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Real Simple Stuff

August 10, 2009

“The library world may be one of the most rapidly changing work environments due to advances in technology and the proliferation of sources of information” (Laning, Lavallée-Welch, & Smith 2005). Now, more than ever it is critical that teacher-librarians are able to equip students with the skills necessary to filter through the massive amounts of information they are inundated with online. RSS and blog aggregators are amazing web2.0 tools that make the internet a whole lot more manageable.

 

RSS, which is commonly known as Real Simple Syndication, allows people to subscribe to their favorite websites so that they can get the most recent updates without even having to search for them. It’s like having your favorite magazine or newspaper delivered right to your front door. But wait a minute. It’s not new or revolutionary to have your news delivered to your door. So, what makes doing this on the web so much better than reading paper copies? It’s a little thing, okay a really big thing, called an RSS aggregator. Aggregators, like Google Reader and Bloglines,  will read and collect the RSS feeds of your favorite websites. Once your aggregator brings you your news feeds or magazine article feeds, you can scan, read, star, or delete them. Regardless of what you decide to do with these articles, you are saving physical space, paper, money, and time by only reading the articles that are most relevant to your needs and interests. Another bonus feature, RSS aggregators like Google Reader are virus free; no ads, no spam

Why have RSS and aggregators become so popular? I think this answer is pretty obvious. RSS and aggregators not only meet people’s personal needs, but professional and life long learning needs as well. In the education world, blogs not only give teachers and librarians an opportunity to teach students, they also give teachers opportunities to teach teachers.  An online teaching community can be created as teachers have a chance to seek encouragement and verbalize their frustrations, although one would want to be careful with his/her identity and the information divulged if airing frustrations. RSS enables you to keep up to date with the newest teaching practices and information literacy issues as they are published.                                                                                                                            

Hiser (2008) talks about an interesting online professional development course where teaching professionals were able to follow the experiences of a fictional first year college professor through his blog. They interacted, anonymously if they chose, with other professionals regarding relevant issues the fictional professor encountered. Hiser (2008) claims that the anonymity made professionals more comfortable asking questions and offering advice, and as a result they were more invested in this learning opportunity. The fact that this PD was available 24/7 also made it more convenient for the first year teachers who normally feel overwhelmed with new teaching responsibilities. “The online environment provides a relief from having to project self-confidence, from hierarchical politics, from the convenient excuse of ‘I’m too busy,’” (Hiser, 2008) which also made this online professional development beneficial for seasoned professors. This type of PD offers a unique opportunity for reflection and to “think aloud.” All involved parties needed only to subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog and keeping up with updates and discussions would suddenly be much easier and less time consuming.

Professional Development opportunities enabled by the use of RSS and aggregators are numerous. There are several “big names” in the teacher-librarian world, who work hard to explore ways that teacher-librarians can keep current with evolving technologies and other issues in information literacy. These people contribute to a learning community by publishing their work and thoughts in blogs and wikis, and by ensuring that their sites have an RSS feed that can be subscribed to. Some excellent blogs to subscribe to are recommended in the Edublogs Award site.

In keeping with the constructivist learning theory that teachers are encouraged to apply to their teaching, teachers also learn best when they are able to learn collaboratively with others. Whether participating in a learning circle and contributing to a collaborative wiki or responding to blog posts, learning is most valuable for teachers when they can reflect and receive feedback.  Any site with an RSS feed provides this opportunity.

In the library and classroom, there are several other potential uses for blogs, RSS, and RSS aggregators.

  • An RSS feed for a blog or for a Twitter account could help to communicate new and featured books, library news , upcoming events, and annotated bibliographies with parents, students, and teachers.
  • To post meeting minutes and ensure everyone is informed of these can be accomplished by subscribing to the RSS feed assigned to the site on which the minutes are posted.
  • An RSS aggregator could be used with students researching for current information on a topic.
  • Students can subscribe to the class del.icio.us account and can all have equal access to information, also encouraging a collaborative environment.
  • Others with aggregators can subscribe to your feed to find out about great sites you subscribe to (ex. Amazon.com –young adult fiction).
  • Teachers can subscribe to students blogs and be notified every time they post something –much easier and quicker than checking each student blog.

