Google Trends: It’s Cool to Stay in (Public) School
Posted by Rob_Henseler
In Socialnomics this week, I found Erik Qualman’s discussion of the use of Google search information, in the form of Google Insights, fascinating. The idea that “Google flu trends” could track and display spikes in the flu virus faster than the CDC can is amazing. (I’ll have to keep an eye on Upper Michigan to see if I really want to risk going there in two weeks; their flu activity is “moderate” right now while Wisconsin’s is “low.”
Even more interesting is that the outcome of political races is being predicted by the volume of Google searches for a particular candidate. Or that candidates might design their posters or yard signs based on whether their first or last name is more commonly searched on the internet. Incredible.
Then I wondered, Is that technology and information available to me? An average guy with no political designs and no money to subscribe to such service? Incredibly (at least to me anyway) it is available. A quick Google search found a new version of Google Insights called Google Trends. All I had to do was sign in with the Google email and password I already had.
This is basically how it works: You type in up to five search terms to compare. Google compares the number of searches for those terms with the total number of Google searches to come up with a relative volume of searches for each of your terms. The standard search shows the change in interest for your terms from 2004 to the present, but you can restrict the time frame to smaller periods according to your needs. You can also restrict the search by region, to include the whole world, a specific nation, state, or even a city. Neat, huh?
In addition to looking for the relative volume of searches for your desired terms, you can look for the number of times your terms appeared in Google News stories.
Trend information is updated daily. Hot Searches information is updated hourly.
The information is displayed in easy-to-read graphs and color-coded maps, and can be exported as a .csv file which can be opened by popular spreadsheets.
According to one of the site’s administrators, though, the information is meant to be interesting and entertaining, but not to be used for Ph.D. dissertations.
Alright. Google is offering me all this information, so what do I do with it? Should I start trying to analyze search information for candidates running for November elections? Should I try to predict results and compare my analysis to the actual outcome in November? No way! I don’t want to become panicky or depressed. At least not on that magnitude.
Instead, I tried to predict if I will still have a job in the next few years. Nothing too panic-provoking about that I hope. In light of all the concerns about collective bargaining for teachers, teacher evaluations, testing, school performance, vouchers, charter schools, online schools, and a fear of the overall decline of public education, I searched for trends relating to my job security. I entered the terms “public schools,” “private schools,” “charter schools,” “online schools,” and “homeschool.” My thought was that if searches for public schools were lower or about the same as the other types of school options, my teaching time was drawing to an end. If Google Trends are correct, public schools aren’t going away any time soon.
The information was very interesting. From 2004 to the present, in the United States, public schools had an average search volume of 63, while private schools averaged 6, charter schools averaged 3, online 1, and homeschool 7. While interest in public schools fell from a relative volume of 79 in 2004 to a volume of 65 now, only interest in online school increased–from 0 in 2004 to 1 at present. This surprised me, since I thought a lot more students might now be intrigued by the idea of online education.
When the nation-wide information is broken down by state, though, in Wisconsin, homeschooling and online schools show a moderate level of search interest, while public school interest is relatively low. Broken down further, by regions of the state, the most interest in all types of schooling comes from south-eastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee schools?) and north-western Wisconsin. The only exception to that is that Madison area had the highest interest in homeschool.
Despite the growing interest in online schools and homeschool, this trending leads me to believe that public schools are still “safe” in Wisconsin. Highschoolers who try online and homeschool options ofter come back to the public schools after they find out it’s not much fun to be isolated from their peers. At any rate, we will continue to have public school jobs, but as other school options become more popular, public schools and teachers will be under greater pressure to perform–probably with fewer resources. That’s a trend I’m not happy about.
About Rob_HenselerRob has been teaching high school English and Language Arts for 20 years. When he's not at school, he enjoys making and listening to music, woodworking, canoeing, and hands-on traditional skills.
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