Using Google Reader to Manage the Madness of Information Overload

RSSWith technologies always changing, case studies evolving, and pilot programs testing the waters, it’s almost impossible to read about everything in the field of education while you’re surviving real life. If you aren’t using an RSS aggregator to help manage the blogs and forums where cutting-edge information is shared, give Google Reader a try.  It’s not new by any stretch, but it’s is a must-have for any educator trying to keep up.

What it is:

Basically, an RSS—that can stand for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary—aggregator watches websites for new info and shares the title and the first line to give you an idea of what the post is about.  You can subscribe to blogs, usually by clicking an RSS icon like the orange one pictured, and add it to your Google Reader list.  It even allows you to set up categories so that you can group similar subscriptions.  If you promise not to judge my reading choices, I’ll show you what part of my view looks like today:google reader
Screen Shot from Google Reader

On the left side, there are navigation tools and ways to view recommendations.

In the big area in the center, you see my list of unread entries.  I see the subscription name, the bolded title of the post, and then the first few words of the article.

The far right shows the date / time stamp.

But wait, there’s more. 

If I click on an entry, it opens up a bit more, like this:

Google Reader Article

Now we’re cooking.

The length will vary when you open a post, but you can usually scan quickly and get the gist.  Some blogs are set to share the entire posting, while others only share a summary and provide a link to read the whole entry.

It’s that little row of icons beneath the entry that I particularly love.  I can share on Google+.  I can easily email the entire article to myself or others.  (People who know me are grinning now, because I do this ALL the time.) I can leave it unread to keep it in my list.  I can tag it so that I can find it in a search later.

So in two minutes, I have scanned headlines in my field, done a quick review of an entry of particular interest, and shared it with others who need to know.  People think I read stacks of magazines and papers, but honestly this is it.   In my case, I spend about 10 minutes twice each day reviewing items and am able to stay on the cutting edge of virtual and online learning—and a few other topics.

Setting it up:

To get started with Google Reader, you need a Google account.  When you log in, Reader will be one of the options on the top toolbar.  You can’t miss it.

Then all you need to do is choose a few blogs or sites to follow.  My suggestion is that you don’t add too many at once, or you could overwhelm yourself.  Choose three to five sites for a start, and see what their posting frequency is and whether or not you find their content compelling.

As a side note, bloggers are able to see information about you and your reading habits when you subscribe, so be sure to read Google’s general privacy policy which includes Reader.  Also, it’s just as easy to unsubscribe from a site as it is to subscribe.  No crazy emails will ask you if you’re sure or make you check or uncheck confusing boxes.

You can see a few of my personal subscriptions in the screen shots above, but I’ll make a few suggestions for those of you in the virtual / online / blended / education reform space:

[As a side note, this step was HARD to do!  I really want to give you my giant list because they all have merits or entertainment value.  SIGH!  And as a disclaimer, even if FLVS is an official partner with any site named below, they probably don’t know me, and I’m not getting anything for sharing them with you.]

First, grab the FLVS blog, for sure!  We may be new, but we’ll have good variety and high interest items.  Virtual Voice!

I also like Getting Smart’s blog:

Dangerously Irrelevant is always a fun read!

Innosight Institute has lots going on in the blended learning arena:

Philip Schlechty doesn’t post often, but when he does, it’s worth reading.

If you want to branch out a bit, I also follow some data visualization sites like Information is Beautiful and some futurists like the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence blog  You never know what you’ll get with those, so be ready for a wild variety of topics and info that may be way over your head—at least it’s often over mine!

Moving at the Speed of Creativity is great for teachers looking to integrate more technology.

I could go on all day, but instead of continuing, I’ll just offer apologies to friends and colleagues whose blogs and websites I didn’t include.

I hope you’ll try Google Reader or another RSS aggregator to help manage the madness.  Enjoy the fun of saying over the water cooler, “Did you see that article about the new blended learning study?  The infographics were amazing!”

Please post your successes with RSS feeds, sites you find interesting that I may want to follow, or go ahead and pick on me for my reading choices.  I’d love to hear from YOU!

For further reading: CNET’s Newbie’s Guide to Google Reader

Post by: Lori Gully

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