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Information retrieval for education: making search engines language aware

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Abstract:

Search engines have been a major factor in making the web the successful and widely usedinformation source it is today. Generally speaking, they make it possible to retrieve web pageson a topic specified by the keywords entered by the user. Yet web searching currently doesnot take into account which of the search results are comprehensible for a given user – anissue of particular relevance when considering students in an educational setting. And currentsearch engines do not support teachers in searching for language properties relevant forselecting texts appropriate for language students at different stages in the second languageacquisition process.At the same time, raising language awareness is a major focus in second language acquisitionresearch and foreign language teaching practice, and research since the 20s has tried toidentify indicators predicting which texts are comprehensible for readers at a particular levelof ability. For example, the military has been interested in ensuring that workers at a givenlevel of education can understand the manuals they need to read in order to perform their job.We present a new search engine approach which makes it possible for teachers to search fortexts both in terms of contents and in terms of their reading difficulty and other languageproperties. The implemented prototype builds on state-of-the art information retrievaltechnology and exemplifies how a range of readability measures can be integrated in amodular fashion.

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