Comparing the academic databases ProQuest Education and A+ Education
A+ Education and ProQuest are academic databases, and are the next stop of my journey into Inquiry Learning.
As my Inquiry Question hovers around the idea of investigating the challenges of “rolling out” Inquiry Learning in the classroom, and the concerns teachers have with its implementation, I am focusing the next stage of my research through the following two questions:
- What are the arguments against Inquiry Learning?
- How do scaffolds and models for Inquiry Learning address teachers concerns regarding implementation and outcomes?
A+ Education is a database that features content from Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, and is run by Informit. The focus on Australian research is appealing to my line of inquiry as I am particularly interested in the experiences of students and teachers in Australian schools. However due to Informit’s focus on Australia and the Asia-Pacific the “pool” of information being searched is quite small compared to ProQuest, which is a very large, International database run out of the USA.
ProQuest has always appealed to me in my life of study and work, I find the interface, tools and functionality of ProQuest very user-friendly. Historically, I have struggled to achieve satisfying results with A+Education. I understand that with my newly acquired expert searching strategies, this has the potential to change.
Here’s looking at you, Proquest
There are many different ways you can search in Proquest. At the top most layer, you can perform a Basic Search or an Advanced Search.
Performing a Basic Search, you are able to use most of the search operators we have come across in Google/Google Scholar. The differences between Google search operators and ProQuest are:
- Unlike Google/Google Scholar, the boolean operator ‘AND’ is not assumed in ProQuest, and must be inserted manually.
- Whilst Google automatically uses word stemming and does not allow wildcards to be used, ProQuest uses something it calls lemmatization (their version of word stemming) but also allows for truncation (the use of an asterix (*) at the end or middle of a word
- Unlike Google, which does not recognize the Boolean operator NOT and instead only accepts the minus sign (-), ProQuest recognises NOT as a way of signifying that the appearance of the term that follows it should discount the source from being included in the results.
- Unlike Google, ProQuest does not have any “stop” words.
- ProQuest recognises nesting, where Google does not.
The Advanced Search page of ProQuest contains a lot more options than that of A+ Education (see figures 1 and 2). It is a veritable treasure trove of useful tools.
Below are a list of highlights I found whilst searching ProQuest Advanced Search:
- When searching in ProQuest Advanced Search, I chose to search for inquiry learning as a subject heading (see figure 3). I then used to “look up Subjects” link to find ProQuest’s preferred terms. This tool acts almost as an interpreter between the user and the database, which is very clever. From using this tool, I was able to add another key concept (“inquiry method”) to my list, and better communicate with the search engine.
- ProQuest also allows for searching exact terms within fields. For example, as can be seen below in the table, I limited one of my searches to only those articles whose subject headings were “inquiry method” OR “inquiry learning”, excluding any articles that were classified under the subject area “teaching inquiry learning”, for example. This search operation is a powerful tool that allows for greater precision in searching.
- Another very useful tool found on ProQuest is the “Thesaurus” (see figure 4). Clicking on the Thesaurus link takes you to a list of database-specific thesauri (in this case, Education). This tool would have been very useful to me when I started my journey in Google, as I created my key concepts mind map. The discipline-specific nature of the thesauri makes searching for synonyms and like terms very effective.
- Being able to narrow results of your search in ProQuest to the source type (e.g. include only conference papers & proceedings, reports and scholarly journals) is also a very effective way of improving efficiency and accuracy when searching.
Clicking on the “Field Codes” tab within Advanced search (see figure 4) helps the user to understand how better to search within ProQuest.
Within the Advanced Search view of ProQuest, is the option to search using Command Line (see figure 4). Within the Command Line search, things get a little more complex. Within Command Line, ProQuest have provided a drop down menu of the different “operators” you can use when searching ProQuest, which you insert into the search bar by clicking a few buttons (see figure 5). Whilst a list of operators which work in ProQuest is a helpful guide (given each search engine exhibits variety in these things) the problem with the Command Line search, is the “clunkiness” of inserting the search operators in this way; as someone who has been practicing expert search techniques, and is familiar with search operators, this tool made the composition of search strings much more prone to error and confusion.
