RSS Feeds

Introduction


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RSS Feed is a special type of computer code that allows users to know automatically when new "stuff" is added to their favorite websites or blogs.

RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, allows web users to subscribe to multiple websites/blogs and have new content delivered to them automatically in one location. To do this, you use an RSS reader or aggregator. We will be using Google Reader, but there are many others.

Instead of visiting each website to check for new information, the user simply checks his or her Reader, which has automatically collected and organized all of the new content using the magic of RSS.

In short, when you set up an RSS reader and subscribe to the content (feeds) you choose, it's just like creating a customized newspaper or magazine containing only the stories, media and information you want to read, delivered "fresh" to you every day.

Why is it called a feed?

Essentially, you (via your RSS reader) are being fed new content (news, blog posts, journal articles, book and movie reviews, images, podcasts, etc). You don't have to go out and get it. It just comes to you.

What do I need to take advantage of this wonderful RSS stuff?

There are two basic parts to using RSS - first is the feed, which will be available as a link or icon on the website or blog you want to subscribe to, and second is the reader (or aggregator), which is the container that manages all of your subscriptions (or feeds). There are a number of different readers available. For this course, we will use Google Reader, a free, simple, browser-based reader. Basically, it's like this: You visit a website you like, click the RSS feed/subscription link and add or paste the URL into your reader. Then, you visit your reader anytime you want to see what's new at all of the sites you have subscribed to.

How can RSS help educators?

Educators can use RSS feeds to keep up-to-date with news items, favorite blogs, journal articles, book reviews or updated items from any area of interest, keep current on educational trends, track student blog posts or changes to a class wiki site, and share news or media items (such as podcasts, images or videos) with students, colleagues and parents. For a list of fantastic ideas for using RSS in your classroom, check out Ten Tips for Using Web Feeds in the Classroom from Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson.

RSS in Plain English (3:45)

Watch this short video that explains the essence of RSS (created by CommonCraft).

A couple more RSS explanations that may be helpful (not required):



Discovery Exercise: Set Up your Google Reader and Subscribe to Some Feeds
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Some RSS subscription icons

We will use Google Reader as your RSS aggregator.

To get started, everyone will subscribe to the same 5 feeds.

Different sites present their feeds using different icons and links (though there is a current push for standardization). Most commonly, you will see an orange icon, or a link that says Subscribe or Syndicate, RSS, XML or ATOM. With a little practice, you can learn to easily locate and use the various subscription icons and links.

To subscribe to a feed, you simply click the icon or link for the feed and you will then see either a button to click to add the feed to your Google Reader, or a page of "scary code" from which you copy the URL and paste it into the Subscription field of your Google Reader.

To set up your Google Reader, simply visit http://reader.google.com and log in with your Google Account. You can also just log into your gmail account and click reader in the upper left corner of the gmail window (The first time you log in, you will see a welcome screen containing sample "recommended" feed items -- you aren't subscribed to anything yet).

Then, in another browser tab or window, visit the following sites and subscribe to the feed.

HELP Page: Step-by-step instructions for subscribing to each site

(In the Task below, you will find instructions for "what to do" with the feeds after you have successfully subscribed).


Five Required Feeds (please subscribe to all -- you will be free to edit )
  • Free Technology For Teachers - http://www.freetech4teachers.com/ "A review of free technology resources and how teachers can use them. Ideas for technology integration in education." Riches abound on this site.
  • Instructify - http://blogs.learnnc.org/instructify From LEARN NC. "Instructify is where teachers can stock their toolboxes with practical, time-saving classroom ideas and cutting edge methods of instruction. It’s where to find useful, free technology to utilize in the classroom. And it’s a fun place to spend your planning period."
  • TechLearning Advisor Blog - http://www.techlearning.com/section/Blogs A rich group blog hosted by Tech&Learning that features daily posts by some thoughtful, influential voices in the edublogosphere (sorry about the ads).
  • Successful Teaching - http://successfulteaching.blogspot.com/ 27-year veteran teacher Pat Hensley (a.k.a loonyhiker) offers "strategies and tips for successful teaching." Her blog embodies the Web 2.0 spirit of sharing.
  • Teach Paperless - http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/ "This is a blog meant to help teachers create and maintain SocialTech-integrated Paperless Classrooms. In addition, our community regularly posts and comments on all aspects of paperless, digital, and technological culture as it relates to education." Second Runner-Up for 2009 Best Individual Edublog Award.


Go Beyond Blogs

Google Reader can read any kind of RSS-syndicated content such as news stories, images, video clips, bookmarks and podcasts. Add a news feed or podcast feed to your Reader. It works the same as adding a blog

Google Reader Official Help: Getting Started with Google Reader


Task


One of the key concepts of "Web 2.0" in education is the understanding that we are all becoming "networked learners."

