When was the Board of Education founded?
Kaitlyn O'Hagan | March 24, 2011 | 10:33 pm | What Are You Finding? | 1 Comment

For my Macaulay Seminar 4 class (Shaping the Future of New York City), I am doing a research project on the Board of Education (now the Department of Education). The first part of this project was due just this past week, and since the topic seems to fit the theme of the class, I thought I’d take you through how I found the information.

I had known from the outset that I wanted to do my project on the Board of Education. I knew a lot about the current issues surrounding the Education bureaucracy in New York City (the change-over in 2002 under Mayor Bloomberg, the appointment of Cathie Black as Chancellor, both of which are to be covered in the next part of my project) but I knew almost nothing about the history before 2002, except for some inklings about a controversy in the sixties involving Ocean-Hill Brownsville.

A quick Wikipedia search confirmed this inkling: there had indeed been a crisis with the Board of Education in the 1960s. However, the “History” provided by Wikipedia, started and ended with this crisis, and devoted all of one paragraph to it. My usual strategy of simply clicking on the citations in Wikipedia articles could not even help me, with only one, small article cited. While I certainly wasn’t expecting detailed information, I was at least expecting a timeline, including the founding date of the Board of Education.

My next stop, after googling “New York City Board of Education.” The entire first page of results were links to schools.nyc.gov, so I perused the city’s website for information. After a few minutes of this, I realized it didn’t contain any historical information that would be useful for my first segment of the project. Loath to try googling again, I went to nyc.gov and searched for “Board of Education.” This finally gave me the answer I had been searching for. On nyc.gov/records, there is a page entitled “Board of Education” with the complete records of the Board. Though I was not ready at this stage of my research to look through these, the title of the page also included the dates “1842 – 2002”: I now knew when the Board of Education had been founded, as well as a brief overview of the history.

My online search did raise some interesting questions relevant to my research. For example: why doesn’t the current Department of Education at least link to the website with the complete records of the Board of Education? Is it simply a technological oversight, or a subtle statement?

In the end, most of my research did not involve online sources. I had to consult the books of educational history and education policy experts, such as Diane Ravitch (who we have encountered before in this class) and Joseph Viteritti. I was able to find these sources because of my prior knowledge (I knew Diane Ravtich from this class and an event I had attended) and with the help of my Professor (who knows Viteritti because they are colleagues). From there, I was able to use the footnotes and bibliographies of these sources to cast my net wider. Ultimately, no amount of Google-fu could have solved my research dilemma. Perhaps one day, when these texts are available online, and new, updated texts are immediately made available via the internet, it will be enough. For now, old-fashioned research techniques are equally important.

Finding Answers: Our Own Sketch Comedy
December Lange | March 23, 2011 | 10:59 pm | What Are You Finding? | 1 Comment


Wendolyn, December, and Nick have been waiting eleven hours for tickets to see Saturday Night Live with host Zach Galifianakis. The temperature is hovering above freezing. An unknown SNL cast member exits the building and heads toward those waiting in line with doughnuts and coffee.

CAST MEMBER: Hey guys, do you want doughnuts and coffee? It’s really cold. We appreciate you waiting all this time!

WENDOLYN: Coffee! Great! Thank you!

CAST MEMBER: No, thank you for waiting!

NICK: See you tomorrow!

CAST MEMBER: Yes, it will be a great show!

Cast member continues down the line.

DECEMBER: Who was that?

NICK: He’s a cast member.

DECEMBER: What’s his name?

NICK: I don’t know. I think he used to be on Nickelodeon.

Nick pulls out his iPhone and brings up the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) application.

WENDOLYN: Look at the SNL cast page!

DECEMBER: Go to this season! See if you can find the featured cast members!

WENDOLYN: Type faster!

NICK: He isn’t here. I don’t see him anywhere on this listing.

DECEMBER: Google it! Google it now!

WENDOLYN: Type faster!

Nick goes to Google and types “SNL current cast” and views search results. Wikipedia is brought up on the screen. Nick scrolls down to the 2010-2011 Season. But there are no pictures.

DECEMBER: Who is it? Is it Paul Brittain?

Nick returns to Google Images and searches for Paul Brittain. The images return no familiar result.

DECEMBER: Is it Taran Killam?

Nick uses Google Images to search Taran Killam. The pictures match the face of the man who had given them coffee. Satisfied, Nick returns to IMDB and searches for Taran Killam. He examines Taran Killam’s acting credits. Finds The Amanda Show!

NICK: See! I told you he was on Nickelodeon!

Camping Out For SNL Tickets

December Lange, Wendolyn Ebbert, and Nicholas Scoufaras Wait For Saturday Night Live Tickets Outside of 30 Rock

Although it took a relatively long time to discern the identity of the cast member using several different searches (Google, Wikipedia, IMDB), we eventually got the information that we needed. We had to rely on previous knowledge of casts to narrow down people and on facial recognition to match pictures. Once information was found, we double-checked it against other sources to ensure that we were correct in our assessment. This process worked out well. If it were not for the collective brain, we would not have been able to correctly identify the cast member we were able to meet and therefore would not have been able to update our Facebook statuses and gloat to all of our friends safely at home, warm, and in bed.

*As a note, this was an actual conversation that took place while waiting for SNL tickets. However, the dialogue may be slightly altered due to the passage of time and fallibility of memory.

