable. The contents of the explanation are pretty predictable, but sometimes students might be surprised by and hostile toward the appearance of an oral presentation or something if they haven’t been warned.

The discipline section is also very important for a high school course. This one refers to the school and district guidelines in the Student Handbook. While this is a sound and clear-cut approach, I think it might also be useful to reference some of the kitchen-specific safety rules in effect in this classroom. However, perhaps the signage in the room and orientation by the teacher to the facility is sufficient.

I already had a lot of respect for the caliber of instructor and the culinary program at this school and was pleasantly surprised by the design of the syllabus and course. If I had to give a “grade,” I’d say that this one’s an A, Exceeds Expectations!

Annotation: Instructional Design

Hovious, A. (2013, September 22). The “Rule of One” and the One-Shot Session. Designer Librarian. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://designerlibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/the-rule-of-one-and-the-one-shot-session/

This blogger-librarian discusses how librarians often only have one opportunity to reach students in an information literacy training session, requiring the librarian to seriously consider instructional design if he/she wishes the instruction to be effective. The author lays out four guidelines for librarians trying to design a successful stand-alone session: one learning goal, one objective per task, one strategy per objective and one culminating activity. This is an important idea since many students have limited contact with librarians and may not consult with one unless they are required to—the first impression matters for possible future reference desk use, but also for the information literacy skills that are developed/under-developed in the students that the library serves. Even if a teacher-librarian has the opportunity to adjust his/her instruction based on formative assessment or student needs-analysis, the guidelines in this article are worth implementing because they make for a tight, power-packed lesson.

A new librarian’s collaborative dilemma

I’ve learned that it’s usually much easier to walk into a mess than to be the next act following a rockstar. (Sometimes, this also applies to dating.) Any improvements you make will typically be well-received. However, sometimes people lower their expectations and get used to your role as a non-effective one.

This week in my information literacy course, we were faced with cases of hypothetical librarians, struggling to create collaborative relationships in their libraries. The hypothetical middle school librarian approached a seemingly friendly colleague and offered to work with him on a research project to integrate some information literacy skills. He shot her down and questioned her ability to help him with social studies. The librarian’s predecessor probably never worked like this with teachers and they probably were pretty used to taking care of themselves. I would also suspect that the former librarian didn’t play well with others in general. When faced with a disheartening rejection like this one, it is pretty tempting to back off. She could try and re-phrase her offer, possibly starting small by offering a simple mini-lesson with his class about using a database in the computer lab that he feels more comfortable in. He may not bite though, since he has already blown her off.

Another thing to try is to simply offer her services to another teacher (and if she stuck with the Social Studies department, the endorsement would be more likely to sell her first rejector on it later.) Sometimes, teachers are grumpy or have a hidden grudge that you might not be able to predict. A silly example, but last year, I tried to organize a moral-boosting lunch treat in my building, hosted by teachers with March birthdays. I didn’t get a lot of response after my email, so I decided to check in personally with the silent parties before ditching the idea. I checked in with Mrs. B and she shot me down so cruelly that I walked out of there with a trembling lip. (I mean, really, asking her to bring in a bag of shredded cheese apparently was out-of-line. But she didn’t have time to have lunch, she said.) I almost gave up, but checked in with another science teacher next door to her whose response was, “Yes! What do you want me to bring? How can I help?”

My point is, you just never know “who’s in” or “who’s out.” Baby steps. Building a culture isn’t always easy.

My suggestion for the school librarian’s plan of action:

  1. Make a menu of quick mini-lesson or push-in instructional ideas that teachers could use her for… email it out and make some small cardstock/ laminated bookmarks/magnets that she could stuff in teacher mailboxes so they’ll have it around and think of her sometime. She’ll have to start small to build a culture.
  2. Try again with the nay-saying social studies teacher, but don’t expect him to bite until she has a track record. Approach other teachers in the social studies department personally with the above mentioned menu of services.
  3. Try attending a middle school team meeting a few times and just listen. She might get some ideas on what teachers are struggling with and find ways to help. Showing up regularly would build trust and credibility.

figuring yourself out

This week, I was asked to complete an online survey about my learning style. I didn’t really have a learning style in mind, though I would have guessed that I’m also not a kinesthetic learner (yes, that was confirmed). I was on the fence a little between the other results–within one point of each other. I suspect that while I was an auditory learner one day, I may be more of a visual learner another time. For example, I take notes sometimes because it helps me process what I’m hearing. What kind of learning is that? Visual? Kinesthetic? Who knows?

