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Search Empathy

I was just talking with an English professor about his upcoming Argument & Inquiry seminar on the Gothic story. I’ve really be so heartened by these early-stages planning meetings we’ve had so far. The combination of having really engaged faculty, really new syllabi, and a requirement that the courses should “clarify how scholars ask questions, and teach students how to find and evaluate information in reading and research and to use it effectively and ethically in constructing arguments” means that we’re getting the chance to do some really creative thinking about how to foster intellectual independence in first year students.

Anyway, my Ah Hah moment of the day was when this professor said that searching is a fundamentally empathetic tasks. That crystallized for me a lot of my thinking about searching — how you have to not ask a search interface a question (usually) but instead think of terms that your ideal article would have in it or associated with it. So, not my terms for a concept, but my ideal article’s terms for the concept. When I can get my students to make that leap, their results usually get much better.

I don’t know how useful it will be to use “empathetic” as a term when I teach (it’ll depend on the class), but it sure does help me think about the process.