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Taking RSS and Faceted Searching Into The Engineering Classroom

:: With the advent of faceted searching and RSS feeds in Engineering Village 2, the onus to spread the word falls upon, among others, liaison librarians working in engineering and its sub-disciplines. My subject and liaison responsibilities are chemical and materials engineering, mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, and engineering management on my campus. (Aside: a new responsibility includes providing similar liaison services to the fledgling U of A Space Research group.)

Engineering Village 2 has moved ahead of other db producers in offering RSS feeds. With prompting from academic librarians (among others), Rafael Sidi & Co ensured that the EV2 RSS feeds would work within Bloglines, a welcome development indeed.

Yesterday, I gave my annual information resources lecture to graduate students and faculty in Mechanical Engineering. It was the first opportunity I had to present the RSS function within EV2 to a captive audience decidedly interested in these new features. In my lectures, I have 50 minutes to cover everything - library services, databases of relevance, resource guides, etc. I decided that in order to do this properly, and not alienate or confuse the audience, I would need to spend the majority of the lecture covering EV2's new offerings of faceted searching and RSS feeds.

A major concern for those of us who want our users to try the new EV2 features is that the majority of said users haven't used, or even heard of either of them, certainly not faceted searching. Can we reasonably expect to introduce RSS as well as the new faceted search feature within EV2, in what amounts to about 30 minutes of a 50-minute lecture, and do it successfully? To put it another way, I didn't want to look at any member of the audience at the end of the RSS/faceted search portion of my presentation, and find myself staring into the eyes of a chicken, eyes glazed over, no comprehension achieved whatsoever.

I spent time considering the best way to do this. I worked with my 2004 powerpoint slides, eliminated some of them, redesigned the others, eliminated some slides altogether, and created two ppt slides to use to explain faceted searching and RSS in EV2. I decided the best way to approach this (gently), would be to review the Compendex db, also mention Inspec and NTIS, because all three are searchable when you begin an "Easy Search" within EV2, and then briefly explain faceted searching. I used this slide for support, and then switched to a live search on Compendex.

Beginning the search, I mentioned that when you choose Compendex, EV2 opens in Quick Search mode, defaulting to Compendex only (Inspec and NTIS remain unchecked). I explained that to get to the faceted search feature, you need to switch to Easy Search. Once there, I began a search with the phrase self-assembly, and added Controlled Vocabulary terms monolayers, substrates, and nanostructured materials. During this process, I took the time to describe the faceted search feature by explaining the facets or clusters, in the right-hand column of the search, including Controlled Vocabulary, Author, Date, Language, etc. I wanted to ensure that the class understood the faceted searching function before moving on to RSS.

Having reached that point, it was time to move on to RSS. I switched back to ppt, and displayed this slide, created to explain RSS without causing weeping and gnashing of teeth. I tried to avoid all jargon and acronymns, and introduced Bloglines without discussing blogs in detail, but instead focusing on its function as an RSS feeds reader. I returned to EV2, clicked on the RSS button for the above search, and showed the class the long, unintelligble URL that pops up, advising them not to be concerned about its size or what it means. I switched to Bloglines, and logged into an account I had created for the class, into which I had already embedded two EV2 searches, so that they could see examples of using RSS. I cut and pasted the URL from the live EV2 search into Bloglines, to illustrate how to "subscribe" to an RSS feed, and finally, briefly demonstrated the "edit" function within Bloglines, which allows the user to change a feed description that looks something like: "( (self assembly) AND (({monolayers}) WN CV) AND (({substrates}) WN CV) AND ..... ", and change it something like "Self assembly and monolayers with substrates."

At that point I stopped, and ask the class something like, "So, what do you think? Does the use of faceted searching, and embedding an RSS feed in Bloglines make sense, based on what I presented to you? Are you still with me" Heads nodded in the affirmative, and I ended by referring the class to a handout I created to help them use Easy Search to get to the faceted searching functionality of EV2, and to them take an RSS feed and use it in Bloglines. After the class, I spoke to interested students for another 30 minutes. The full ppt presentation used in the mech eng graduate class is here.

I felt that the way I approached the lecture, i.e., how I presented the concepts of faceted searching and RSS with Bloglines - slowly and at a very basic level (not discussing blogs, for example), worked quite well. It was a gamble - I'd not presented something like this before, and I had to give it my best shot. I share my experience here because others may be considering presentations of a similar nature in their classes, and I think it's something we need to be doing anyway. One hopes that EV2 is but the first of many, if not all, major databases to offer RSS feeds with search results. The question is, what's taking the rest of them so long?


thanks for sharing your RSS experience. We all can relate to the problem how do you teach anything new when you have so little time and so many things you want to say... But I agree with you about the need to teach our users about RSS and faceted searching, and anything else new, e.g. Google Scholar.

My colleague Darcy Duke (mechanical eng librarian) and I taught a class about RSS last Friday. We concentrated on finding RSS feeds for research literature (there are more & more of them) and how to set up search alerts in EV2. We also talked about live bookmarks. We advertised this class to all engineering & science departments grad students and got 20 people from several different departments. The students were enthuastic staying till the end and asking a lot of questions. In our books this was a huge success:-) By the way this is a part of our new hands-on workshop series - http://libraries.mit.edu/science/iapril2005.html

Hi Erja, thanks for your note. You mentioned "concentrating on finding RSS feeds for research literature" and that there are more of them. Which other ones are out there? I haven't found any embedded into databases we use at the U of Alberta. Thanks - Randy

Thank you! I have a presentation on this tomorrow and was just wondering what would work.

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