maoI’ve just finished reading a deeply philosophical essay by Isaac Mao from The People’s Republic of China called “Sharism: A mind revolution. This essay is part of a collection of essays gathered by Joi Ito to celebrate the power of Web 2.0 and “all the people who are willing to share.” It was first brought to my attention by Will Richardson who reflected on Mao’s thoughts in his own blog last week as he lamented that there are still educators out there who are not willing to share their best teaching practices and lessons with others online (Nov. 18, 2008).

Though neither Richardson nor Mao’s thoughts relate directly to this week’s course topic on blogs and blogging for professional development, I believe that what both men have to say about the worldwide benefits of individuals freely sharing information speaks to the learning potential inherent in the blogging process. “The Less You Share, The Less Power You Have” is the motto of Mao’s essay. This is a twist on the wise-old saying “the more you give away, the more you receive.” Richardson interprets the notion of the power or gifts one receives as a result of sharing as both the knowledge one gains from creating blogs and the lasting learning relationships that can develop as a result of blogging.

Isn’t it knowledge and a supportive network of educators we hope to gain in every professional development opportunity we take part in?

I challenge any educator to read any one of my blog posts or the blog posts of any of my classmates in this course and tell me that blogging isn’t one of the best professional development tools available for educators today. I don’t have to turn to any experts to tell me that what I’ve witnessed and participated in throughout this course with blogs and blogging has been some of the best, if not the best, professional development I’ve ever taken part in. I’ve increased my “power as an educator” by being willing to share my thoughts and ideas with others through my blog, helping them to grow as educators and I have grown as an educator by reading and participating in the blogs of others.

Talk about a powerful symbiotic relationship which I believe is at the heart of most personally significant professional development endeavours.

In my school division, teachers are expected to develop their own professional learning plans according to a “Professional Growth Model” designed by a committee of divisional personnel, school administrators and teachers. The model emphasizes “reflection, inquiry and collaboration, challenging educators to focus on the Professional Standards and seek knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of their practice” (Pembina Trails Professional Growth Model, Preamble). By the end of the year, teachers are required to show evidence both of their own learning and how this learning has benefited the students they teach.

If you’re at all familiar with blogs and blogging, you will notice immediately how closely they resemble the primary aims of this professional growth model. Has blogging allowed me to be reflective of my current teaching practice? Yes! Has blogging allowed me to develop my own inquiry questions? Yes! Has blogging given me the chance to collaborate with others? Yes! Has blogging challenged me as an educator to focus on professional standards? Yes! Has blogging given me the opportunity to aquire new knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of my practice. Yes!

When it comes time to have my final professional learning plan meeting with my administrator this year, will I be able to demonstrate my learning and show how this learning has benefitted the students in my school? There is no question in my mind that the answer to this question is a firm and enthusiastic, “absolutely!” In fact, I can’t wait to share my blog with my administrator at the end of the course and show her all I have learned about the powerful learning tools of Web 2.0 for schools and libraries.

As David Jakes writes in his blog, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” blogging is all about personal growth, extending yourself out of your comfort zone and getting involved as an educator. It’s about “becoming a catalyst for change…reflecting, questioning, getting uncomfortable – and then perhaps challenging the assumptions of your foundation.” If professional development asks you to consider how you can grow as an educator and what you can do better to help students learn, then blogging can help you reach your professional development goals.

With my blog, I have a tangible and searchable record or evidence of all my learning as it pertains to my professional learning goals articulated in my professional learning plan. I have already started to use or are planning to use many of these tools in the near future with various staff members and classes. It is my intention to gather feedback from at least some of the teachers and students I have worked with throughout the course of the year to show my administrators that students have benefitted in a positive way from my learning this year.

