Kicking it off
I started off this week in the same place I have been for many of my blogs. First I took a look at the Common Craft video RSS in Plain English. Quickly into the video, I realized I’d already watched this in a previous week (which one, I’m not sure) but I found it a good refresher anyways. I wasn’t sure that I’d have much to say about this topic as to me, the information seems pretty straight forward. The main point is that the simplicity of setting up an aggregator can really save people great amounts of time. As Lee Lefever explains in RSS in Plain English, rather than going out to look for new information on the web, subscribing to your favourite websites and blogs can change this process and as a result have the latest information automatically brought to you. Of course, as I did more exploring, I learned more (go figure!).
What’s the difference between aggregators?
There are all kinds of aggregators out there and they all do the same basic thing but with different layouts. Vienna has been the aggregator that I have been using for the past year. Vienna was designed for Macs only and since I’m a Mac guy, this is what I was initially used. As I began exploring this topic more I started to check out some of the other aggregators such as Google Reader. The more I used Google Reader, the more I like it! I really like the fact that it can be used as a tool to share blogs/news stories with others. The tabs at the bottom of each story/blog that you have subscribed to give you the option to add notes, and share with other individuals who you might think will benefit or be interested in.
Another wonderful thing about Google Reader or Bloglines and other web based aggregators is that it doesn’t matter where you are or what computer or hand held device you are using, you can easiy access all you subscriptions as long as you have internet access. This is another reason I am moving away from using Vienna which is set up on a particular computer. With more and more of our information being stored online, it makes me wonder if we need to have large hard drives on our personal computers anymore. There is always the chance of your computer crashing and you losing valuable material but if you save everything to web based applications, your data is always secure (isn’t it?)!
As we have explored the various web 2.0 tools over the past 2 months, sharing seems to be a common theme. Having important information automatically delivered to you can be beneficial in so many ways whether it is your favourite news website, favourite blogs, students blogs, wiki’s, photo sharing sites, etc.
Professional - Let’s say one of your professional goals is to stay on top of top news stories or blogs that are relevant to your teaching. Rather than adding a site to your bookmarks and continually checking to see if anything of interest has been posted, you can subscribe to that site and have new stories, blogs and updates automatically delivered to your aggregator. This simplifies the process of always searching to see what is new at your favourite sites and blogs.
There are definitely some websites that I know change daily (news & sports pages) and I still prefer to visit the homepage and scan through the items that are of interest to me rather than have all the stories sent to my aggregator. Where I really see aggregators used to their potential is in those sites that are not updated quite as regularly as news pages. This way, you don’t always have to go back to the website/blog and see if anything is updated which can take a significant amount of time since only some pages within a website may have been updated.
Students - Aggregators could be used by students as they work on projects where they are collecting information from the web. If each students set up a google reader account, they would be able to subscribe to sites that would be of interest and assistance when they are collecting information. The possibilities are numerous with students, perhaps they just read a great book from an author. They could subscribe to that authors website to keep up to date with new materials that the author may be working on. A great feature I discovered within Google News is that you can search a particular topic and subscribe to all stories on that topic and have them automatically sent to your aggregator. So much for all that wasted time by students frivolously searching the internet for relevant and current information. This could really streamline the process for students of all ages!
Another wonderful benefit suggested in web 2.0 new tools, new schools is that these subscriptions are free and you can just as easily unsubscribe as you can subscribe.
• Sharon Housley offers a list of possibilities on how RSS feeds can be used positively in the educational field at a variety of different levels on her website RSS Specifications.
• Will Richardson on Weblogg-ed offers 123 postings on RSS which include uses in education, thoughts on various aggregators, educational implications for using RSS and various other great articles.
• David Parry from the University of Albany offers an article called The Technology of Reading and Writing in the Digital Space: Why RSS is crucial for a Blogging Classroom. This article looks at the importance of RSS in the class for technologically immersed classrooms and how this can really improve writing and reading skills with students. This article is valuable for all educational levels as he looks at how “RSS alters the transmission (reading and writing) of digital knowledge” and as a result, we must change the way we teach students how to read and write using the web.
• The Educational Development Centre at Carleton University offers a gread pdf that gives a great overview of RSS and includes a short list of advantages and disadvantages of using RSS in education. http://edc.carleton.ca/files/Repo/file_69/RSS%20in%20Education.pdf
Wrapping it up
As always, I’ve learned something new. I can’t say I’ve really used RSS for it’s full potential yet, but I think I’m on my way. I'm certainly going to use RSS more as I continue my classes when I am collecting research on topics. I think this will assist in cutting down on time doing research and collecting relevant materials. I haven't played with the Google News function that I mentioned above much so this is one I definitely will play with in the future. I have a keen Social Studies teacher at my school that I think I will start out with professionally. I can see students setting up a Google Account and setting up Google Reader as they embark upon inquiry based learning in the new year. This is a project I'm looking forward to assiting with!
Well, another week and another tool to further explore!