Understanding the Web

Building Blocks for Domain of One’s Own: A series of adaptable modules


To explore the basics of how the web works from a technical standpoint, including the difference between the internet and the Web and how search engines work.



Google yourself, this time in incognito (private browsing) mode in your browser. Use a variety of search engines (Yahoo, Bing, Duck Duck Go) and compare the results.


  • How were search results on yourself different from when you were logged in?
  • Why do you think the results are different when you are searching incognito?
  • Why do you think some of the results are the same across all the searches?
  • Keep track of how often you use Google for 1 day. What kind of things do you use it for?

Instructor Guide

One thing to get students to think more deeply about this week is how deeply Google is embedded in their lives and how little they reflect upon the power it has over their daily activities. By discussing the ways in which Google creates algorithms that shape the results of search queries, we want to get students to critically consider the control that companies like Google have over then individually and our culture, more generally.

Beyond the specific example of Google, the technology that underpins the Web generally has a great deal of influence over our lives. Again, we want students to interrogate this interplay more deeply so that they are less inclined to think of the Web as something that “just happens” and more of it as something the people create, mold, and shape.

Customize It!

In addition to (or instead of) searching themselves this week, you could also ask students to conduct a search around a particular topic you’re studying in class. Take the opportunity to discuss how information is created in your discipline, how it becomes digital, and how search results privilege particular voices or perspectives within your field.