Blogs and Blogging as Professional Learning Tools

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not heard of the term “blog” in today’s technologically-driven society. Unfortunately, many believe that blogs are merely places where individuals tell others about their day, their feelings and perhaps hopes for the future and those that are close to them can add a sympathetic “ear” by leaving them comments on their posts. By its very nature, a blog is a perfect vehicle to share feelings, thoughts and reflections and make connections with others and I’m not suggesting that these are not valid uses of a blog. However, if structured with learning in mind, the blogging process can be “a significant learning and networking tool that can help individuals, groups, and organizations learn in new and interesting ways” (Karrer, p. 1).

This course is a perfect example of how the blogging process can be structured in such a way as to maximize the learning potential of blogs for professional development or any other type of learning, for that matter. In each of the posts for this course, I was required to show evidence of research and further reading of the topic, demonstrate my critical thinking and new knowledge on the topic, reflect on the process of learning one or two new Web 2.0 tools each week and discuss the implications of the tool for teaching and learning purposes. A tall order, indeed, by but structuring the blogging process in this way, my blog became a wonderful tool for me to both consolidate what I had learned about the various tools and think about how they could be used in an educational setting. Due to the deep thinking that was involved in preparing for each post, I found that my metacognitive skills improved immeasurably throughout the course.

As I analyzed and synthesized the information for each post and chose appropriate links, pictures, videos and podcasts to share, I was also required to consider my audience and writing style in order to keep the readers of my blog “hooked.” I found that this desire to keep my readers engaged in the blogging process to be powerful learning motivator. It was much like preparing for a presentation at a more traditional professional development session in which I needed to know my information well and at the same time keep my audience thinking and somewhat entertained. In “Learning and networking with a blog,” author Tony Karrer discusses the similarity between writing a blog post and preparing for a meeting (p. 2). In both cases, you need to know both your subject and audience well.

However, blogging for the sake of professional development is so much more than writing for or attending traditional professional development sessions which are often static, expert-driven affairs. Blogging is all about sharing and making connections in a very collegial, interactive and give-and-take atmosphere in which everyone has the potential to learn something new, even the so-called “experts.” Every time a blogger writes a post there is the potential for a meaningful dialogue and relationship to develop with anyone in the world, near or far. Since blogs are ongoing, this dialogue can be sustained over a far greater period of time and therefore there is the potential for a much more meaningful and deeper relationship to develop.

I believe that it’s this ability to develop deeper relationships amongst educators that may be the spark some teachers need to encourage them to take charge of their own professional development. I know I have developed a deeper relationship with my classmates over time in this course to the point where I have an honest desire to keep our professional dialogue going into the future. I want to see them succeed just as much as I know they want me to succeed in helping our students and fellow teachers learn and use Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms.

As I became involved in the blogging process for this course, I found it fascinating to realize that I learned just as much about each of the various Web 2.0 tools we’ve studied in this course by reading and commenting on what my classmates have said about learning and working with the tools than my own reading, writing and experimenting with them. You just don’t get that kind of deep knowledge and interaction with others in more traditional professional development courses. My classmates ideas, reflections and questions have been invaluable to me as an educator dedicated to improving my teaching practice and providing the best education I can for my students. I have come to understand first hand through the blogging process that the collective knowledge of a group of people is far deeper than the knowledge anyone person can ever hope to know and understand. I know they have learned from me, just as I have learned from them through our blogs.

blogs-pictures

I have also been amazed at the amount I have learned about Web 2.0 tools for schools and libraries by following some of the “big” names in the field. Just by following a few key educators like Vicki A. Davis (The Cool Cat Teacher Blog), Will Richardson (Weblogg-ed), Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog), David Warlick (2Cent Worth Blog) and Jane Hart (Jane’s e-learning), I feel like I’m at the “cutting edge” of the field of education and everything Web 2.0 – from tips, to tools, to conferences, to people, I can’t believe what these people are willing to offer the educators of the world and it’s all for free! Their enthusiasm for education is truly infectious and I can’t wait to share what I have learned from reading these blogs with my fellow teachers. If professional development is “teachers talking to teachers” as stated in our provincial teachers’ society handbook, then blogging as a professional development tool is second to none.

