In the minds of many students shouting “Hey Siri, tell me about Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “Hey Google, when did the Soviet Union collapse?” conducts research. As teachers, we know that research is a process that goes far beyond telling a machine to give us information. The challenge is to get students to understand that research is a process and not just typing a question into a search box or saying a query out loud in the hope that an AI-powered machine will spit. new useful information.

To get students away from typing simple queries into Google and doing research, we need to show them that is not the only search engine they can use. Chances are your school library and / or local public library will pay for a subscription to an academic article database. JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and ScienceDirect are just a few examples. The librarians at your school and at public libraries will be happy, maybe happy that you have asked, to show your students how to access these databases through a library ID.

In addition to the aforementioned subscription databases, there are free databases that your students can use in their research processes. Some popular choices include ERIC, Semantic scholar, and Get research.

History teachers should also make sure to direct their students to digital archives such as those hosted by Library of Congress, The World Digital Library, and The commons hosted by Flickr. In addition, most countries, states and provinces have their own digital archives that can be viewed freely. Some of the records from these databases may show up in Google search results and some may not. Either way, records in the archive are unlikely to rank well in a search result and therefore it is worth compiling a list of digital archive databases that you think will will be useful to your students. Ironically, the easiest way to find these archives is to type on the name of the country, state or province followed by “digital archive”, “national archive”, “state archive”, “Provincial archive” or simply “archive”.

Another good source of information for student researchers can be found in the digital archives of libraries, museums and historical preservation societies. The largest of them, as The British Museum and The New York Public Library are well organized and relatively easy to find. Smaller ones like those in small town historical societies may not have a search function at all. In this case, students will have to browse through the archives in the hope of finding useful information.

One of the main differences between searching for information through and searching academic databases and digital archives is the organization and presentation of search results. ranks websites based on five key factors; the meaning of your query, relevance of web pages, quality of content, usability of web pages, context and settings. In short, Google tries to predict what you are looking for and bring you what its algorithm predicts is the best thing to read or watch. The results are therefore a ranking based on this combination of factors and less important factors that Google does not always recognize publicly. With few exceptions, academic databases and digital archives are not in the game of predictions. Their search results pages are based on how your query matches the content of items in their databases.

The difference between the way research results are organized and presented is important to students for two reasons. First, in an effort to appear at the top of Google search results, website owners often post material in an attempt to satisfy Google’s algorithm, which leads to a lot of superficial or basic content rather than in-depth academic content. In-depth academic content is rarely written to satisfy Google’s algorithm and therefore rarely appears in the first few pages of Google search results, if at all. Second, the predictive text or suggested search terms provided by Google can lead students to conduct research that distracts them from their original search strategies.

Finally, many academic articles are not indexed by Google at all because they are behind the paywall or the connection of a database and / or the owners of these databases have asked Google not to index their content. Students who rely solely on for their research needs are missing out on valuable information.

This writing and image originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Writing and featured image created by Richard Byrne.


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