Friday, February 15, 2013

Teaching the Advanced Power Searching with Google MOOC

Teaching 36,000 students is nothing like what I thought it would be.  Instead of preaching to a stadium full of students, it was more like talking with a city full of scholars, two and three at a time, one group after the other.  It was a lot of work, and utterly worth it.  

The last two classes we ran at the end of last year were MOOCs as well—Massive Open Online Courses—each had around 150,000 students registered. I’d sort of figured that 1/5th of the students would mean around 1/5th the work.  That was optimistic and utterly wrong.  I don’t yet have the final numbers, but my sense is that this smaller course was just as much work as the big ones—just a different kind of work, much more contact with students as individuals.

Of course, this was the *Advanced* Power Searching MOOC, but I didn’t quite know what to expect when we launched it.  Would it require more handholding, or less?  Would the students be really advanced or not?

It turned out that it felt like *more* questions were asked, more contact was required.  I still don’t know if it was because we had more people take it without having the prerequisites (that is, the Basic search class) OR if it was just that the MOOC was that much harder.

I’m also really curious to find out what happened to all of the 36,000 people who signed up.  Again, I’m not sure of the final numbers yet, but it looks like maybe 10% of those who showed up for the first class actually completed the course.  That’s seems like a pretty low number…but it's pretty standard among MOOCs these days.  Lots of people sign up for a class, thinking they'll have lots of spare time and motivation, but then reality sets in and they end up having to work an extra 20 hours that week.  I don't blame them, I have same problem.  I've signed up for several MOOCs and have watched lots of video, but haven't yet managed to complete the course work.  

One of the truly striking features of this MOOC was that we had so many videoconferences with students by using Google Hangouts.  As a result, I was able to talk with lots of students around the world—including Bobby in Beijing who was attending the class by working around the Chinese firewall to watch the YouTube videos.   He looked to be around 14 years old.  That’s pretty sophisticated stuff for a 9th grader. 

I also had a long conversation with an Ecuadorean flower seller that made think twice before making assumptions about the students.  She was in her mid-30s and when she told me that she “sold flowers” I assumed that since she was in Latin America, she sold flowers in the local farmer’s market, or sold them by wandering from restaurant to restaurant they way I’d see many times before in Mexico and Honduras.  So when I asked her WHY she wanted to take the class, she explained that she wanted to research various markets in the US and Europe for her flowers.  She didn’t sell them a bunch at a time, but in large numbers per order—she was a large exporter of tropical flowers, not a small-time seller.  Amazing.  It was suddenly obvious why she wanted to improve her search skills—her market research was an important part of her job.

But perhaps most surprising was the kid in Syria who participated in a few videoconferences.  I kept wanting to ask HOW he was taking this class while living in a country that is deeply embedded in a civil war, but I resisted the urge.  The fact that he was able to connect from Syria was remarkable enough.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing about the MOOC—the constellation of people, countries, and cultures.  Five percent of all the course attendees were from Egypt!  That tells me there’s a pretty deep interest in improving one’s research skills.  Google’s not just for looking up triviata and answering bar bets, it’s also being used globally to dig more deeply into questions that are tremendously important.  I’m glad we were able to help some students out.

If you took the MOOC and finished (or if you didn't, but watched at least a couple of the videos or worked on one or two of the challenges), I'd love to hear your experiences.  Anything you want to share? 


  1. Thanks a lot Dan for all of this. I really appreciate the time and energy you have put into developing the research skills of us all. Though I wasn't able to attend any of the courses, I have been able to go through the videos and challenges at Is there still anyway those of us that could not attend the live courses but are still interested in such opportunity to attend another edition?

  2. I signed up and began working on this course, but did not finish it when I realized the immensity of the final projects and the lack of time I had to put into them. So I un-enrolled last weekend. However before I quit I had the time of my life learning about DeBussey and the Gamelan and the floating libraries and rainforest birds. I also have shared with my students the reverse dictionary to find synonyms thus improving their selection of key search words. This course was fantastic and I hope it is offered during the summer when many educators such as myself will have time to devote to the course work. I love the videos and wish there were constant access to them. I also downloaded and printed the wonderful quick guide to power searching to help me remember some of the things I learned and saw. Thank you for having this course and I hope you offer it again. Susan Haninger, Columbus, Ohio

  3. Hi - will you be running one in future? I'd like to get some training on this. thanks. Roger

  4. I loved taking the course, but I wish it was just one week longer. I didn't have the large chunks of time it was taking me to sit down and complete each challenge to my satisfaction. I did them all but never got to complete the final assignments which were required for the certificate. Thank you!