I also scored myself on a sort of Myers-Brings test (from a chapter in the book A Teacher’s Guide to Cognitive Type Theory and Learning Style by Carolyn Mamchur) and got another surprising (or maybe not so surprising) result. Apparently, I am an ISFJ (Introvert Sensing Feeling Judging) now, but for example, when I had the real-deal copyrighted official paper Myers-Briggs questionnaire in front of me for some kind of high school leadership training when I was 17, I was an ESTJ (Extrovert Sensing Thinking Judging). I was talking to a psychology-type about it yesterday, and we discussed how this could be. Basically, there were a lot of “close” scores: 4 to 3, 6 to 1, 4 to 3, 4 to 3.

I agree now that I am definitely not an extrovert, and probably really wasn’t in high school either, but you convince yourself that this is the valuable personality trait to have, especially since teenagers are supposed to be all about the social. The Feeling result was also new to me this round–I’ve never had it “win” when I’ve tried online Myers-Briggs-like tests. However, I have NEVER wavered on the Sensing or the Judging: I’m not the Intuitive nor Perceiving kind.

Technically, it’s probably better to call me an iSfJ or even iSfj (I would call the J stronger than this one says though, just because I’ve always score that as a J.) When I read Mamchur’s descriptions, ISFJ does fit (especially given how my life/career have been lately), though so does ISTJ, which is what I kind of expected in the first place.

Mamchur's descriptions of ISTJ and ISFJ

Mamchur’s descriptions of ISTJ and ISFJ (1996)

All in all, I’ve always liked the Myers-Brigg as a measure because it’s detailed and pretty fun–but it’s also kind of like a horoscope. Should we really be making life decisions based on it?

I think we could probably do a little better with learning/personality typing apparatuses than the USD learning style survey or the Mamchur quiz. They were quick, yes, but I think a little over-generalized too. A colleague of mine does learning inventories with her students and says she uses it to plan instruction (this is a tall order… but it’s good to think about, even if only sometimes!). She uses some device with the 7 or 8 multiple intelligences and she has the kids chart their individual results on one of those graphs that looks like a spider web (and then they all hang it on the wall).

Provided that we were to find a really strong quiz device, I think it’s valuable strategy to encourage learners to be self-aware. Know thyself, right? It would be great if instructors paid attention to it more, but I just don’t think they do it consistently. I probably don’t. I mostly try to design things that are interactive and involve tasks. If it addresses multiple learning styles or intelligences, it’s probably a lucky side-effect.

learning retention rates

learning retention rates

I think awareness of brain-research on learning is generally the most important: knowing people’s attention spans and retention rates (like in that pyramid where people only retain 5% of material from a lecture, etc.) I think gearing library teaching tasks to these kinds of ideas is the way to go (instead of setting something to music…

That said, I do play classical and mood music when my students are silent reading or working independently to keep them tune out conversations and other distractions. It works!

Online tutorials and teaching citation management tools

The number one thing that was missing for me with online tutorials is the “stop and wait for me to try it” aspect of a live instructor. Obviously, there is a pause button, I know, but even so, it’s not the same. If I have an automated learning experience, I like to be able to work through the process on an imaginary project or something, where I can compare my finished project to the model. Instead, tutorials can often be guided tours… I tried a few as a got to know Zotero and Mendeley a little better. (But I still don’t really get it, sigh…)

Are you familiar with the University of Arizona’s “Guide on the Side” software? It’s kind of that idea of having a virtual coach talking you through the steps as you go, like in a sidebar. I would love to see more of this kind of thing! Maybe that’s something I will have to keep in mind if ever I am an online workshop creator!

While live instructors can give feedback, answer questions or re-calibrate their instruction based on where the learner is, an insightful online tutorial could predict some of its learners needs and try to proactively address them. For example, I feel like PIMs involve a paradigm shift for many would-be users, as they probably already had some kind of system in place. When I switched from Firefox to Google Chrome, I was overwhelmed and felt like I needed an experienced insider to hold my hand and show me what I needed to know–not the “special features show-off videos from Google.” For whatever reason, the idea of a search bar and address bar all in one was a shift for me.

