Getting the most out of Google Scholar

The Palomar College ATRC webinar topic this week was “Using Google Scholar”. The Google Scholar site is so easy to use that most visitors will not have any difficulty right from the start. There are, however, a few tips that will make it a little bit easier for you to find exactly what you are looking for.

Tip #1: Set your Scholar Preferences

At the top right corner of the page, look for the gear icon.

Clicking the gear icon will allows access to the Google Scholar Preferences.

Clicking the gear icon will give you the option to open the Scholar Preferences page. From there, you can set a number of options including your Library Links. Library Links allow you to specify which libraries you are a member of so that you can access their subscription based materials.

For those of you at Palomar College, simply type the name Palomar in the box and click the Find Library button. You will then see three different Palomar College Library access links. Check all three boxes and then click the Save Preferences button at either the top or bottom of the page.

Enter the name of the library that you are a member of and then check the boxes for the appropriate databases.

Setting up your Library Links is important because Google Scholar will include links to the full text of articles when they are available at the chosen library. (Library log in may be required for off-campus access.)

Once your Library Links are configured, the results include links to the full text of many articles.

Tip #2: Use Quotation Marks When Searching for Phrases or Names

When searching for an article by title or author, enclose your search terms in quotation marks. Using quotation marks will make Google Scholar return results for items that include all of the words (or names) that you searched for. For example, if you search for articles written by Craig Venter, search for “Craig Venter”. If you do not include the quotation marks, Scholar will includes results for articles written by anyone with the name Craig or Venter.

Quotation marks should be used for searches when you want to find an exact phrase in the text of articles as well. For example, searching for “quantum dot solar cells” will return results that contain that specific phrase but not articles that only refer to quantum dots or only solar cells.

In this example, searching without quotes returned more than 15,000 results.
The same search terms with quotes returns fewer but more relevant results.

Tip #3: Use the Advanced Scholar Search to Narrow Down Results

The Advanced Scholar Search page gives a lot of control over what is searched for and what results will be returned. Click on the Advanced Scholar Search link next to the Search button to access it. From there you can limit searches to just the titles of articles, only the author names, a specific subject, and many other options.

The Advanced Search page allows you to narrow down the search results.

Tech Toolbox: ZoomIt

Occasionally when the techs here are speaking with faculty, particularly in the free-form discussions that come up at our Wednesday morning “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions, the techs will mention tools we use that faculty are unaware of. Sometimes those tools can be adapted to use in the classroom, so I plan to begin highlighting some such tools on the blog under the “Tech Toolbox” name.

For the first installment of Tech Toolbox, I’d like to focus on a simple Windows-based tool that can aid when doing presentations in the classroom: ZoomIt, from Microsoft.

From the download site:

“ZoomIt is screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that include application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image.”

What does this mean? That the ZoomIt program will allow you to show an enlarged picture of whatever is on your computer screen, and allow you to draw on the screen to illustrate points.

ZoomIt is easy to install (on Windows workstations running XP or higher, or Windows servers running 2003 or higher), and easy to use after just a couple minutes of horsing around. Since the program is free, I’d strongly suggest downloading and installing ZoomIt, should you ever have occasion to present to a class or meeting from a Windows system.

What to tell students about Blackboard

As covered in today’s webinar (available from the archive page), faculty often ask us what they should tell students about the Blackboard system. Of course the advice I give can vary greatly depending on circumstance; an fully online class should be told more than a traditional on-campus class only using Blackboard to augment classroom activities. However, here is my short list of the most important things faculty should tell students about Blackboard:

  1. How to log in to Blackboard.
    Sure it’s the same login info as students use on eServices, sure we have that information on the “Student Information” panel of the Blackboard login page, but it helps to repeat “nine-digit Palomar student ID number as username, same password as you have set in eServices.”
  2. How to navigate YOUR course.
    Students don’t really want to hear about all the parts of Blackboard, but they really do want to hear which parts of your course structure they should pay the most attention to. Tell it, in your own words. (Heck, record it in your own voice right in the Blackboard course, using a Wimba Voice Authoring component!)
  3. Describe your time expectations.
    If you expect to respond to emails “within three days,” but a student expects you to repsond “within six hours,” you will have an anxious student on your hands. Set some time frames for how long students should expect to hear back on emails, grades, etc.
  4. Mention file types and technologies you are using.
    If you’ve uploaded all your documents as PDFs, let your students know that; that way they can be sure and have the Adobe Reader loaded on their computers. Likewise, if you’re using videos from the Palomar streaming video catalog, let your students know that they should be sure to have Silverlight installed.
  5. If your students will be taking tests on Blackboard, make sure they do it properly.
    I’m constantly amazed at the number of students who expect to fit a one hour test into fifteen minutes, or who think they can take their final exam online while watching their four-year-old. I’m amazed enough that I made a video describing what I consider to be the pitfalls to avoid in a test environment.
  6. Tell your students how to get technical help from us.
    We have badges and buttons a-plenty, but if all else fails students can just be referred to http://palomaratrc.helpserve.com/ to submit a ticket to our helpdesk system.
  7. The browser you use matters.
    If something isn’t working right in Blackboard, step one should be “try it in a different web browser.” I don’t know if it’s disturbing or amazing, but I find that often the technical problems that crop up in Blackboard are browser specific. Oh, and if you want a browser recommendation… Firefox or Chrome.

That hits the high points, at any rate. Touch on these issues with your students, and they’re more likely to have a good experience interacting with your Blackboard course.