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Monday, September 26, 2011

The New Authentic Research Frontier: Google Books nGram Viewer



Google's nGram viewer lets you search over 5 million books for the instances of words. Imagine it as a search engine into the uses of words since 1800.

To better understand it, view the Tedx Boston talk "A Picture is Worth 500 Billion Words" by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel.



It is quite interesting and still a big imperfect as the uses of words change so dramatically. You can see that in this search (shown in the chart below) I did for the words school, teacher, and principal. Do we now call principals administrators instead? If we do, then administrator is used in many professions and the results won't just show schools.
Comparing Teacher, Principal, and School and the use of these words in books.

I also find it fascinating in the chart belowwhere I searched for educational technology, project based learning, differentiated instruction, classroom management, class size.

Here we can see that as we talked about class size in the 1930's we talked about classroom management. In the 1970's and 80's educational technology and class size were common discussions and now we are beginning to talk more about classroom management than educational technology as we talk about class size.

Differentiated instruction and project based learning are barely a blip. We just aren't talking about this. (Sad.)


Finally, I've been curious about the use of the terms PLN, PLE, PLC - note this is only going through books through the year. When you look at the chart, you think that PLC has been winning out until you look at the types of mentions more closely.

The fact is that PLC are programmable logic controllers and their use has blossomed. Be very careful and look to drill down and understand the meaning of terms.


If you take that chart at face value you will make a WRONG analysis. Instead you have to type the terms themselves. Note that we can only search through 2008 or this number may be different. However, if we look at this, we see that personal learning environment is used more widely with personal learning community and personal learning network not even making a blip.

So, you can't take a search at face value.




We are only at the beginning of our analysis. I would like to know, for example, why William Shakespeare was so incredibly popular between 1940 and 1950.

And when we add William Faulkner why is one favored over the other at different times.


This is a new albeit imperfect literacy but a powerful tool that is now an infant born before your eyes. All types of questions will emerge such as:
  • Can we include all ebooks?
  • Can we opt in new books so they are automatically included in the results?
  • Can you aggregate and compare blogs, news media, and books?
  • Can we drill down and include only one genre?
  • Could we just use this for research in a certain field, for example?
  • Could we aggregate collections?

Researchers, students, teachers, and anyone curious can find all sorts of uses for this incredible new tool. It may challenge your thinking but we are just seeing the beginning of digitization. What happens when paintings are digitized and we can examine trends in the use of color or trends in the use of certain types of materials in art? Topics or themes across art?

The thoughts are limitless but this is a tool I've introduced to my students today. They started by looking up their names and various spellings of their names.


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