Short of being forced/pushed/strongly encouraged to use a PIM, I feel similarly about leaving behind my old system. I’d really like someone to just sit down with me and show me live what they like about Zotero and Mendeley. (I also wish I knew who uses either in real life, so that I have a buddy to bug with questions.) But, given that I lack a peer to sit down with me to show me the ropes, I feel like the closer you can get to a step-by-step get-to-know-the-tool workshop (and farther from the guided-tour video) for citation management instruction, the better.

Zotero, Mendeley and managing my personal information

This week I was tasked with choosing a PIM (Personal Information Management) tool between Zotero and Mendeley.

The jury’s still out for me on this one. It just seems to me that the learning curve is a little steeper than necessary for advanced features with PIM and it might be hard to convince experienced researchers to make the move when they have already developed systems that work for them.

I tried Mendeley over the summer for my term project with my summer class, mostly because, I think at the time, Mendeley had the MS Word plugin that would sync a bibliography for me. If I’m not mistaken, that is something that Zotero does now too. However, I found out that I didn’t actually like the bibliography feature, at least as I was working on an annotated bibliography, because the Mendeley plugin didn’t like that I wanted to “get between” the entries and add an annotation. I love MS Word and consider myself to be an advanced user, but it can be frustrating when the dummy-proof formatting features take over assuming they know what you want. I ended up using the Mendeley bibliography in a separate doc, and then copying and pasting the entries elsewhere so that I could have them and manipulate them. Call me stubborn, but I wasn’t quite ready to hand the control over and didn’t have the time to learn all the fine points on how it actually could have worked for me more efficiently.

My other main frustration with PIMs, and this goes for both Zotero and Mendeley, is that importing something manually is cumbersome and tedious. If the automated importer doesn’t sense the article, you are stuck fixing the metadata. In some situations it’s not a big deal, but alternative sources, like web media–videos, online interviews, etc, maybe me wonder how the PIM can even help if I’m still doing all the work. With Mendeley, it didn’t even always sense the bib data within an article from the UW-Libraries database. I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back to “my old way” and do “export citation information” in APA format and copy and paste it right into my project document?” For most small research projects, yes, I think it is easier my old way–especially if the alternative is manually entering the metadata. However, I can imagine for a dissertator, PIMs are the WAY. TO. GO.

I know it sounds like I just bagged on Mendeley, so why would I pick it over Zotero now? Truthfully, going into this week, I expected to make a switch to Zotero because I was disappointed in my first impressions of Mendeley. I downloaded Zotero (Mac platform) and did some compare/contrasting. To me, they are almost exactly the same. They look almost the same. I don’t feel like one is more intuitive than the other. I liked that Zotero’s save citation dialog box doesn’t require a click to make it go away like Mendeley does after you save something–but at the same time, I duplicated records more than once with Zotero because I wasn’t watching for the dialog box after I clicked and hit it a second time to be sure.

I also like that Mendeley has a dedicated iOS app, while there are only 3rd party apps for Zotero. I’m not convinced I will use the mobile feature, but it’s nice to know.

The feature that pushes me a little toward the Mendeley side is the “Recommend related documents” button that searches your library and recommends other similar results for you. I could see this as a useful tool when researching to be sure you hadn’t missed anything. If it exists in Zotero, I couldn’t find it. I am still open to using Zotero and I don’t feel like I know how to use the full capacity, especially with annotations, on either, but I figure I should continue to give them a shot.

Annotation: Personal Information Management

University of Minnesota University Libraries. (2013). Managing Your Information. Current Awareness and Personal Information Management. Retrieved September 22, 2013, from https://www.lib.umn.edu/capim

This academic library guide provides multiple ideas and resources for people seeking ways to manage their personal information collections. The library promotes its own services, such as subject librarians and a PIM blog for researchers, as one would expect since most libraries exist to serve their specific patrons, but I did not feel like the reader had to be affiliated with the University of Minnesota to benefit from the information. The website has separate pages that go into greater detail for citation management, productivity tools, alerts and feeds, personal archiving, and social networking. Each section has links to explore that develop the topic even further with examples and further research. Not all of the suggestions are geared toward academic researchers, however, and the guide also offers its audience general ways to keep their lives organized, recognizing that everyone has their own approach to the subject.