The tools connect us to an expansive, interconnected web of experts, ideas and resources, and allow us to participate and contribute. A core element of your own PLN, or personal learning network, is your RSS reader (also known as a newsreader or aggregator). Fill it with quality feeds and the expert knowledge, learning and ideas come to you!


PART 1: Get comfortable using your Google Reader. Read through the "new items" from the above subscription feeds in your Google Reader. This brief video shows you how. You are not expected to read every item thoroughly, but rather to scan and skim all items and read those that seem relevant, thought-provoking or interesting. You will need to click the blue title of an item to go to the actual site and read any comments. Be sure to star any items you want to save for later reference.

HELP Video: Using Google Reader to Read Your Feeds



IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT YOUR GOOGLE READER: The content in your reader can be overwhelming because it will continue to "pile up" endlessly. BUT -- it's not actually there -- it hurts NOTHING for you to skim and skip items and mark them as "read" just by scrolling past them. You aren't actually deleting anything. In fact, learning to quickly scan and process a lot of news items is an essential part of RSS literacy and information management -- the important ideas will always come back around, and you will also learn to pare down your subscriptions as you go. If you feel compelled to thoroughly read every item, you will remain completely overwhelmed and quickly "quit" your reader. Keep trying -- it gets easier!



PART 2: Find 2-3 Edublogs of interest to you and add them to your reader

You will have to invest a little time, over time, to find the first couple of bloggers whose voices really resonate for you, but once you find a couple of folks you really like, adding others becomes easy. In the "blogosphere," you will find that the voices you value are often connected to one another.

Probably the best way to build your "feed library" is to find one or two bloggers you like and explore their "Blogrolls" (a list of blogs they read/follow linked on their own blogs' sidebars). As you follow their blogs, you will also make new connections through their posts and comments. Again, it just takes a little time, over time -- like tending a garden. And you can always make adjustments as you go.

That said, here are a few places to begin looking for Education-focused blogs.


DISCLAIMER: A "highly-ranked" or "award-winning" education blog is not the only indicator of quality or relevance in content. I am just trying to point you to some options to get you started finding feeds. There are, no doubt, many "little" and "niche" bloggers out there with important messages that would resonate for each of you. I hope you will take some time to find those voices and add them to your growing network of learning connections.







HELP Tip: To add most blog feeds to Google Reader, just copy and paste the main blog URL (site address) into the Add a Subscription box in your Google Reader. The reader will "sniff" the site for a feed. For more help/info, review the "Thing 5" instructions for adding feeds.


PART 3: Use a "blog search engine" to find 1-2 additional blogs/feeds of interest to you (educational or otherwise) and add them to your reader.

Use a Blog Search Engine to Find Feeds
There are a number of different "blog search" tools on the Web. Our omnipresent friend Google offers two such tools. Use these tools as you would a "regular" search engine to search for blogs or news feeds. Do not spend an inordinate amount of time on these. Just experiment a bit.

  • Google Blog Search - http://blogsearch.google.com Type your terms into the search field and click Search Blogs. Use multiple keywords and phrases (in quotes) just as in a regular Google web search. Adding clarifying terms such as "education" or "elementary" to your main topic may be helpful.
  • Google Reader "Browse for Feeds" - http://google.com/reader Perform a "Feed Search" from right inside your Google Reader. Here's a screen shot showing how.



HELP Tip: To add most blog feeds to Google Reader, just copy and paste the main blog URL (site address) into the Add a Subscription box in your Google Reader. The reader will "sniff" the site for a feed.

PART 4: Add a "Fun" Feed to Your Reader

Here are a few "fun" feeds to try:



PART 5: After completing the discovery exercises above, you should have about 7-10 feeds in your reader. Check your Google Reader at least every other day (preferably daily) for 5-7 days. Practice skimming and scanning.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT YOUR GOOGLE READER: The content in your reader can be overwhelming because it will continue to "pile up" endlessly. BUT -- it's not actually there -- it hurts NOTHING for you to skim and skip items and mark them as "read" just by scrolling past them. You aren't actually deleting anything. In fact, learning to quickly scan and process a lot of news items is an essential part of RSS literacy and information management -- the important ideas will always come back around, and you will also learn to pare down your subscriptions as you go. If you feel compelled to thoroughly read every item, you will remain completely overwhelmed and quickly "quit" your reader. Keep trying -- it gets easier!



PART 6: Write a brief blog post telling about an item of interest from your reader. Provide a direct link (permalink) to the item within your blog post. Continue to check your reader at least every other day. It's the only way to actually build a reading habit.

Visit the blog posts of at least two classmates. Leave a thoughtful comment if you find something interesting, helpful or provocative.

NOTE: You will need to visit the actual blog or website to get the direct link -- your Google Reader is just "pulling in" the content -- like a radio pulling in a signal. The "real" show is being "broadcast" from a remote location. Click the title of the blog post in your reader to visit the actual site.