NSW Department of Education

How online search is changing

For teachers
For parents
For students

Key message

When you think of searching the world wide web, chances are you imagine typing a phrase and then looking through a list of results. But as technology advances, more search options are becoming available including reverse image search and voice search.

Searching for information on the internet once meant typing keywords into a web browser and then scrolling through a list of sites where the exact text is matched on the page. Now, web searches have become much more refined and more relevant to you.

What is a text-based search?

Text-based web searches are currently the most popular way we find things online. Keywords and phrases are typed into a search bar, and the search engine provides a list of results based on those search terms. Modern search engines use complex algorithms to rank the pages they show to you in terms of relevance, popularity and connections from other trustworthy sites.

With text-based searches you can:

  • search a range of websites simply, quickly and accurately and in an intuitive way
  • control and refine your search results using advanced search terms.

What is an image search?

There are two ways that you can search for pictures and images using a search engine.

  • You can search for images using words, for example typing in keywords in a search engine and then choosing to show 'images' rather than 'pages.
  • You can also perform a 'reverse image search', where you upload a picture into the search bar instead of text.

Using a ‘reverse image’ search tool allows users to upload an image and find:

  • original and unmodified versions of the image
  • other versions in different sizes and file types
  • other images that look similar
  • sites where the image can be found
  • information about the image such as the location and the creator.

Reverse image search can be another tool you use to tell the difference between real and fake images. You can try both types of image search using Google Images.

What is a voice search?

Popular digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa allow you to make web searches using the microphone in your smartphone. You can ask questions, using natural language, and have your search results spoken back to you. These digital voices are programmed to understand human conversation and help to make searching feel natural and easy. They can also be used to control some of the functions of your smartphone without you needing to touch or look at the device. Alpine.AI estimates that in 2018 over one billion web searches were conducted by voice.

Teachers and students might consider using voice searches and voice commands to:

  • ask for definitions to a word
  • read out a passage of text on screen
  • set a timer
  • translate words from different languages

If you're looking to encourage voice search in your classroom, it might be a good idea to ask students to use headphones with microphones built in. This means that students can whisper search requests without disturbing other learners. Voice searches and voice commands are also empowering accessibility tools, allowing all students to search the web without needing to look at the screen or type in text.

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Additional resources

Curriculum and syllabus links


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