 Possible issues or challenges

It does not seem that RSS aggregators would create too many issues if used in a classroom or library, especially if students have been taught and have applied skills in evaluating online sources. However, one concern I have is regarding the reading level of the subscribed blogs. For younger students, many of their searches for RSS feeds will turn up writing that is far too advanced for them to understand. It may be quite challenging to find age appropriate feeds, depending on the topic.  Does anyone know of a way students can limit their searches to sources that are appropriate for their reading level?

I also worry that most teachers would be scared off by RSS aggregators, thinking that these would add to their work load. As well, I think it is quite difficult for most to wrap their heads around how exactly RSS and aggregators work. West, Wright, Gabbitas, & Graham (2006) reflect on the use of blogs and RSS aggregators as part of a preservice teacher training course. Based on their reflections, it seems that for most people, initial use of Blogs and RSS feeds can be quite challenging. As a result, learners need structure when learning the technology at first. They need to understand the terminology as well as why a blog or RSS aggregator might be useful as a learning tool.

A journey into blogs, RSS, and aggregators for professional development

I must admit that, at first, I had reservations about using Google Reader, an RSS aggregator, after I had left it for a few days and suddenly had 270 RSS feeds. I quickly realized that I needed to check my aggregator every day, to prevent that RSS build up. I have used Google Reader throughout this course to help me find information on the various blog post assignments. This has been great for quickly finding relevant and up to date information. I also subscribed to the RSS feeds of my classmates, which allows me to read each post as it was posted. This ensures that I don’t miss out on any of the valuable insights my classmates have to offer.

Scanning the articles in my aggregator is no longer a daunting task. Google Reader is a web2.0 tool that I will continue to use for professional and personal reasons. I am training for a half marathon and have subscribed to a running website. How do I know it’s a good one? There are over 3000 other subscribers, so it must be reliable, right? I will continue to subscribe to the blogs of my classmates as I feel a connection to each of them and am sincerely interested in what they have to say. I also subscribe to School Library Journal, Technology in Education, Cool Cat Teacher, Weblogg-ed, David Warlick’s 2cents, Geek Dad, Jane’s E-Learning Pick of the Day, Read Write Web, Library Thing, and the Unquiet Librarian. As I begin this school year, my first year as a teacher-librarian, I will look to these articles for information, advice, and comfort. Perhaps, as I gain more experience as a teacher-librarian, I will be more able to contribute to the teacher-librarian community. Perhaps one day, others will subscribe to my RSS feeds for professional development purposes.

 References

Hiser, K. (2008, August 21). Taking Faculty Development Online. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 25(14), 27-29.  Retrieved August 8, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Laning, M., Lavallée-Welch, C., & Smith, M. (2005, November). Frontiers of Effort: Librarians and Professional Development Blogs. Journal of Library Administration, 43(3/4), 161-179. Retrieved August 8, 2009, doi:10.1300/J111v43n03•13

Richardson, W. (2004, January). Blogging AND RSS–The What’s It? and How To of PowerfulNew Web Tools for Educators. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 11(1), 10-13. Retrieved August 8, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

Richardson, W. (2004 March). RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators.Weblogg-ed. http://weblogg-ed.com/2004/03/30/

Toner, M. (2004, January 14). ‘Blogs’ Help Educators Share Ideas, Air Frustrations. Education Week, 23(18), 8-8. Retrieved August 8, 2009, from Academic Search Complete database.

West, R., Wright, G., Gabbitas, B., & Graham, C. (2006, July). Reflections from the Introduction of Blogs and RSS Feeds into a Preservice Instructional Technology Course. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 50(4), 54-60. Retrieved August 8, 2009, doi:10.1007/s11528-006-0054-9

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2 comments

  1. I enjoyed your summation of the Hiser PD in university. It’s interesting that Hiser “claims that the anonymity made professionals more comfortable asking questions and offering advice, and as a result they were more invested in this learning opportunity.” I can see how people might feel less intimidated about resonding to the blog. It takes the pressure off by allowing opinions and ideas that might not have come up otherwise. I would have thought that the anonymity may have lead to more frivolous interaction. Interesting.
    Good luck in your marathon.


  2. I originally thought the same as you; that “the anonymity may have lead to more frivolous interaction.” I suppose there may be less likelihood of this happening amond adults than with teens. And the fact that they were going to see these people at school every day may have encouraged participants to engage in courteous and professional discourse.



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