RSS - What is it, and how can it be used in education? Edit
RSS is an acronym that is defined differently by various sources. Here are three phrases used for RSS:
- Really Simple Syndication
- Rich Site Summary
- RDF Site Summary
Primarily, RSS is a vehicle by which any Internet user can filter information. In other words, any Internet user has the power to create a custom informational web page containing updated information that is significantly personal.
Everyday, most of us browse our favorite websites for new information. We check, and re-check email, blogs, news sources, and various other websites throughout the day. All of this surfing can be unproductive and time consuming. We are encouraged by websites that are updated often. Consequently, we lose interest in sites that become stale. As a result, we may miss pertinent information when it finally becomes available.
As educators and educational support, we are not only readers of sites, but also writers. We maintain educational and personal sites. We post homework and assignments, publish newsletters, maintain blogs. We rely on other Internet users in our communities to read what we publish. Isn’t that why we put it ‘out there’? If we had no audience, publishers would not be motivated to update websites. Our communities or audience may belong to our mailing lists, or to minimize email, they may choose to check in on our sites frequently (and sometimes, not so frequently) for updates.
We are both readers and writers of the web, digesting a growing amount of information. The web is a blessing in that we have a wealth of information available to us that our parents, and past generations never imagined. At the same time, we can become lost in this vast pool, and the volume of information can be overwhelming and bewildering.
How do we sort through this information? How do we identify the pertinent information? How do we notify our communities of updates to our sites? Enter RSS.
Think about it. Imagine all of your surfing and publishing becoming streamlined and condensed onto one or two WebPages. Consider the amount of time you, the Internet user, can save when you are no longer required to visit your favorite sites to see if they have been updated. How can this streamlining help you and your school or organization stay current? How does this streamlining aid with the dissemination of data?
With RSS, the Internet user takes control this information. You place all of your significant information in one convenient place. Think of it as one-stop shopping. In addition, you instantly notify the audiences of your websites of changes and updates.
You may argue that email can provide the same feature. However, email has become overused. Most Internet users receive too many unsolicited emails every day. This email clutters inboxes. Legitimate email can be blocked on the receivers’ end, labeled as junk mail or spam. The sender or publisher has no control of this. RSS provides a solution to these problems.
How RSS WorksEdit
Choose a ReaderEdit
The first step in using RSS is to subscribe to an RSS reader or aggregator. The terms reader and aggregator can be used interchangeably. An RSS aggregator controls the flow of information. The aggregator collects the newest information from the users’ favorite websites with RSS feeds and formats that information. The feed will consist of a headline, and may also contain a summary of the full story or complete text, depending upon the features of the feed and aggregator.
There are two basic types of readers:
- Web Based The software driving this format resides solely on the web.
- Pros - Convenient because you can check it on any computer
- Cons - Speed. Most web based readers are slower than application based readers.
- Samples of Web Based Readers
- My Yahoo! Free and easy to use. See tutorial below.
- Bloglines Free Reader and Blog website
- Google Reader Free Reader
- Page Flakes for students and teachers
- Presented by Page Flakes.Has features such as class schedule, calendar and to-do lists that can be shared. This was the simplest reader for me to set up
- Application Based Downloadable software for your computer.
- Pros -Generally more features available and faster than web based readers
- Cons - Lacks mobility. It is used from only one computer although some applications may offer the feature to synchronize your feeds for multiple computers.
- Samples of Application Based Readers
- Feed Demon
- This reader has a fee, but has some very nice features.
- Ad free
- Provides a Watch feature which scans feeds for definable keywords
- The screens are similar to Outlook. The user creates folders for RSS feeds. This is not a feature I need at this time, but if you have hundreds of feeds, it would be very easy to organize them in folder.
- Free trial available
- This reader has a fee, but has some very nice features.
- This reader is free and very easy to use
- Feed Demon
You, as the user, must decide which makes more sense for you. Readers may be free or come at a small cost. With free readers come advertisements. You can eliminate ads with subscriptions. Many Reader subscriptions allow you a free trial. Test them out before purchasing to be sure they meet your needs.
My first reader was my.yahoo.com. It was easy and intuitive and it is free. My first page was set up in about 10 minutes (see my tutorial). I didn’t even find the ads intrusive. It is a great place to start if you have never used an RSS Reader before. I watched the My Yahoo! default feeds for several days before I tired of them and began searching for feeds that interested me. Now I add and delete content almost daily.
Add A FeedEdit
Take a look at my tutorial on My Yahoo! to see step-by-step instructions on how to customize your My Yahoo! page. Using the basic tools and concepts shown in this tutorial, you can move onto other readers.
