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Engaging Methuen Readers

Database Spotlight Special: Science Online

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Who doesn’t want to know more about the world around us? I know I do, and if you’re like me, you like to learn about that world in infographics. That’s why we at the Nevins Library are proud to present Science Online, a new-to-us database whose mission is to teach you about the natural world.

While there are designated student resources here, they tend to focus on how not to cheat or choose insane research project topics like “Is Area 51 Hiding Aliens?” (Yes, I actually did see that at a science fair once. Clearly, the poor child was Science Online-deprived.) Students may find citeable material here, but for the most part, it is authorless and more like a detailed encyclopedia than not. For preliminary research into a topic, however, Science Online can’t be beat. The E-Learning modules focus on general topics and narrow to cover specifics. For example, the E-Learning module covering Global Warming encompasses climate systems, cycles, and trends, each of those containing several of their own subtopics. A navigation menu on the right allows users to skip to the subtopics they need.

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For teachers, the designated curriculum tools have relatively little of use. Helpfully, they will expound upon the importance of STEM education, but one suspects that professional teachers are already aware. The rest of the site is such a gold mine of infographics, experiments and videos that it’s well worth an educator’s time, however. If you go back to the Home page by clicking on its tab, you’ll see that you have the option of opening diagrams through the menu on the right-hand side of the screen, under “Browse Resources.”. Alternatively, you can scroll down until you see a section devoted to diagrams.

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These diagrams, incidentally, are organized in direct alphabetical order. No subheadings here.

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Perchance you may have noticed the issue with this choice of database structure. Instead of scrolling through the two thousand plus diagrams, try using the handy one-line search interface above.

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From anywhere on the site, a search will turn up a page that looks like this one. That means that if you start searching from the Diagrams page, you’re still going to get article, image, and news results. Click on “Experiments & Diagrams” to see the glory that is the amoeba diagram.

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Click and you get a robust interface from which you can download, print, and share the diagram.

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Advanced search options are located in a rollover menu under the “Search Options” tab. (You can also view your search history from there.) Once you get to the advanced search page, prepare to learn about Boolean, because that’s what you’re going to be using.

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This may seem unfair to you, but as we all know, only things that involve great effort are worth doing.

When you navigate back to the home screen, you’ll see that you also have access to videos, virtual experiments, and biographies. (Biographies will be called “Featured People” and will be at the bottom of the page.)

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The reason I like the bios is that they’re organized in an incredibly useful way. At least, for a grade-school teacher who’s laying out a chronological curriculum.

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Yes, those birth and death dates ARE sortable!

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This function also lets you find bios of people who are still alive.

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Incidentally, you can also sort by description, though that’s nowhere near as useful because there’s no list of standard words by which these bios are categorized and, despite the usefulness of the sorting function, no way to filter by descriptive phrase. Ah well. If you think you know what you want in a bio, try Ctrl+F and search the page that way.

That brings us to the point that Science Online is basically a browsing database. It’s meant not as a hyper-focused research machine but as a general resource – small enough to flip through, lean enough that you won’t get bored with a bunch of useless content. A quick look at the Browse tab will verify that this resource is meant to be perused rather than extracted.

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That’s the rollover menu for the Browse tab. Look at all that stuff as compared to what’s available when you try to use the advanced search!

Most of the time, I advocate that the first thing a database user should do upon discovery of a new resource is to learn how to search it. In this case, I recommend the opposite. To get the most out of Science Online, prepare to spend a couple hours and have a vague idea of what you need. You’ll easily browse to the sections you want and quickly and efficiently gain the background you need to move forward.

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Author: Anna

Anna is a reference librarian and computer nerd at the Nevins Library. She is a fan of all speculative fiction.

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