  5. I completed the first and advanced course. Reason for taking the courses, I was frustrated with doing searches and not getting quick efficient results. I learned so much and its interesting when I tell people I am taking a search course. They generally respond with something like "you just type in the words, how difficult is that".

    I notice a lot more people looking for answers. That's a good thing because it means you have challenged us. Yes some questions you were being asked were to make it easy. This was labelled a challenge based course, I hope future courses will be continue to done in this manner.

    I felt the advanced course timeframe was quite short. Perhaps now that you have a formula you could give notice of an upcoming course and advise students to view/review as many the videos/texts prior to the start date. I don't feel diluting the advanced course would be beneficial.

    The most wonderful thing I did in this course was in 8 hours I traced my Irish husband's family back 5 generations. I could not have accomplished anything near this before. I am using what I learned everyday. As simple as our coffee group constantly comes up with questions am I now am their Google Search Guru. It makes me look smart. Cool.

    Thanks for all you do.

  6. I remember one old phrase in a shy poster had found stuck to a wall without revoking the third floor of a university in Argentina, (discussing the degree in Library Science). He said: "The information moves the world. Move your the world. Studying librarianship ".
    And studied. I'm a librarian and I love love my job. I'm "addicted" to find information on the web. And the Google search engine was one of my best fellow adventurers.Find information on the web is my life!
    Realize the basic course search last year and I improved muchísmo the way I work. With the advanced course'm breaking my own boundaries. And I always share what I learn with others. Free. For all who are willing to learn and teach. As Dan & APSWG staff make us.
    I hope you have many more MOOC like these. And there are versions in other languages ​​(Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc.)
    Count me in to collaborate on the adaptation / translation of the examples of searches into Spanish!
    Millions of thanks.
    Javier Mariano Areco, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    PS: I recommend to all "get in shape" with * A Google a Day *.

  7. Dan
    I took your Basic course last year and signed up for Advanced Searching expecting that it would be similar format, but got confused the first week --I confess I didn't always give the videos full attention and just dived in. I did most of the challenges -- the first one was hard, but others got better. Liked the skills site for exploration, and felt that your team was on the right track for documenting search strategy. The class needed to be longer, in my opinion.
    I didn't do the final assignments -- I was overextended -- starting a class. Felt I could have finished assignments -- not too difficult

  8. I echo the previous commenters. I wasn't able to take the Basics MOOC that you offered earlier, either. If there's any chance you'll be offering either again, I'd love to take them. I'm an academic librarian and I always enjoy learning new search strategies!

  9. Dan, I like your teaching style and I watched all of the videos and tried many of the techniques you described - and several have been presented in my classes already on how to do genealogical research on line more effectively. Unfortunately, my hours got compressed and I did not complete the challenges, but the learning for me still goes on. Thank you for that. I also enjoy your blog on ReResearch. Gary Zimmerman, Bellevue WA

  10. Dr. Russell. I liked both MOOC. In the first one I think less people needed help because we checked our answers right away. In the Advanced one, Hangouts were great improvement and also taught (not just the search or help we needed), at leat for me, other things like the words Tasha used, how she read the snippet and how to "see" beyond words.

    I liked challenges and how peers worked them.

    I like very much the skills and I'd love new courses. Google Search courses for me is not just about learning HOW to search and WHAT skills use. It is a great way to learn and have more perspective in every day life.

    Thank you for having these courses and for the week challenges!

  11. Dan, thank you very much for everything you share on the MOOC.
    I completed the Basic and Advanced course. On the Advanced course I want to highlight the quality, creativity and originality of the Challenges. Personally, organize the information search process and document the "step by step" were a great help to my work and my life. I hope many more MOOC on searches, research on how to do web searches for information and MOOC versions in other languages ​​(Spanish, Portuguese, etc.)
    Thank you very much!
    Mariano Javier Areco, Buenos Aires, Argentina

  12. I really enjoyed the Advanced Power Searching, as well as the first course. For me, the biggest challenge was the time. It would be great to stretch it out another week. The big east coast blizzard gave me a chance to sit down and work my way through all of the exercises and challenges, though I regret not being able to attend any of the Hangouts.

    I found the first course very simple - but that's because I'm a librarian who uses those techniques and teaches them to others very regularly. The Advanced course was more challenging, and I really enjoyed it! It gave me even more tips and tricks to share with my students and patrons!

    Thank you so much for offering this!

