Teachers and RSS

I would be willing to bet there are three teachers at my school who know what RSS is — the two IT‘s and me. My colleagues are intelligent, capable teachers, but like many teachers, they are neophytes when it comes to certain aspects of technology. As far as I know, I’m the only teacher blogger at my school. A few other teachers are beginning to use wikis after my presentation, but my wiki usage is most extensive. I’m not bragging; I have simply had more exposure to blogs and wikis than they have. I have been writing online, in some form or other, for nearly six years now.

Lorelle recently posted about RSS feeds via e-mail; she quoted a statistic from FeedBlitz which indicated that only 11% of web users use RSS aggregators (link). I’m not sure where this statistic comes from, as the most recent study I could find with a similar statistic dates to October 2005, which is ancient in ‘net terms (pdf). However, I think it is safe to say, judging by my personal experience, that lots of people use RSS, but don’t realize they are doing so. They use My Yahoo, My MSN, Google Personalized Homepages, or a similar homepage to collect their favorite websites, bookmarks, games, news sites, weather, and more. All of this is dependent on RSS.

When I gave my presentation on using blogs and wikis in classroom to the faculty at my school, our IT was giving a presentation on RSS. I was really excited because I think teachers can really benefit from using RSS aggregators. When I asked faculty members about his presentation (which, unfortunately, ran concurrently with mine, so I couldn’t attend it), they told me he told them about Google Personalized Homepages. They didn’t seem to have a clue what I meant when I mentioned RSS. It’s not his fault, as I’m sure he was measuring his audience and decided to do the most helpful thing he could for them.

I think teachers could save a lot of time if they used RSS aggregators to keep up with content on the web. Before I started using an RSS aggregator, I checked my favorite websites for updates every day, which can be time-consuming. As a result, I know that I followed fewer websites and probably missed out on some interesting information. An RSS aggregator allows you to gather all the websites you follow in one place, and it even tells you when they’ve been updated. News on Feeds has a list of web-based aggregators (same things as RSS aggregator, different term). I think the most popular aggregators on their list are Bloglines, Google Reader, and My Yahoo. Subscribing to an RSS feed using any one of these aggregators is really simple in Firefox: you simply click on the orange square in the right side of the location bar (address bar). You will be asked if you would like to use Bloglines, Google Reader, or My Yahoo to subscribe to the feed. You may need to login to your RSS aggregator if you haven’t already done so during your surfing session. In Internet Explorer 7, you will notice the same orange square near the address bar. If the website you are viewing has an RSS feed, you can subscribe to it using Microsoft’s feed reader. I don’t much like this option, as I think it’s a perfect demonstration of Microsoft’s propensity to make things more difficult for users who don’t want to use a Microsoft product to do something. My suggestion is to copy and paste the feed URL into your own favorite RSS aggregator, which is not as easy as Firefox.

When you login to your RSS aggregator, you can see a list of feeds you follow, and it will be easy to see any that have been updated with new stories or posts since you last logged in. My personal favorite feed reader is Bloglines. I have organized all the feeds I follow into folders labeled according to the types of blogs in that folder (for instance, Education is one of my folders). I don’t have to visit all 93 (!) feeds that I follow every day. I just visit Bloglines and look at the ones who have updated. Can you imagine how much time it would take to check 93 sites every day to see if they’ve been updated?

Most blogging software programs come bundled with RSS feeds, so you are probably publishing one, even if you don’t realize it. If you aren’t, you can easily create feeds for your blog or site by using Feedburner. I would suggest that you allow your users to read the full post or story in their feed reader. My husband won’t do this because he feels it cheats him out of website visits. I contend that if a user wants to visit your site to see the pretty template you made, then they will. If you force your reader to visit your site to finish reading what you’ve wrote, you might put some RSS readers off. Ultimately, it’s a decision you have to make, but you should ask yourself this question: Which is more important, accessibility to readers or hits on your website? If readers feel compelled to comment upon what you’ve written, they will visit your site to do so. I know how cool it is to see those high site statistics, but it’s also pretty cool to see the number of feed subscribers go up. One thing you know about your feed subscribers is that they are reading what you say. Visitors who Google something and wind up on your site, only to find the information they were looking for isn’t there (most likely because the majority of people don’t know how to search wisely) aren’t reading anything. Those site statistics can be misleading. In my opinion, what you really want to do is develop a loyal readership, and RSS feeds make that easier for some.

