Archive for January, 2005

Student blogs

Monday, January 31st, 2005

This on CT.

A while back I posted about my plans to teach a class in which each student would be required to maintain his or her own blog. We are now halfway through the quarter (really) and so I thought it would be a good time to get some outside readers to take a look at the students’ blogs. If you happen to have a moment and wouldn’t mind surfing over I am sure the students would be delighted to get some comments from people not enrolled in class. has a link to each of the blogs in the right-hand menu.

As you will see, the quality of student posts differs quite a bit. This is not particularly surprising since once can expect some level of variation in the work of students for most classes. To give a bit of background on the content of the blog entries, students are required to post to their blogs each week discussing at least two of the reading assignments covered that week. Students can use their blogs to post other material as well. They are also required to post a comment on a peer’s blog each week. The syllabus also includes some additional blogging assignments (finding and discussing various online content).

Judging from midterm feedback, it sounds like most students are enjoying the blogging experience although some find commenting on others’ blogs a bit tedious. At the same time others find it disappointing that they are not getting more feedback so it’s hard to satisfy everyone. Having students blog about the readings is certainly helpful for an understanding of how they are processing the material. Their blog entries have guided discussion in several class sessions.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience and plan to write up a detailed description of the course logistics later. For now, feel free to take a look at how the student blogging is going by visiting some of their sites.

Ask and Jeeves answers

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

This on CT.

Among other things, my research looks at how people find information online. When I conducted in-person observations of people’s information-seeking behavior on the Web, it was interesting to see how well Ask Jeeves had done in marketing itself as the search engine that answers people’s questions. Even respondents in my study who otherwise relied on Google for almost all of their queries would go to Ask Jeeves to find the answer to the question about what steps they would have to take if they lost their wallet. People would type in their query in the form of a question even though in most cases – and especially if not specified with quotes, which is something few users do – including “what” or “where” in a query does little to improve the results of a search. It was an interesting example of how a search service could position itself in the search engine market by a particular marketing approach. The results to users’ queries on that particular search engine were no better than the results offered by other services, but due to the type of question people turned to that service regardless. Now I have come across something that seems quite unique to Ask Jeeves among the most popular search engines in terms of actual services rendered, for the moment at least.

Reading the Search Engine Watch blog I found out that using Ask Jeeves can cut down on the number of clicks required to find the answers to simple factual questions. Ask Jeeves will now give you a little box with the answers to some of your questions without having to click through to one of the results for the information. For example, wondering about this year’s date for Passover, I typed in when is Passover in 2005 and was given the exact info right there by Jeeves. (Yes, of course it’s enough to type in passover 2005 to get the same result, I was just playing along.) The service seems to cater to more popular forms of information. It will give you information about some celebrity birthdays (e.g. walter matthau birthday) and the names of Academy Award winners (up until 2002 for now, e.g. academy award best actress 2002), but it won’t display the names of Nobel Prize winners directly (e.g. see results for chemistry nobel prize 2002). It will be interesting to see to what other topical domains they expand the service (some geographical information is also available this way already). For now, other search services such as Google and Yahoo require additional clicks to find answers to the above questions. Perhaps in time they will come out with their versions of instant responses.[1]

fn1. Yes, I realize that Google has been supplying answers to some questions directly for a while. That’s what Kieran relied on in this post.

The “L”

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

Some neat photos of our beloved Chicago “L”. A propos the El, here are some Chicago bloggers organized by El stops.

Firefox Doodle theme

Thursday, January 13th, 2005

Looking for a fun alternative to the default Firefox theme? I’ve been using Doodle and like it quite a bit.

Smith Princeton engineering student exchange

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

My two alma maters are working together to create new opportunities for women engineering students.

Computers and grandmother mortality rates

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

This on CT.

As Adams (1990) suggests a college “student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year”. I’ve been contemplating – but have yet to conduct rigorous data-collection to test this hypothesis – that perhaps the increasing importance of computers on university campuses may benefit the health of college students’ grandmothers. The number of crashes and other computer-related problems (“the dog ate my computer and my roommate’s computer, too”) seems to be surprisingly high when projects are due. Of course, it may just be that computers are crashing all the time, students never have online access, but it is only when assignments are due that we happen to hear about it. In any case, if all this means fewer deaths in college students’ families, that’s probably a nice side-effect of growing IT uses at universities.

Happy 2005!

Saturday, January 1st, 2005

Google Doodle never disappoints. This New Year’s logo is a bit of a new approach playing with the shadows.. very nice.