A sample of my searches on ProQuest Education can be found in the table below.
|Search string||Search area used||Hits||Evaluation of results|
|AB(“inquiry method” OR “inquiry learning” AND classroom AND teacher AND challenges)||Command line –search field = Abstract (AB) and operators =“AND” and “OR”, and Full text (see figures 5 and 6)||289 (without “Full Text” selected, the number of hits is 592)||My search needs to be more precise, the number of hits from this search is too large, and whilst there is some relevant and interesting content within the results, the level of inaccuracy is too high to qualify as the product of “expert searching”. Including the terms “Australia” OR “Australian” in the search string will increase the relevance of the results to my Inquiry, and significantly reduce the number of hits.|
|su.Exact(“inquiry method”) AND (challenges OR difficulties ) AND (class* OR school) AND implement* AND (Australia OR Australian)||Advanced search, with Full Text and English selected||127||Manageable number of results (see figure 7).
Results are accurate and useful for my research. There are some results which talk about Inquiry Learning as a tool for teacher professional development. This is not related to my specific area of inquiry, and so is an area where greater precision in my search could be gained.
|su.Exact(“inquiry learning” OR “inquiry method”) AND (impact OR challenge* OR difficult* OR concern*) AND Australia* AND classroom NOT “professional development”||Advanced search||60||Removing results which talk about teacher “professional development” narrowed my search so that there was greater accuracy in terms of the information I was seeking.The results of this search are appropriate and accurate, and the number of hits is manageable. Updating the search results to narrow by publication date, including only 2010-2015 publications, further reduced the number of hits to 40 (see figure 8).|
Created with the HTML Table Generator
Over to you, A+ Education (Informit)
Informit have provided their own guide to searching on their database, which is very comprehensive. In terms of the “Basic search” window on Informit, all of the differences between ProQuest and Google outlined above stand true for Informit when compared to Google.
The Advanced Search window of Informit is much simpler than ProQuest (see figures 1 and 2). Attempting to enter in the same search strings I used as samples in ProQuest (so as to better compare and contrast the engines) I struck a speed bump quite quickly as the number of rows the Informit Advanced search allows you to use is capped at five (see figure 9).
Adjusting my search terms accordingly (reducing the number of synonyms I was allowing for), I was unable to achieve any results until I reduced the search string down to “inquiry learning” AND challenges AND classroom, searching “all fields” for “all terms”. When I had simplified my search to that point, I was able to get five hits (see figure 10).
Searching all the terms I had initially intended is possible in Informit’s “Simple Search”. Despite increasing the number of terms in the search string resulting in the reduction again of my hits (from five to three), interestingly a new source of information came up first in the list of three results (see figure 11).
Comparing ProQuest Education and Informit A+ Education
There are many similarities between ProQuest Education and Informit A+ Education. Their search operators are largely the same (with a few exceptions, sun as inform it offering the boolean operator XOR), and differ in similar ways from Google/Google Scholar. They have many of the same tools, such as the ability to save, email and print sources, set email alerts based on search strings, sort by date, and search specialised thesauri. There are also some stark differences between these databases, including such things as:
- The narrower scope of Informit A+ Education makes for a more challenging and less rewarding research journey than ProQuest Education.
- ProQuest’s very appealing function of providing lists of References (much like Google Scholar) for each result is not found in Informit.
- Not only does ProQuest provide a list of the references that appear within the listing on the results page, but when one clicks on a link into an article, the functionality of ProQuest expands more to include the ability to see a list of sources that have cited the one you are looking at as well as an extensive list of sources that share references with the one you are looking at, providing a web of interconnected content at the click of a button (see figure 12)
- Whilst ProQuest appears to “host” all of its full text content, Informit sometimes sends you to an external site (an example can be seen in the record listed within figure 11)
- the citation function within Informit is restricted to one style of referencing (see figure 13), whereas ProQuest allows for citations to be generated in a multitude of styles (see figure 14)
I have developed a strong preference for ProQuest through my experimentation with expert searching across ProQuest Education and Informit A+ Education, despite Informit focussing on Australian content.
I have achieved a great deal in searching both databases, however, and despite being somewhat overwhelmed by research material I cannot rest until I have explored the last avenue – Social Media.