Tech Trumps® Friday Focus: Google Alerts - Monitor the web for interesting new content

Last weeks Tech Trumps® Friday Focus was all about AWW (A Web Whiteboard), a great app for collaborating and differentiating, but not exactly strong on investigating - scoring only 2 out of 10. This week I'm switching focus and talking about Google Alerts, a great web service from Google that can help both you and your students when Investigating a topic.

What is Google Alerts?

Google Alerts is a free web service from Google that allows you to automate the process of searching for information on a topic. Instead of having to go to Google and search for information yourself, you can enter in specific keywords that you're interested in researching and then Google will automatically send you results every day when it finds something that matches.

Google Alerts supports the usual advanced search tools, so you can use wildcards, quotes and other special syntax to fine tune your automated search if you need to. You can also choose various options that are specific to Google Alerts, for example how often you get results, whether to just focus on books, videos, news, blogs, finance,, etc., whereabouts in the world you want to search in.

How can you use it in education?

Google Alerts is great for staying on top of a subject, ensuring that you're always up to date with what others are discussing and thinking. There are two main ways you can use in it education - for yourself as a teacher, in order to stay up to date with your own areas of interest, or for your students to help them complete an ongoing project based task.

For Teachers - keeping in touch with your areas of interest

Everyone knows that time is in pretty short supply for teachers, and when time is short some things have to get cut out - and one of those things is often personal development. You simply don't have a chance to stay in touch with the latest developments in your field when you're juggling a full timetable, extra-curricular activities, the inevitable marking workload - and quite possibly some semblance of family life as well.

Google Alerts can help by filling you in with the latest news in your field every day automatically, so you don't have to worry about falling behind. Simply set up the alert once, then Google will pick the most best search results and email the top 10 or so to you at a time of your choosing every day. You can then quickly scan through them, investigating some further if they seem particularly relevant, and then delete the email knowing you're back on top of things.

Personally I have 17 alerts running at the moment, on a wide range of topics that are both personal and professional. These help me stay in touch with general news in my field of educational technology - and through Google Alerts sister service of Google Scholar Alerts I also stay in touch with the academic research in my field.

For students - supporting ongoing project work

I think by now most people are aware that there are no digital natives - that argument was promising and seemed intuitive, but unfortunately the research evidence is against it. In fact young people can be particularly bad users of digital technologies in some cases, and nowhere perhaps as much as when they're searching for information online to support their thinking. They have a tendency to use weak search criteria, and believe the first thing they find with very little cross referencing - or as we call it in academic research "triangulation".

Google Alerts can support them by broadening the types of information they are receiving, and by providing a continuous flow of information which they then need to analyse and synthesise into new thinking - working at the higher end of Bloom's taxonomy. By showing them how to create very focused alerts you can help your students with specific projects, some examples might be:

  • Creating alerts on the tech companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, but focusing only on finance news in the United States, to support an economics project on Silicon Valley and its wider impact on the US economy.
  • Creating an alert on ISIS, using only news results within countries such as Iran, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, to support a citizenship project exploring different perspectives on terrorism.
  • Creating an alert on festivals - or "festivales" even - but focus on results only in Spanish, and only in Spain, to support an MFL project exploring how the Spanish celebrate differently to the English.

So that's about it for Google Alerts - doesn't do much, but very good at what it does do, and when aligned with your learning goals it can be a very powerful Tech Trumps® indeed.

Do you have any ideas for using Google Alerts that you'd like to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

Would you like your own set of Tech Trumps?

Do head over to the Tech Trumps® to see AWW and a host of other apps, all rated against the key challenges you're focused on as teachers. There's an interactive version of the Tech Trumps® to explore, plus a PDF download version for offline use - or you can go old school, and buy a physical pack of cards for only £4.99 plus postage which I'll whisk off to you first class in the next available post :-)

P.S. Enjoy the half term!

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