Betting on the Right Google Jockey

from Educators' eZine

There's a new buzz phrase in classroom practice these days — "Google Jockey." Self-confessed coiner, Michael Naimark, who teaches at the Interactive Media Division of the USC School of Cinema/Television, asked for a student volunteer to search the Web during his presentation. The search results were projected on a screen adjacent to the professor's own presentation. Students, then, were able to see two screens of content, one expounding on or commenting on the other.

Naimark, who has a deep background in interactive media — and was teaching a class on the same subject — came up with a clever phrase for what is safe to assume was a effective and appropriate application for his students.

Flash forward to Educase publishing a paper on Google Jockeys, and another meme escapes its cage to grow and mutate in the general environment. Before this cute little creature becomes a hydra-headed monster, we should build a new cage around him.

The way the phrase is being used currently, a Google Jockey can either use a pre-planned list of URLs, loading each in turn as the subject comes up, or could perform live searches on the subjects and display what he or she has found.

The first definition, the pre-planned list, is actually (for the Internet) an old idea. It's called a Web tour, and has been around in chat programs since at least the mid-nineties. A user would "push" — type in and send — a URL and everyone in the chat room would load the same page. A Web tour, either as a stand-alone experience, or combined with other content on a second screen the teacher is presenting, can be very effective. For instance, the teacher has a PowerPoint slide showing bullet points on the Spanish Inquisition (bet you weren't expecting that), while an adjacent screen shows a drawing of Queen Isabella.

One can argue about what exactly to show, how the two content screens can be synergistic rather than distracting, and so on, but for generations that demand greater visual stimuli, a "two-screen" solution to classroom presentations could conceivably be very effective.

However, watching someone search the Web during a presentation, finding content that may or may not have anything to do with the subject matter being discussed, seems very problematic. Some searching is obvious in context — if the subject is branding and the teacher mentions GE, ok, the student goes to General Electric and that's easy enough. But let's go back to the Spanish Inquisition. A Google search on that subject comes back with 2,660,000 results. The first two are from Wikipedia — good enough. The next is Monty Python — probably not what's needed in the moment. Then there's a URL from That might be a great article, or it might be a politically suspect site. After a few more catholic URLs, we find one from Jewish Virtual Library, which might just be a tad different from the information on Catholic Net Below all this, well, there's a lot more Monty Python.

All these sites might be perfectly valid and substantive and interesting. Or none of that might be true. Or it might be all true, but not relevant or of value with the material the teacher is presenting in the moment. Any way, it's a role of the dice.

The students, of course, will love anything, because they get to watch the pages load (when you're hungry for visual input, whatever moves is good). But the fact that they enjoy it does not mean it adds to their understanding. So...

Google Jockey as complementary Web tour — ¡Si!
Google Jockey as random surfing — ¡No!

Email:Craig Ullman