Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Power Of RSS

As I have read

"Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher's Guide to Digital Literacy" by David Warlick and

"Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" by Will Richardson ,

I have come to experience and see the power of RSS or Real Simple Syndication.

RSS is a distribution system that has been compared to our more familiar newspaper or magazine subscription format. When you subscribe to a magazine, the magazine is delivered to you. You don't have to go to the publishing center and obtain your copy. It is sent out to you and you can easily enjoy the contents of your favorite publication. How many magazines or newspapers would you subscribe to if you had to do the running around to get the content you are interested in? Probably none or not very many. The content would still be valuable to you for whatever purpose you use it for, but the frustration and bother to search out this information might decrease your enthusiasm to seek out the info. This is very similar to what you had to do to seek out your information on the internet. You might find some sites that had exactly the content you were looking for and would check back often. The only problem being, you had to visit each individual site to gather the digital information. Enter RSS and aggregators.

An aggregator is much like your mailman or newspaper boy. It is usually software, installed on your computer, that retrieves digital content, like weblogs, podcasts, vcasts, or news sites. Now that you have your aggregator working for you, the RSS address for sites that you visit can be added to your aggregator. Based upon the schedule you determine, the aggregator will visit each of the sites, all on its own, and check the RSS feed to see if any new content is available. If new material is present, it will be delivered to your web browser. You no longer have to point your web browser at each site. The aggregator will check it for you.

I currently have 30 weblogs that my aggregator checks. I am using Sage, which is an extension for the Firefox web browser. When I visit a site I find interesting, I can have Sage check for an RSS feed. If one is present, I can click it and add it to the sites that Sage will visit the next time I request an update of sites. While Sage is working, I can visit other websites, work on something else or sip my coffee. When I am ready, Sage will obediently show me which sites that have updated content and I can look at the titles or the simplified pages. If I wish to visit the actual site, I click the link, and I'm taken there for a closer look.

Will Richardson also suggests time saving use of RSS for teachers. If you are having your students weblog or use a wiki for assignments, you could subscribe to their pages. When they have new content to comment upon or grade, your aggregator would let you know that their work was ready and waiting for you. Now I don't know about you, but many teachers are reluctant to make better use of technology in the classroom because of the perspective that it will only make for more work. If you use the technology for the students educational benefit, why not also be sure you can benefit also. Instead of checking 60 or 90 weblogs or wiki projects, you spend your time giving quality assessment and input to the content that your aggregator brings to you. This might seem like a little thing but don't be fooled. When teachers start to use the technology that is available for their students and for themselves, everyone will win. In the future I want to share what I've learned of how to have your research come to you.

(The ideas shared here have been gained through the works of Will Richardson and David Warlick. I highly encourage you to visit their blogs and buy their excellent books)


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