RSS also makes it really easy for you to find out what others are saying about your blog, business, or product. Technorati makes it easy for you to see if anyone new has linked to your site. Technorati runs on RSS. When you update your blog, you can use its tagging system to allow Technorati users who are looking for information to find your blog. For instance, at the bottom of this post, you will see one of my Technorati tags is “RSS.” This will enable Technorati users who are interested in reading about RSS to find this post easily. Of course, this will help you increase your readership, too.

RSS is a good thing. Try it out.

[tags]RSS, education, RSS aggregators, Bloglines, Technorati, My Yahoo, Google Reader, Feedburner, feeds[/tags]

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9 thoughts on “Teachers and RSS

  1. Hi Dana,

    I have been using flock

    for a couple of months and it has a great RSS aggregator built in. It also has bookmark syncing with del.icio.us, WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop blogging tools and flickr support. It still has some bugs but is worth checkin out. Read a review at

    wired

  2. Will Richardson spoke at our first day of school this year, our "workday." He talked about wikis and blogs and taught us how to use Bloglines, Technorati, and podcasting. It was the best inservice we've ever had. I learned so much more than usual. However, the "older" teachers didn't get it. At all. Right over their heads.

    You're right about being about to keep up with many more blogs. Yours is one that I keep up with.

    I love Bloglines.

  3. Dana, You know I am a huge, Huge, huge fan. Due to you (I s'pose it's cuz I am/was one of "the +older+ teachers (who) didn't get it." (as Cindy kindly wrote in Comment 1), I am able to hyperlink and do other things on the computer.

    Long Q short. I am not dumb, but I am +older+ (sigh) and possibly that's why I don't 'get it.' There is a lot of stuff I don't understand, but now I am referring to RSS feed. (I read the entry several times.) I would greatly appreciate (And, Dana, I know your plate is already more than full) a tutorial in RSS feeds.

    I kinda understand what you wrote, but I was quickly 'a reader left behind.'

    The request is, I would Love a Blog from you, as opposed to links, because I understand your explanations so well. The blog I would like could be a separate blog, or a few entries. (I know you already have several other excellent blogs, including the cooking one you left me hanging on!! Just teasing.) You know those manuals: 'Poetry for Idiots,' Embroidery for Idiots," etc?

    I need many lessons in "IT for Idiots."

    Currently RSS.

    I use a Mac. Browser Safari. I have five bookmarked folders on my bar:

    Huff (6 sites)

    Blogs (17 sites)

    Family (11 sites)

    Spades (3 sites)

    Fyah (11 sites)

    and a lone mark:

    Dictionary

    On a good day, I am able to visit every link in the first three folders. On an average/typical day, I visit the first 3 sites within each of the first 3 folders.

    I think??? that w/ what you are referring to, I could +know+ when these were updated; however, I would not see the +template design+ (or whatever it's called). But, that's okay w/ me. I am mainly interested in the words.

    If you have time to create an IT Blog (or entries), that would be awesome. Or e-mail me. Or not. I know you are slammed.

    I am a genuine admirer of your words, and particularly your patience and positive outlook. You are a young chickie and a wise one, avoiding sarcasm, rants, and such.

    And, even if you +do+ have a great job in a great school, there are still backstabbers- both adults and kids. And it is a special treat, to know someone who manages to not ever, ever let that come across in yr blog.

    And that's a huge accomplishment. My husband is able to as well. But I would put you two writers in a very small percentage in that respect.

    I won't edit this and hope that my ADD has not transferred itself worse than usual in this (too) lengthy, rambling comment/question(s)

    Have a good one. The weather in the South is beautiful today. Maybe even the pollen will finally leave.

    Best,

    Syb

  4. Cindy, I tried out Flock, too. It's based on Firefox, so it's pretty similar. I found I liked Bloglines so much I didn't want to switch. As to your second comment, I was a little confused.

    Syb, go to Bloglines and set up an account. From there, you can add feeds you are watching by typing the website in the blank they provide. It will find feeds for you. You click the subscribe button, and it will do the work for you. I'm afraid that's the best I can do. It sounds like you need someone to show you, and the only way I could do that is with a video. I don't have the appropriate technology on this computer to make one

  5. Cindy

    Yes, RSS is pretty useful, forget it is tech. As you mentioned IM and mail is a big part of your Internet life, Why not mix IM and RSS together?

    Maybe, you can try Anothr (IM-based RSS alert and reader), it support Skype/Gtalk/MSN. :)

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  7. There is a great web based RSS reader out there. It is called itsmynews : http://www.itsmynews.com/

    What I like about it is that they have a database of thousand of feeds. They say 50 000.

    So, you don't need to understand the RSS technology to use it. It is really a great tool.

    Worth having a look.

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