Blogs: The Flexible and Affordable Learning Growth Plan

On top of it all, blogs as professional learning communities are not limited to any particular location, time of day or group. Blogs can be used as professional learning tools within schools, divisions, provinces and countries – there simply are no boundaries. Anyone can access their favourite blogs from anywhere in the world, day or night and there is no limit to the number of professional learning groups any one person can join. As of December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs (Wikipedia). Other sources for exclusively educational blogs that teachers could find blogs to follow are the: International Edublog Directory, November Learning Communities and UK & Ireland EduBlog Directory. Surely teachers can find one or two blogs that will help them to grow as educators. Add an RSS aggregator to your personal learning plan and you’ve got it made. Professional development was never so easy and self-directed!

Can’t get to your favourite conference this year, no problem – someone is sure to blog about it almost as soon as it happens. Although it can admittedly be difficult to read if you’re stuck in a freezing location while your blogger is enjoying the fine weather in a more southerly location, you’ll still be able to get the latest details from the conference from at least one blogger or two. In fact, it’s probably those that “Twitter” who’ll get the information about a conference or event out to you first. Twitter is a form of micro-blogging in which individuals stay connected to the latest news and events by writing short, concise statements much like Facebook’s “What are you doing now” comments. (For more information about other micro-blogging tools, I suggest you check out Jane Hart’s article, “Microblogging/Real Time Messaging Tools”).

Although the information in “Twitters” is limited to 300 characters, these short statements alert readers to new, emerging information in the field and often point “followers” in the direction of more detailed information. I am currently following approximately twenty different educators and a few groups who use Twitter and I find that it helps me to keep abreast of breaking news in the field. If there’s anything happening in the world of technology and libraries, I’m sure to know it almost as soon as it’s been announced. Currently, my favourite Twitter group is from the School Library Journal and Schlib.

Can’t find a Twitter group to suit professional development needs and interests? Then look no further than Twingr which will allow you to create your own microblogging network.

There is also a growing trend toward “live blogging” which is sure to enhance the blogging experience for educators even more in the future. Live blogging, according to Aliza Sherman writing for “The Web Worker Daily,” describes blogging that “captures the words, sounds, and images at an event and posts them online to a variety of Web 2.0 enabled sites with the goal of sharing the experience for those who cannot attend while preserving key moments in an archive.” CoveritLive is software that has emerged in the past year or so that enables bloggers to cover live events like keynote addresses, press conferences and meetings while interacting with their readers during the event. So you don’t even have to leave home to be a part of a dynamic learning experience.

Live or recorded podcasts and webcasts are also another way for teachers to stay connected professionally. Although it’s often not possible to participate in live podcasts due to the times they are offered, teachers can subscribe to their favourite and most informative digital audio recordings through an RSS feed and listen to the podcasts when it’s convenient for them.

What does the research say about blogging and professional development?

To be honest, very little. Since using blogs for professional development is a relatively new concept, I could find only a few anecdotal reports on how using blogs for professional development has benefitted teachers. In “Taking faculty development online,” author Krista Hiser describes how using a blog for professional development has nurtured the dialogue between faculty members from various disciplines, different backgrounds and from all levels of experience at her university (p. 1). Analysis of the discussion boards from their online “Teaching and Learning” course has shown that their faculty members are more than pleased with being able to interact with their colleagues through blogs.

Although I could not find the complete article, the abstract of April Lynn Luehmann’s article, “Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study” infers that blogging was used successfully as a professional development tool by a middle school science teacher. I wish I could get the full article since it also outlines several ways that teachers can enhance their professional development needs using blogs.

