Friday, April 27, 2007

RSS: If it's so simple...

RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) made a huge difference in the way I consume the media available to me on the Internet. I opened my 'bloglines' account during an Alan November lecture at the San Mateo County Office of Education and I haven't looked back. I started reading blogs and subscribing to many Educational Technology blogs that were available at the time. There are many, many more these days, including this one, to choose from. I currently subscribe approximately 20 blogs and I can usually scan through the feeds on a daily basis. There are times I let the number of posts build up to over 150. When I tell people that, I can see their eyes roll in disbelief that I have the time to read that much. Well, the simple fact is that I don't read everything I subscribe to. I scan the feeds through my reader (I switched over to Google Reader about 6 months ago) and open the articles that catch my eye and read the entire article.

Here's the rub to me... When you subscribe to a feed from a blog, web site or even a wiki now, it sends you the information when the site changes. So, when something changes, my reader sends it to me. You never have to go back to check up on your favorite website. Setting up the newsreader is easy, regardless of the reader you select. Why aren't more teachers and students using news readers? Do we need to get the word out? How can we get more of them using RSS?
Below is a short film I saw on RSS that explains it pretty well.

There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don't. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don't know where to start.

If you are looking for something that is printed... Will Richardson has a great RSS Guide on his site that shows how to start a Bloglines account and subscribe to feeds. Will also has a series of teacher responses to a post he did about a year ago about weblogs. Will also did a great presentation this year at CUE, about the use of blogs in class. You can find his lecture outline and links here!

So, what are some things you could do as a teacher using RSS to make your life easier?

1) Have your students use blogs instead of hand written journals. Students can add images and embed video to make their journals come to life. As the teacher, you subscribe to their blogs and get their assignments sent to you! You could do this even cooler with a 'PageFlakes' page.

2) Have a wiki (PBWiki, Wetpaint, Wikispaces) for class projects and subscribe to the RSS feed. Anytime a student contributes to the page, you will see what they have done and can give them a participation grade them for it. Here are some examples of classroom wiki's: Understanding Film, SMCROP Cisco and CHS Government.

3) Have the students create their own readers in Google Reader, Bloglines or PageFlakes. When you find interesting articles, share them back with the kids. I can remember the times that I found an article in the newspaper that I felt was particularly topical for my class and having to cut the article out and run down to the copy room to get enough copies for the class to read and discuss in class. You could even set this up as a weekly assignment, where you share 6-10 articles a week with your students and they become the writing prompts for their journals. (on their Blogs!)

4) Digital Peer Editing. I have seen many teachers use the peer editing technique to give their students feed back from someone other than the teacher before the assignment is turned into the teacher. Creating blog posts and assigning students to read each others blogs and comment on them is another way in which students can receive authentic feedback from their peers prior to turning something into their teacher. If students know that their work will be seen by many pairs of eyes, their level of motivation toward creating quality content will increase.

Coming full circle... Why don't more teachers use RSS? Is it because they don't know about it? Is there a techno-phobia that sets in with something new? Is it because teachers don't see the value in it? I really don't know, but if teachers gave it a chance, they would find out how 'really simple' it is.

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