  13. I signed up but could never find the course.

  14. Dan thank you so much for offering these classes. I was fortunate that I was able to work together on these classes with my colleague, Anne. We both completed the Powersearch MOOC as well as the advanced course. We liked the format of powersearch better,where one skill was introduced and then there was an assignment immediately after based on that one skill. With the advanced class we were grateful that we had each other to help figure things out. We would have liked having fewer concepts introduced with an assessment just on those skills; with just the final assignments incorporating all of the different search strategies. But that is really the only criticism we had. We loved the videos. They were clear and concise. The pacing was just right.
    As librarians we are always trying to improve our search skills and to find new ideas to share with students and staff. These classes were an ideal vehicle for us to do this.
    We have also used these classes as advocacy tools. Many people say that libraries are no longer necessary because so much information is on the Internet (Google is usually specifically mentioned). We use these classes to show how involved research is and that information can be very difficult to find.
    So again thank you for offering these classes as well as the Wed. search challenges which help us hone our search skills even more!

  15. I took the Power Search class last fall and was excited about enrolling in the Advanced Power Search class. It definitely lived up to its "Advanced" billing. It was not an incremental step, but a leap to an integrated approach to solving complex problems.

    The class had 12 fascinating learning challenges that were carefully constructed to require search tool capabilities across multiple lines of inquiry to be synthesized into one answer. I learned the value (necessity) of keeping a search record. It keeps the search organized and gives the ability to step back and forth between the big picture and the details. It also helped me examine where I got off track and to evaluate the quality of my sources.

    There were two self-evaluated Assignments before you could unlock the final challenge. The course staff estimated the challenges would take 1-2 hours to complete. My actual experience was much longer. (Multiply by 6.) I like to think that the time engaged with the material magnified the amount learned.

    The hangouts were brilliant. It was amazing to see how international our class was. There was some frustration from the students when they couldn't join because of the 10 person limit. Maybe a few more "on air" broadcasts with submitted questions would help.

    As for Dan's expectation that
    "1/5th of the students would mean around 1/5th the work."
    I'm laughing, because I was on the other side (the student side). He probably had 5 times the work. I certainly did! But that would be similar to teaching graduate students vs. undergraduates in a university. The grad students are able to function on their own, but there is more personal contact to address subtleties and do in-depth work.

    You have successfully created an Advanced MOOC in which the presenters can interact with the students. Keep building and improving. The materials have certainly improved my search capabilities.

    And, yes, it was utterly worth it!

  16. Dan

    I graduated.

    My thoughts. I was going to say 'my two cents worth' but we don't use cents anymore in Canada.

    Your comments about the numbers is exactly what I was wondering so thanks for that. Those.

    The projects can be very time consuming if one lacks insight into the problem: Not paying attention to or understanding the challenge. Bad luck too if your insight goes off into the woods instead of downtown.

    I graduated from the first session as well. What uses up a lot of time for me is not whether I am on the right track or not but in reading and exploring more about the topic. They are always mighty interesting.

    Did not hangout lacking the proper gear. Checked a forum once but otherwise there was nothing I needed to ask.

    I think this must very difficult for people who are not at ease with English.

    Confession: I was running short on the time toward the end with other obligations looming so I skipped the last couple of classes. Shhhh.

    The MOOC format is dandy.

    Looking forward to post doc studies with PowerSearch.


    Jon Ackroyd on Vancouver Island who is going to teach a bit of this stuff to ElderCollege students next month

  17. Dan,
    You have opened up worlds of research for us to explore. I too, ran out of time to finish all the required items for Advanced Power Searching (life interrupted, as did a mild case of flu). That would be my one big suggestion, add a couple of weeks to the class.

    I agree that the class was about 5 times more work than the early Power Searching class. I completed all the regular assignments and most but not all the required assignments. Each one was taking me hours to complete. Part of that are my study habits.

    I printed every handout and the text of each lesson as I did them. One benefit is that I now have a 2-inch binder of Google Search Lessons to use as help in future research. That alone is invaluable. But the time to do all the assignments got out of hand for me to complete in two weeks.

    I realize that I should have participated in Hangouts. Was there a way we could have just watched and not tied up one of the 10 spots?

    Many times I got stuck and spent too much time on going down the wrong path; that is not a bad thing for a class assignment, but not so good in real workaday research.

    Honing one’s research skills in not an easy thing to do. The first class was eye opening with all the new tools we learned. The Advanced Class, for me was more intensive and used more multiple search methods and combinations of methods. And required more thought about search terms.

    All in all it was a very good learning experience, it would be nice to have that certificate of completion but I felt I learned a great deal and that notebook will help with my research in the future. And I can loan it to my better half when she has a issue she wants to research. She is much smarter than me and picks this up much faster than I.

    So thanks for taking the time for all of this. I will continue to learn by doing. Now off to Dickens.

    PS - It sounds like you could write a book about the people that take this class, a cross section of the world. That is amazing and you should be proud you were able to reach out to so many.