Reviewed this week in Inside Higher Ed is an article by CHNM Director of Research Projects, Dan Cohen. The subject of the article, which appears in the most recent issue of the Journal of American History is CHNM’s innovative software tool, Syllabus Finder and the sophisticated analysis of the place of textbooks in U.S. survey courses that Cohen performed using this tool.
Syllabus Finder was created by Cohen as an experiment in the fledgling world of web services, where computers talk directly to each other to try to solve complicated problems or complete tasks that would be difficult to do otherwise. In this case, the computers that talk to each other are the Center for History and New Media’s web server and Google’s web server. The Syllabus Finder sends an optimized, specially packaged version of your query to Google, which sends back information and possible matches. The Syllabus Finder then processes this information and combines it with simultaneous searches on in-house databases (e.g., a database of educational institutions, so it can tell you which university or college a syllabus comes from). It also has algorithms that try to extract additional information from matching syllabi, such as assigned books. When this complex process is finished, the Syllabus Finder displays all of the information it has found.