Tuesday, June 10, 2008

RSS: Bringing What’s New to You

This summer, I’m exploring a variety of Web sites and tools that you can use in the classroom and/or for your own professional development. Each week, I’ll talk about how it works, point out related sites, and discuss classroom connections. Last week, I discussed Twitter, a microblogging tool. This week, I focus on how you can use RSS to keep informed on the newest resources on the Internet.

RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, allows you to subscribe to blogs, news, and other websites—saving you time and keeping you informed. RSS has been around for a long time, but many folks are still unsure what the terms means or how it might impact the classroom. As John Evans explained in his 2006 blog entry on RSS:

If you’ve never heard of the term RSS or RSS feeds you are not alone. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 26% of the average American internet users have never heard of the term and a further 64% aren’t really sure what it means. [2005 PDF of the findings]
RSS IconThe situation has changed since 2005. More people read and write blogs today, and nearly everyone has seen the little RSS icon (shown right). The little icon indicates that the related webpage uses an RSS feed to send information to interested readers. You may see a whole range of syndication links or icons (also called badges) on a webpage. Those for this blog are in the lower right sidebar.

But what exactly does RSS do? In the simplest possible explanation, RSS gathers the new information from specific sites that interest you and brings this new information directly to you. Take a look at this Commoncraft Show video, which explains RSS and how to begin using it “in Plain English”:

So to summarize the process, instead of going out to visit every blog or site that interests you to look for new information, you subscribe to the sites’ RSS feeds, using an aggregator or RSS reader, and whenever those sites publish new information, it will come directly to you, via the aggregator or RSS reader you have chosen.

The Commoncraft Show video mentioned several readers that you can use: Google Reader, Bloglines, Newsgator, and My Yahoo. Once you have the reader set up, the rest is easy. Go to the blogs and other sites that you like and click on the RSS icon or badge to subscribe. Your Web browser may have some built-in preferences to make the process easier, so check your settings. If you see a lot of RSS icons, choose either the generic orange icon (shown above) or the badge that relates to the reader that you have chosen. Add to GoogleFor instance, since I'm using Google Reader, to subscribe to this blog, I’d use the button shown on the right.

Once you’re set up, it’s time to take advantage of RSS to stay informed and save time. Want to read education news from some national newspapers? Use the Education links on the RSS page for The New York Times, the RSS page for the Los Angeles Times, and the RSS page for Washington Post. Once you’ve subscribed, the news headlines will come to you in your reader—so you can visit one site to skim all the Education headlines instead of having to visit all three!

Looking for more specific news? Instead of scouring online news sites for NCLB news, set up a feed that does the search for you. For instance, go to Google News and search for NCLB. In the lower left sidebar, you’ll find an RSS link. Click it to subscribe to the search in your reader. It’s that simple—and you no longer have to search out news on the topics that interest you. The information will come directly to your reader.

And that’s just the beginning of what you can do. Here are some more options:

  • Set up a search of the news for a favorite author or text (using Google as described above), and you’ll never miss another news story. For instance, even though J. K. Rowling has finished her Harry Potter stories, I still like to know what she’s up to. I have a search for her name, and whenever she’s in the news, I know (and I don’t have to read every newspaper online to find out).

  • There are thousands and thousands of blogs on the Internet, and your planning period is only an hour long. What to do? Use Google’s Blog search to narrow down on the topics that interest you. I like to keep track of blogs that discuss ways that teachers use Second Life in the classroom. After I do my blog search, I can click the RSS link in the left sidebar to subscribe to the search. Whenever new blogs are posted on the subject, they come to me. I no longer have to search them out.

  • Like to know more about children’s and young adult book authors? Many current authors have blogs you can subscribe to. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a list of Children’s and YA Book Authors and Illustrators. Many of the page include blogs that you can subscribe to.

  • If students have computers and Internet access, set up a homework blog with RSS feeds. Show students how to set up readers and subscribe to your fee. No more "I didn’t get the assignment”!

  • Trying to keep up with the latest books on a particular topic? Amazon lets you subscribe to RSS feeds on specific topics. I can look for books tagged “teen fiction” then scroll toward the bottom of the list and find a “ Subscribe ” link. If students have readers set up, you can show them how to subscribe and get a list of new books on favorite topics and authors.

  • Amazon searches aren’t your only option for keeping track of the latest books. Check your local public library. They may have an RSS feed of new books or special events.

  • Have students set up blogs for writing activities or in lieu of writer's logs. To build community, have students subscribe to each other’s blogs. Students can easily share their work, and you don't have to set up a class website with all the links. Likewise, once you’ve subscribed to their blogs, you can keep track of every student’s progress from one site (instead of having to go to each one to see if there have been changes).

  • Have students working on research or inquiry projects on contemporary topics? Show them how to set up news searches on their topics so that the most recent articles come directly to them. With younger students, you might set up a similar feed for the whole class to share. If you have a computer in the classroom or LCD projector, students can read through the news on their inquiry topics with you, without having to filter through all the other news (some of which may be inappropriate for their age levels).

  • Are you a member of teacher’s associations or groups? Many have RSS feeds available so that you know when information changes on their sites. *** This feature is coming later this year for the NCTE website! ***
Now get out there and subscribe to some sites! You can start with the feed for this blog. Just click the relevant badge in the right sidebar. And for more information on using RSS feeds, you can consult these resources:


Grant Faulkner said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful and informative article.

For teachers who are interested in more info on how how the world of blogs can enrich your teaching, check out Kevin Hodgson's article on the National Writing Project's website: Bringing the World to My Doorstep: A Teacher's Blog-Reading Habits.

The site also has a lot of other great resources about teaching writing and technology.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let everyone know that NCTE's Website has officially released it's embedded RSS system. Looks promising!

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