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Using Google for Problem Solving

Google Dictionary It’s no secret that a lot of us here at ProfHacker are fans of All Things Google. At one time or another, we’ve detailed how to use most of Google’s services, and shared some of the ways we’ve integrated them into our workflows.

But even the simplest of uses of Google—plain old search—can be incredibly useful. I’ve used it, for example, to figure out how to set up an Ubuntu installation on an old laptop so we could use it to output streaming media to our ancient TV.

How’s that relevant to academic life, you ask? Well, the ability to use search in that way is one of the skills I want to work on teaching my students next year. Problem solving—whether the problem in question is a technical problem or a research project—involves knowing what you want or need to know, figuring out how to ask a question (or conduct a search!) that will help you find the information needed, then working out how to apply that information to the task at hand.

It was precisely because I was using Google search not long ago (I was looking for a dictionary for my computer) that I stumbled across another useful tool: Google Dictionary for Chrome (there’s also a version available for Firefox). Much to my surprise (I neglected to read the full description of the extension, or it wouldn’t have been a surprise) I discovered that it not only works for English, but also for several other languages. When I accidentally double-clicked on a word in a German page someone had pointed me to, I got the result you see in the lead image. Talk about useful! Not that I need to read things in German with any great frequency, but still.

What about you? Have you come across any particularly useful things as a result of a Google search, or discovered any really helpful, less well-known Google tools? Let us know in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user cavenderamy / Creative Commons licensed]

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