While a certain high-profile Web search engine would like everyone to "google" for information, a small San Francisco-based company would like to make "grok" an action verb for accessing content, including that indexed by Google. Groxis (http://www.groxis.com), a company that pioneered visualization software, has formally introduced Grokker E.D.U., its "search-and-research" platform for the education market. The new platform provides an optimized-for-education version of Grokker 2.2, the company's metasearch application that shows contextually organized results from multiple sources, including the Web, in easy-to-navigate maps. Groxis also announced implementations of the new platform at Stanford University and a number of other universities and school districts.
Stanford University was one of Groxis' first customers. The university worked closely with the company on the development of Grokker E.D.U. The new platform provides faculty and students with a single point of access to multiple resources, including library catalogs, proprietary subscription databases, and the Web. It helps Stanford users to be more efficient in their research and navigation among the numerous available resources.
According to R. J. Pittman, co-founder and CEO of Groxis, the partners rolled out the platform campuswide at the beginning of fall 2004 after working with Stanford for nearly 3 years. "The intense information environment at Stanford has been a good proving ground for our product," he commented.
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Grokker is installed on Stanford desktops in public and residence clusters. Faculty, staff, and students can download their own copies, which allows them to set up saved preferences. At present, the Stanford implementation provides a single point of access to Socrates, the Stanford Library information system; HighWire Press (part of Stanford); Academic Search Premier (from EBSCO); Expanded Academic (from Thomson Gale); the Library of Congress; and seven Internet search engines. Users can initiate a single query from any combination of these information sources; Grokker E.D.U. returns a visual map containing results from all selected sources. Users don't have to identify in advance which source might be best, but they can specify if they wish. Flexible filters, which adjust based on the source being searched, make it easy to narrow a search on the fly.
Michael Keller, the Ida M. Green University librarian and director of academic information resources, said: "Grokker E.D.U. is a most significant step toward what many people in education and the information sciences have been exploring for years—a way to provide broadcast or targeted returns on the search in a single, easy-to-navigate, and modifiable environment. In educational research—or any research for that matter—the world is much larger than just MSN, Yahoo!, and Google. Certainly, it is inclusive of all the major search engines, but the information universe goes beyond the publicly accessible Web to proprietary, controlled access data environments. Grokker offers a way to bring both information from the public and the proprietary information environments together in a single, comprehensible screen that helps people—ordinary people who are not necessarily experienced, professional searchers—make sense of it all."
Pittman said that Grokker provides users with the powerful element of discovery. Actually, it's E.D.U.—"explore, discover, understand." Grokker E.D.U. also provides customized features, such as a bibliography generator (that accommodates formats like EndNote, MLA, and RefWorks, with additional to be added), a list maker (to provide a list view as an alternative to a map), and map and text exporting capabilities. Its collaborative features let faculty and students save and share research results.
The product has been well-received at Stanford in the few months since its launch. According to Chris Bourg, associate director for communications for the Stanford University Libraries, there have been almost 1,300 downloads of the software, and users are hitting the library Grokker start page an average of 44 times a day. She feels this is high considering the program's newness combined with its fairly low-key promotion during the fall quarter. She said the libraries plan a more aggressive promotion for the winter quarter.
Bourg acknowledged that Grokker E.D.U. is tapping a relatively small pool of the resources available to Stanford users but said this has been a good test of the advantages of offering broadcast federated search. She also said that it solves the problem of retrieving incomprehensibly long lists of results—with the Grokker visualization of topical categories, users are finding it much easier to get to results faster. Bourg added: "I don't know all the visual bells and whistles of the product yet, and it's still much better than a list for me. You don't have to be a sophisticated user to get a lot out of the product, though some of our geekier students have really gotten into it."
Groxis will continue to develop additional research-ready plug-ins to accommodate additional resources and databases. Bourg said that Stanford has already requested plug-ins for the RLG Union Catalog and for IEEE full-text journals and proceedings. These should be implemented by the end of January.
"Grokker E.D.U. is adaptable to fit the specific needs of the educational institution and the student," said Pittman. "Our approach is to deliver what is needed, how it is needed, and as we continue gaining momentum in the education market, we will be delivering a growing library of information sources to meet the needs of educators and students worldwide."
According to Groxis, school districts that have already adopted the platform include the Manatee Unified School District (Fla.), the Brownsburg County Schools (Ind.), the Las Cruces Unified School District (N.M.), and the Ramapo Unified School District (N.Y.).
And, what are the benefits of a product like Grokker in an educational setting? According to education leader David Thornburg, founder and director of global operations for the Thornburg Center: "Students who grok have a great advantage over their peers—they are quicker at sorting the wheat from the chaff and are better at finding the quality needles in the haystack of overwhelming numbers of Web sites that often impede, rather than assist, students in their research."