Search Engines as a Tool to Assist in the Teaching and Learning Process

Alykhan Dhanani was teaching secondary school students in the Ismaili Religious Centre in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania when he conducted his action research project in 2015. His study  explored whether search engines as a tool can assist the teaching and learning process or not.  His study explored how search engines are defined and seen by Tanzanian teachers and students, and uncovered links between the use of search engines and other educational theories such as constructivism, differentiation, scaffolding and active learning.


The use of Information Technology (IT) is one of the most exciting factors for youth today as it develops and advances at speed (Kinuthia, 2009). Though the extent to which IT is used differs from country to country, many schools around the globe have adopted heavy use of IT in various forms, either having a computer lab or by allowing students to use their gadgets in the classroom (BYOD).  Teachers recognize that that those students who can afford to own a gadget mostly do possess either a tablet or a smart-phone, and today’s pupils have moved from the use of the traditional pen and paper to the tablet. Excitingly, today a notepad can be a tiny electronic gadget, which hosts a multitude of applications to facilitate various tasks and to increase portability of information. This growing and access of technological devices was the driving force of my enquiry.

Research Context

I conducted this study in an Ismaili religious education centre in Dar-es-salaam with Grade 7 pupils (econdary-age school children between 12 and 13 years of age). Voluntary RE classes are held on Saturdays for three hours, complementary to other forms of schooling;  the purpose of these classes is to foster ethics, religious knowledge and the overall development of the students.  Pupils follow a curriculum designed by the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London taught by teachers holding a double masters degree. The class size ranges from 8 to 20 students on average. Thirteen pupils participated in this enquiry.

What did I do?

My aim was to gather students’ and teachers’ views on whether search engines do or do not assist in the teaching and learning process. I conducted the enquiry in the form of an action research project, in which I taught using search engines in the classroom.  The study was structured around an action research cycle of lesson planning followed by teaching, followed by reflection; often reflection ‘in the moment’ was used to modify the current lesson on the spot spot as well as subsequent lessons in the sequence.

I gathered student and teacher views using multiple data collection tools as a form of triangulation, as well as to capture the ‘pupil voice’. These tools included questionnaires, interviews and classroom observations. The study may also be regarded as an intervention:   I taught as a visiting teacher-researcher who intervened in the teaching and learning process by introducing the search-engine as a pedagogy in the class, watched by the class’s normal host teacher, who also offered a critical perspective on my practice.

What happened?

IMG_9402I started by observing the teaching and learning in the school, giving me a perspective of how classes are taught, what type of activities were customarily used, and so gaining a general familiarity the research context. When initially teaching the class, keeping the context and my observation and reflection in min, I taught without the use of search engines but using other strategies commonly used by their host teacher. I then started introducing search engines in the class, having provided an internet connection, laptops and other technological gadgets to facilitate this process. In the next class again we did not use search engines but in the class after we used search engines.  Then students and the host teacher were asked to fill the questionnaire as an end-of-class reflection activity. The questionnaire mostly asked for their perceptions of a search engine and their overall experience in comparing their learning when using and when not using search engines in the classroom.

Interviews were conducted to gain more insight and to construct a dialogue based on the responses of the participants from the questionnaire (please see the full report, below, for further information).

Classroom observations were recorded through peer and self-reflection. My host teacher and I often discussed the session after the class highlighting various strengths and weaknesses and exploring critical incidents that happened in the class. In addition to these, I also reflected on my practice ‘in action’ and also after the class. This was to identify critical events that might have taken place during the session, as well as considering student feedback that was either shared one-to-one or via group activities.

How have things changed?

After deploying search engines in the Tanzanian context, colleagues have acknowledged that technology can be used to facilitate student learning in various ways and not merely as a distraction. Other teachers have also tried to introduce search engines and technology in the classroom.

Students now see the search engine not just as an internet application that provides results to a search query, but now look through a lens of criticality at the results populated by the search, considering the authenticity of the information, its context and also on how to formulate the search query.  Colleagues also now approach the search engine with similar criticality, but also seeing its usefulness in the classroom, as a key pedagogical tool.

How will I teach differently and why?

My study showed me that students are obsessed with their devices but do not despise or devalue their textbooks nor the voice of the teacher. Thus the iPad need not replace the teacher, but can be used to help them, complementing the teaching and learning process. I now teach with the understanding that my students and I are partners in learning; I include differentiation, active learning and the inquiry-based approach:  all with a technological aspect embedded in them.


IMG_9405My study revealed that search engines can assist in the teaching and learning process as pedagogy but please note that my results are clearly dependent on the context of the research. In summary, the use of search engines and ICT in general brings a transformation in the teaching and learning process. Using search engines in the classroom changed the teaching and learning environment from  a didactic one to an exciting, constructivist environment. Technology and smart devices motivate the students:  the use of these devices builds more excitement and engages the students into the learning process—a search engine is a tool that can assist the teaching and learning process.

Alykhan’s report in full can be read here: DHANANI_PBE2015_FINAL copy

Alykhan Dhanani:












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