” In the Cloud ” Expanded – Part II RSS Aggregators

In this post I will be expanding on the category of RSS I started in this post. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a tremendous way to simplify your processes in searching and gathering information. I know that I could hunt for words to describe an RSS Aggregator but Lee Lefever from Common Craft really sums it up well here in this quick video:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/0klgLsSxGsU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

As you can see, RSS keeps you from having to hunt for information … especially from sites that you frequent often to gather information. This saves time and energy and focuses your attention on evaluating information and choosing whether to delve further into researching a specific topic or simply moving on to other more relevant information.
At this point it comes down to a choice of which RSS Aggregator is the right fit for you. As I mentioned in my previous post:

My choice of RSS Reader is NewsGator. One of my main criteria for an RSS aggregator was that it would function both online and via a mobile device. The majority of time I access NewsGator through my Motorola Q Global via NewsGator Go!. Additionally, NewsGator allows me to “Clip” a post or piece of information that I find valuable and save it permanently. This is huge as it keeps me from having to use an additional service like Furl for that purpose.

There are a number of other RSS Aggregators (Readers) out there. Some carry a $ cost with them others are free. Below is a brief list of a few of the more popular Readers (all free):

  • Google Reader
  • FeedReader
  • Bloglines
  • At the end of this post I have a couple of links that have links to many… many… more RSS Readers.

    You also have other RSS Reader options. Most "portal" sites like Microsoft Live, iGoogle, MyYahoo, Pageflakes, and Netvibes (among others) have RSS Aggregators as a part of their functionality. I believe that Facebook and mySpace even have RSS widgets. Most likely the email client you already use has RSS capabilities… Additionally, the MAC OS and Microsoft Vista have desktop widgets that allow for RSS feeds to be displayed… get the idea that that RSS is all over out there, you just need to be open to a better way of pulling information to you as opposed to going to get it?
    Now all you need to to is create an account with one of these services, and then start gathering "feeds" into your RSS Reader. Here are a couple of criteria that I like to use when trying to choose RSS Readers:

    • How easy is it to use?
    • Can I organize the feeds into folders or categories?
    • How easy is it to add a feed? Does the service have a "wizard" of some sore that helps me find a feed on a page? (NewsGator does this well – all I need to do is put in the site URL and NewsGator hunts the site to try to automatically find and subscribe to the feed.
    • Can it be used online and offline (this is key for me in case I have time but not a connection to the internet?
    • Can it be accessed vie a mobile phone… either via the web or an application? This was the sell for NewsGator for me. With the link to NewsGator Go! I always have my RSS on my Motorola Q Global. When I read in either format, the service automatically updates both NewsGator and NewsGator Go! I can even add RSS feeds from my mobile.
    • Is there a "toolbar" feature that makes it easy to subscribe and get to my feeds? (see picture below)
    • Is it visually appealing? (vain, but if I am going to be looking at something repeatedly, I want it to be nice ;))

    On to educational uses.
    First and foremost, it should be something that you use for a while to get the feel for it and develop a good comfort level. Plus you may change readers a couple of times. Be careful, as Lee Lefever said, it does get addicting. Also, be comfortable with simply marking "All Posts Read" to get caught up and pay attention to recent updates… (I think I have 1600+ unread in the last couple of days… I will never get through that, but important issues will again bubble up to the surface for review.)
    How about this for a classroom use: Think about how you have students research the internet right now… Typically, a teacher schedules 3 days in a computer lab all devoted to "research." (Or two days of research and one for pulling it all together) Students do a lot of things with that time… some of it is even researching their topics, however, there is also a great deal of just gathering information without any true evaluation of the source or even the material they find. Additionally, often students take the path of least resistance and only click through the first five Google links. Then they cut and paste this information into a PowerPoint or some other tool. Finally they read from the screen along with the rest of the class when presenting… Sound familiar?
    How different could it be if this was how the research went like this? Two weeks before you are set to begin an inquiry based project you schedule one (1) (<- see that ONE) day in the lab for research. The students would have had an RSS Aggregator set up in the beginning of the year or you take the first five minutes of class for them to register with your favorite. Now you have the students begin researching current relevant topics through news agencies and blogs… using delicious and technorati as search vehicles… doing google searches and ONLY grabbing the RSS feed for the topic. Now all of the information that is returned is NOT REVIEWED AT THIS POINT but, put into the RSS Aggregator to be allowed to continue to collect for the next two weeks. Perhaps you have them work a bit to create folders to categorize some of the information on the fly like:

    • Background information / Google search RSS
    • Relevant News Stories
    • Blogs and other first person accounts
    • Misc.

    Then when the hour is over, you all go back to your regularly scheduled classes for the next two weeks. However, during this time the RSS Reader is chugging away gathering more and more information related to the topic of the students choice. When it comes time for the inquiry based project to begin, you bring the students back to the lab, and they now begin to use and develop their skills at "grazing" information, evaluating the relevance of the information in their reader, the credentials of the source of the information, digesting the information and what type of impact it would have on their project. They would also begin the process of evaluating presentation vehicles… how will they present this information so all of their peers, parents, and teachers best understand and be impacted by the message they are working to get across…
    How much different of a learning experience would that be for your students?
    Other Thoughts:
    On an aside while you can do group work with RSS through Google Reader, with each having their own account account, there is the potential that a group RSS Reader would need to be set up, or to expand this you actually use a Ning or a tool like Diigo to build in a social aspect and greater collaboration. Or even a tool like a shared Zoho Notebook for data gathering and presentation.
    Hope you are thinking about other ways to embrace RSS for your personal learning environment as well as the advancement of student learning and achievement.


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