In the last post we started to cover the elements of search which have the potential to impact on learning. You can pick up that post from here if you missed it. As well as different ways of refining searches today I wanted to look at federated search and the ability to instantly review search queries and results within the browser.
SharePoint 2007 contained federated search but this has seen improvements within SharePoint 2010. The key premise is the ability to search others sources beyond resources living within your SharePoint. This has the potential to be a major application within education as the ability to bring in search results from search engines and sites like Wikipedia and Youtube will allow students to complete research from multiple sources all from within SharePoint. From a collaborative perspective it also allows searches to be performed across multiple SharePoint sites so that federations of schools can share their data quickly and easily. External databases can also be searched so that many of the administrative elements of a school can be enhanced by the ability to use SharePoint as a central search point.
As well as federated search students will benefit from the ‘Google type’ experience of suggestions. These come in two forms with the pre query suggestions as you are typing and the ’did you mean’ responses when returning a search result. Pre-query suggestions are based on previous searches so the more SharePoint is used the more suggestions appear in a similar way to Google. The ‘did you mean’ suggestions are based on the content in the indexing and although some might argue that this aids students too much it more closely reflects the web world they live in.
A long running debate within our team at Twynham has taken place about the most important aspect of a SharePoint Learning Platform. Dave Coleman has always argued that search is the key attribute which makes the learning experience vastly improved within SharePoint. Although I did not agree with Dave that search was key with SharePoint 2007 it has made major steps forward in SharePoint 2010 and in many ways is now comparable with the same search experience learners will find with the Internet.
The diagram below shows a breakdown of the different types of search you can get with SharePoint 2010.
Faceted Search in SharePoint 2010
One of the biggest challenges with schools is the vast amount of information which can end up sitting on the Learning Platform. With SharePoint 2010 search results which bring up a large number of responses now come with a refinement panel which allows you to filter results by site, author, modified data and tag. You can instantly see how a teacher or student will use this to sift through information and find the most relevant resource for them. An example of the refinement panel can be seen below.
Complex keyword search
Of course you want learners to refine the search results but perhaps more importantly you want them to be able to refine their search terms. This is now possible in SharePoint 2010 with the ability for example to use AND, NOT and OR to further specify what you are looking for. To use a History example you may choose a search of ‘Hitler AND Mussolini’ if you wanted to focus on the relationship of the two dictators. This would likely bring up the Pact of Steel or Munich Conference where the two leaders are referenced together. You could also choose ‘Hitler NOT Mussolini’ if you wanted to look at Nazi activity unrelated to the Italian relationship. Finally if you wanted to generally search for the two dictators for research but it did not matter which one (for example if you were looking in general at fascist European leaders) you could search ‘Hitler OR Mussolini’. As Agnes Molnar showed in her recent article on EndUser SharePoint it is possible to then undertake more complex search as you can see below.
Filed under: Online Learning, SharePoint, Twynham School
Whenever I speak to Twynham’s Network Manager Dave Coleman about our development of SharePoint we often get on to the topic of our move from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007. This was the point at which we could both genuinely see the creation of a powerful, robust and flexible Learning Platform through SharePoint. We were asked a more interesting question at BETT by a colleague from a different school who wondered, ‘what was the key change from 2003 to 2007?’ At this point Dave and I agree on our top 5 but not our number 1 change.
For me the most fundamental improvement in SharePoint 2007 was navigation and in particular hierarchy. SharePoint 2003 was flat which made the creation of our Revision Gateway (I will cover this topic tomorrow) a nightmare. We wanted a homepage with sub sites but this was not possible and so we had to manually link all the sites together. SharePoint 2007 was a massive leap forward in this area with a more ‘web like’ experience which as a result was more intuitive for our students. When you ask Dave about the change to SharePoint 2007 he disagrees and sees the emergence of search as the liberating influence. The ability to search from one site to the whole of SharePoint and from titles to the content of documents was indeed a real step forward in SharePoint 2007. My concern is that search never really gives me an experience as powerful as on the web and I sometimes find it is stumped by my query.
The good news from Microsoft is they have planned major improvements in search for Office 14. Having acquired enterprise developer FAST search last year they announced integration will arrive in the next version of Office. Bringing together such a widely used platform as SharePoint with high end search functionality can only make Microsoft’s next offering a significant step forward. Whilst the main driver for Microsoft is business efficiency and therefore potential cost savings in the enterprise market the gains will extend beyond this. For educationalists efficiency will undoubtedly play a part but I am sure that the major gain as a result will be the overall end user experience. In the education market user adoption and rich content are king but buy in is not mandatory as it is in business. Students and staff being able to find what they need when they need it will undoubtedly ensure they keep coming back for more content more often.