Research Frenzy
Frieda Benun | March 23, 2011 | 6:21 pm | What Are You Finding? | 1 Comment

Three weeks and three papers, and I would get three credits. It sounded looked fairly straightforward. It was my first time taking a summer class and it sounded easy enough. How hard could it be to write about plants? As it turned out, it was pretty hard. The ten-page report on stevia was turning out to be more difficult than I had imagined. The problem was not simply that most people have never even heard of stevia, but rather that the information I was expected to discuss was nowhere to be found. Not only was I researching an little-known plant, but the specific details that I was looking for were beyond obscure. For example: “Describe the perianth structure of stevia.” I couldn’t find the androecium structure of any plant, let alone one that, unless on the topic of sweeteners, goes largely unnoticed. Textbooks were no help. I tried searching Google for every imaginable keyword, but I was getting very few results.
Finally, I decided to get a bit more scientific with my searches. Instead of typing in “stevia,” I searched for its genus and species names. This time, I saw some promising hits. I followed up on them and traced their sources. One of the links was a governmental report on stevia. Another link led me to PubMed, where I lost the article source but was able to trace it through PubMed’s search tools. In both cases, the material I found was extremely technical. It was filled with jargon that I had never heard of. I found myself copying and pasting every other word into Dictionary.com, only to get an equally obscure definition. I began searching each word that I did not understand on either Google, Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, and sometimes all three. I had to figure out not only what the gibberish meant in its actual definition, but also how it fit back into the article and related to stevia. Most websites I had to read were full of words I had never heard of. There was no easy way to interpret the articles or the definitions I found for the articles’ vocabulary. I spent hours deciphering everything. I had to teach myself the intricacies of plant anatomy and physiology. I learned more about stevia’s structure than what is known by botanist. After hours of painstaking work, I was finally able to decode the two articles I found.
From this research experience, I found that the “massive collective brain” was largely unhelpful. I had to turn to technical websites that were designed for very specialized fields. For specific information, it seems like Google and even Wikipedia are not useful. It takes a lot of time and hard work not only to uncover, but also to understand information when it gets to be more detailed. My search had been unproductive until I thought to search for the information using more technical terms. It was then that my investigation hit a turning point and I was finally allowed into the inner sanctuary of scientific research.

In Need of Google-Fu You Learn to Come througfh
Moses Sutton | March 23, 2011 | 1:14 pm | What Are You Finding? | 1 Comment

Did you mean through?

There is no true universal mastery to perfect the skill of searching. Google, the model and leader of search engines, cannot be pigeonholed. There is no way of giving clear cut definitive directions on how to search, sift, browse, filter, and find. For any number of Google searches there can be a googol ways to phrase it. A hierarchy of proper efficient phrasing is practically unattainable. But there are always pointers.

The elementary or introductory pointers include when to use quotation marks (specific phrase needed verbatim), when and why to exclude prepositions and/or indefinite articles (on, an, in, etc.), and how to shorten search phrases while trying to be as specific as possible. These are all great pointers. But they only give a basic guideline. How should someone approach a broad topic? How about a very specific obscure topic?

I have no definitive answer. I think the only way to develop a thorough technique is to mature one’s personal instinct – what type of words for you should be avoided and what to click on amidst millions of results. The best way, I find, to hone your personal method is to embrace your survival instinct.

What is the difference between searching out of curiosity and searching out of necessity? The answer is drive, determination, and patience. When you need results you are determined to find them. In order to develop a method you need to gain loads of personal experience. No one can teach you a full proof method to searching Google’s massive brain. When I need to find an obscure tidbit of information I stare at the screen, constantly refining the words and structure of my search, utilizing multiple tabs in my browser, sifting through endless pages, opening results in new windows, and cluttering my screen until I find that needle in the haystack. When I want to find or know something I am more likely to give up trying within minutes.

I sharpened my googling technique one year ago. I was interning at the music-publishing agency SONGs. One task I was frequently given was to find pirated music of their artists. Some artists were well-known, even Top 40 pop artists, and others more obscure. What made this difficult was that my assignment was to find songs that were just released, hence newly pirated. This was the company can distort the illegal copies and slow down the unlawful sharing of their music or if really necessary file for an injunction. I remember searching for an hour and a half, using peer-to-peer software and torrent files, to find all the copies I could of a new song by Relient K. I ended up with multiple searches, spanning 50+ Google pages, and downloading many strange files (often viruses, good thing the computer had strong protection). But because of my determination my googling was a success. In that occasion I found three illegal copies of that song.

During that four month long internship I gain my googling instinct. I cannot see any better way to become a Google-Fu master than born out of a dire need for results.

Protected: Atomic Google
Shelly Darden | March 18, 2011 | 7:11 pm | What Are You Finding? | Enter your password to view comments.

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What are you finding?
Joseph Ugoretz | March 13, 2010 | 4:01 pm | What Are You Finding? | No comments

Use this reflection to take us along with you on a web search. Let us know how you looked for information, where you found it, what you found, and how you evaluated it.  This can be information for a class, for yourself, for a friend–any time you needed to know something and you used the massive collective brain to find it.  How did that work for you?


Use this reflection to tell us how you learned to search and to evaluate information on the web (or off the web, why not?).  How did you gain your mastery of google-fu? And how can we teach others to have the same (or better) level of mastery? What is your plan for the academy of google-fu?