Sifting Through Internet Noise with Google Alerts

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Google alerts seem like a simple, not-so-sophisticated tool. You format alerts so that Google can mine information and email it to you.

But how do you use Google alerts for education? What can a teacher, principal, or superintendent do with alerts, to empower all stakeholders?

In Hacking Google for Education: 99 Ways to Leverage Google Tools in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, educators and Google gurus Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, and Scott Rocco explain.

The podcast episode above and the book excerpt below provide more details about the power of Google alerts for educators.

THE PROBLEM: PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHEN SOMETHING THEY ARE ASSOCIATED WITH IS MENTIONED ONLINE

The internet has too much information to sift through. As a case in point, try Googling the word “alert.” We got over 715,000,000 search results. Who has time to go through that many results? In this age of digital information and social media, it’s imperative that teachers, principals, and superintendents stay current with the school-specific information that is out there on the Internet.

For the most part, the days of clipping out articles from local, state, or national newspapers are gone. Everything is posted online, which makes it difficult to keep track of news that might highlight or mention you or your district.

Teachers can have students use Alerts as a research tool for a project. Principals can use it as a way to tell their school’s story. District search committees can use Alerts to research their next Superintendent.

In addition to monitoring their digital presence, people need a place to store and display the content digitally. There’s no limit to the great district events you can promote, especially through a Twitter feed, Facebook page, or Pinterest board. Promotion obviously starts with having the information to share in the first place. The best way to track information on the web in a timely fashion is through a little-known feature called Google Alerts.

THE HACK: ACTIVATE GOOGLE ALERTS TO STAY NOTIFIED OF YOUR WEB PRESENCE  

Make sure that you are signed into the correct Google account by using your Gmail account username and password. Scroll through the Google Alert homepage to become familiar with its various sections. You will notice that there are three sections starting from the top and working their way down the page: Search Box, My Alerts, and Alert Suggestions.

How the Search Box works

Where it says “Create an alert about…” type in something that you would want an Alert about. For example, Brad Currie or Evolving Educators or #Satchat. Your selected searches will wind up in a feed just below the Search Box in a place called “My Alerts.”

Explore the My Alerts area to understand how it functions. You will notice a gear in the upper right hand corner. Click on it and you will see two options titled “Delivery Time” and “Digest.” The “Delivery Time” feature provides you with an opportunity to select a time of the day that you want an Alert(s) to show up in your Gmail inbox.

The “Digest” feature provides you with an opportunity to receive Alert(s) in a Gmail inbox of your choice on a daily or weekly basis.

Also browse the Alert Suggestions area. Maybe there are certain things that interest you, like Google Updates, that you want to stay on top of. If you select “Google Updates,” you will receive a Gmail inbox Alert every time there is news mentioned pertaining to the topic called “Google Updates.” Once selected it will give you an Alert preview and from this point you can choose to enable the Alert or not.

The Alert Suggestions section enables you to quickly add Alerts pertaining to trending topics, organizations, or people. Click the “+” to add the item to your Alert feed.

Click the garbage can icon next to the topic in the “My Alerts” section to stop receiving notifications. You can also click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the Alert in your Gmail inbox.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

  • CLASSROOM: Students can use Alerts to research a particular person, place, or thing for a project. Say for example students are creating a Google Slide presentation on the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They could set up an Alert for a one or two-week period that will then push out content to their Gmail inbox every time there is a newsworthy mention of Dr. King on the internet. This hack would be particularly useful around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day when information on celebrations and programs are being disseminated. These Alerts can enhance opportunities for students to learn about him in class.
  • SCHOOL: Principals and teachers can keep track of school-related news by setting up an Alert. For example, Brad keeps track of all things Black River Middle School (BRMS) by setting up an Alert. Every time BRMS is mentioned in a newsworthy sort of way online he gets an Alert in his Gmail inbox. He will then push out these newsworthy links onto his school’s Pinterest board, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. This is a great way to acknowledge and archive all the amazing things that are going on in your school. It also makes it very easy for school stakeholders to find important news items.
  • DISTRICT: School board members or a district-wide search team may want to keep track of candidates for a future superintendent opening. Once a list of candidates is compiled, Alerts can be set up for those specific people and the current schools they work for. Over the coming weeks and months Alerts about news pertaining to the candidates will be sent to a specified Gmail inbox. Any items of interest can be forwarded to the decision makers on the committee. It’s a great way to collect artifacts to support informed decisions. 

Google Alerts has many benefits for educators. District search committees can use Alerts to research their next Superintendent. Are there any negatives or obstacles associated with Google Alerts? Sure there are.

Your inbox could be flooded with alerts that have nothing to do with the topic you selected. There is more than one school with the same name. On the rare occasion you could foreseeably receive an inappropriate alert that looks like spam.

Overall, Google Alerts is well worth the investment. It will save you time and pinpoint searchable topics for all to enjoy.

Check out 96 more ways to leverage Google tools in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Subscribe to the Hack Learning Podcast

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Author: Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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