Your favorite websites most likely have an RSS feed already built in. The most common buttons indicating RSS fees are and . RSS and XML can be used interchangeably here. These buttons are orange, but they can also be blue. Your site may use text strings such as “Subscribe to Feed” or “Entries RSS”. Clicking on one of these buttons directs you to a page filled with source code. Don’t panic, and most importantly, don’t begin reading this page. The only information you need is the URL in the address bar of your browser.
To provide the feed to your RSS reader you must do one of the following:
- Copy and Paste the Feed URL address
- Copy Shortcut of the Feed
If your favorite site does not offer an RSS feed, email the webmaster and ask for the feature to be installed. They may not realize their readers are ready for this feature.
Other Issues to ConsiderEdit
This page is devoted strictly to reading RSS feeds. There are two techniques that I think are worth mentioning. These techniques are watches and scraping.
A watch is a feature that is generally available in readers that require a fee. A watch scans incoming feeds for predefined keywords. The RSS reader alerts you to any feeds that mention that keyword. I tried the watch feature on Feed Demon. My keyword was Educational Technology. Very quickly I was presented with feeds that were relevant to that search. The watch remains active while the RSS reader is running and is updated frequently. With this feature, you will have the latest information on your keywords always at your fingertips.
Scraping is creating RSS feeds from websites that do not currently offer feeds. This is a very convenient tool, but setting up these feeds require more advanced skills. Caution should be used because there is controversy surrounding scraping and plagiarism. If you choose to use scraping on a site that you do not own, be sure to acquire permission from the website owners first.
When you are ready to progress from RSS Reader to RSS Syndicator, there are some wonderful resources with tips and tricks to get you started. You can begin your quest by checking out my bibliography below.
My Yahoo! TutorialEdit
Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to begin your own My Yahoo!
Click here for My Yahoo! Tutorial.
Practical Uses in EducationEdit
RSS has endless possibilities for uses, especially in education. Here are a few suggestions, feel free to add your own.
Teachers can be publishers as well as readers of the Internet.
As a publisher, a teacher can use RSS feeds:
- To alert students of homework, assignments and announcements, and changes on weblogs
- To keep up on communication when peer coaching
- To stay abreast of committee minutes, notes and calendars
As a reader, a teacher can use RSS feeds:
- To receive updates from administration
- To keep abreast of professional development via podcasts, wikis, blogs, websites, etc.
- To learn when students have updated weblogs and/or on-line portfolios
RSS holds many possibilities for school administration. It is a powerful communication tool.
As a publisher, administration can:
- Post press releases
- Keep school calendar current
- Provide updates to the school community, faculty and staff
As a reader, administration can:
- Be alerted of inclement weather
- Receive relevant community news feeds
- Track packages
- Keep abreast of professional development opportunities via podcasts, wikis, blogs, websites, etc.
- Receive feeds from faculty and staff
RSS is a useful tool for the student, especially for those having laptops readily available. The classroom teacher and school administration can provide information to the student quickly and easily. Research information can be at their fingertips. Here are a few examples of RSS classroom use:
- Classroom material can be subsidized with current events, and news feeds related to subject area. For example, have students of the German language subscribed to a German newspaper.
- In math class, subscribe to stock quotes
- In science class, subscribe to related news feeds and notification of earthquakes.
- Subscribe to the school's calendar and webpage.
Great Sites About RSS or With RSS FeedsEdit
Bit By Bit My personal favorite podcast site. They provide links to wonderful tools and cool sites for educators.
Edutopia Sponsored by The George Lucas Educational Foundation and definitely worth a look.
Infinite Thinking An incredible website for educators.
npr Offers both podcast and news feeds
Open Culture A podcast library
http://schoolcomputing.wikia.com/wiki/RSS Read more about RSS in education
Simple Tracking Track your UPS and Fed Ex packages
- A safe place for teachers to place videos for professional development and classroom use. This site also offers a blog.
Tech Learning Tips and tricks for educators
The Shifted Librarian Presents ideas for RSS uses in education.
Many thanks to
For allowing me to use screenshots from their websites.
Finkelstein, E. (2005). Syndicating web sites with RSS feeds for dummies. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Levine, J. (2004, March 24). New uses for RSS in education. Retrieved April 1, 2007, from The Shifted Librarian Web site: http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/2004/03/28.html#a5424
Oechard, L. M. (2005). Hacking RSS and atom. Indianapolis,IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
O'Neal, A. (2006, February 14). RSS 101: Get online articles delivered to you. Retrieved April 3 2007, from Microsoft at Work Web site: http://www.microsoft.com/atwork/manageinfo/rss.mspx
Ziade, R. (2006, January 23). Taking RSS beyond headlines : Part one. Retrieved April 3, 2007, from basement.org Web site: http://www.basement.org/archives/2006/01/taking_rss_beyond_headlines_pa.html
Jschc 20:22, 6 April 2007 (UTC)