Visualizing Your Searches with Trailblazer

I’ve been writing about my use of as a collaborative annotation tool this semester with the students in our introduction to literature class (see my ProfHacker post from this summer on my selection process). The tool so far has been a huge success and the students have been getting a lot out of the process. But one thing that has stumped me is how to help them navigate the process of actually going online and starting to find the contextual and referential materials they need to find and then moving into next level research and discourses around a work.

We had a preliminary assignment where student Googled their favorite book or author and then tried to do a similar search in the library database/search function. But that only gave them either a very superficial look at their chosen work, or a highly theoretical one. How do we bridge that gap?

Thanks to Shawn Graham, a professor of Digital Archaeology (and seriously, check out what he does with his students, it’s amazing), for pointing me to this new tool: Developed as a way to solve the problem of All The Tabs being open at once in your browser window, when you turn the app on, it traces your search history, creating a visualization of your search, and saves the path that you took, the sites you clicked on, and the places you stopped along the way.

I created a simple example for my preparation for teaching The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s not very web-like, but it would be very useful for showing my students how to start researching and thinking about a work they are reading or a topic they are researching.  I also like the idea of using this tool within the relative confines of a university library search, and as a way to help students navigate a system that is unfamiliar to them filled with resources that appear equally foreign.

(Don’t worry, there’s still no substitute for a great librarian! Talk to one today!)

The app itself is an extension for Chrome, and it is currently in Beta, so it can be a bit buggy still. One of the issues I faced was that I often got a result that didn’t keep the entire path on my screen at once. And in speaking with the developers, one major challenge has been people forgetting to turn on the extension when they start their search process.

There is also an education version developed specifically for K-12 teachers. In this version, you can assign students topics or issues and then closely monitor their research paths. I’m not sure how I feel about that closely monitoring the process, but I do like the idea of making it more shareable and relatively interactive.

Do you see a way to use Trailblazer in your classroom or personal practice?

Photo “Signs? Provosts Don’t Need Signs” courtesy of Jason’s mom.

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