Since there is so little information on blogging and professional development, I applaud educators like Joanne de Groot (the instructor for this course) and Jennifer Branch from the University of Alberta who not only revised an information technology course in the teacher-librarianship graduate program at the University of Alberta last year to include blogging as the primary vehicle to demonstrate student learning of various Web 2.0 tools but also undertook an extensive analysis of the learning process to determine whether the format of the course was an effective way to prepare teachers and teacher-librarians for teaching in a Web 2.0 world. Although their work in this area is far from complete, their initial findings based on the transcripts of the participants’ blogs and course evaluations show that teachers taking the course to extend their professional development of Web 2.0 tools were more than satisfied by the amount of learning that took place (p. 19).

Can professional development get any better than this?

Isn’t this what we want for teachers in terms of professional development? To keep them engaged in the teaching process by giving them access to the latest information in their field and by giving them a voice so that they can share in the collective wisdom of all and pass it on to others to improve teaching practice? There is a big push in our school division toward establishing learning groups. I think a blog would be an excellent way to communicate between the members of the group. They can communicate whenever they want and as many times as they want. I’ll have to suggest this idea at our next professional development committee meetings both at the school and divisional levels.

I can think of no other professional development activity that I have been involved in that has led me to greater personal fulfillment as an educator. I have grown and learned so much as an educator and I can’t wait to share my learning with others. I am looking forward to continuing to find my voice in the edublogosphere. There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored and relationships to be developed. What a professionally exciting time for educators around the world and best of all, I’m a part of it!

References

de Groot, J., & Branch, J. (2008). World class learning and literacy through school libraries: Preparing teacher librarians for a Web 2.0 world. Paper presented at the IASL Conference 2008, Berkeley.

Hiser, K. (Aug., 2008). Taking faculty development online. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 25(14), 1. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Ito, Joi. (2008). Essays. FreeSouls Captured and Released. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/

Jakes, D. (Oct. 17, 2008). Tragedy of the commons. The Strength of Weak Ties Blog. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2008, from http://strengthofweakties.org/?p=277

Karrer, T. (Sept., 2007). Learning and networking with a blog. Alexandria, 61(9), 1-4. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Luehmann, A.L. (July/Sept., 2008). Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study. (Abstract). Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Mao, I. (n.d.). Sharism: A mind revolution. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/essays/07-isaacThe -mao-sharism.html

Sherman, A. (Sept. 11, 2008). More on live blogging event. The WebWorkerDaily. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://webworkerdaily.com/tag/blog/

Richardson, W. (Nov. 18, 2008). The less you share, the less power you have. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://weblogg-ed.com/

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rss-logo1Why don’t more people know about this??? There hasn’t been anyone on my teaching staff or beyond that I’ve talked to in the past two months since I began using an RSS aggregator that has the remotest idea of what I’m talking about when I bring up the topic of RSS feeds. It’s like I’m talking in a foreign language yet I believe that next to social bookmarking, RSS is one of the most necessary Web 2.0 tool anyone who is using the Internet today needs to understand and learn how to use. Goldsborough calls it “The Holy Grail of the Information Age” and I couldn’t agree more (p. 1). In my opinion, using an RSS aggregator or reader is simply one of the most essential tools that people living and teaching in the 21st century need in order to cope with the inordinate amount of information that is available online today. It is the only way to stay connected with the people and ideas in your chosen field(s) of interest and remain sane at the end of the day.

What is RSS?

There are many videos you can find on YouTube, TeacherTube or Google Video that can give you a quick overview of RSS. I found this one on YouTube to help me understand the “nuts and bolts” of RSS:

For more information about RSS feeds, you may also want to check out the Edmonton Public Library’s presentation called “A Gentle Introduction to RSS Feeds.” This presentation provides a clear overview RSS and the benefits of using RSS feeds.

In a nutshell, RSS or Real Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary is a XML code that is embedded in most electronic references that allows the information to be distributed in “natural” language whenever it’s updated, usually by the hour, to whomever subscribes to the site (or parts of the site) where the information was generated. This ever-changing information that gets distributed is called a “feed.” In order to receive the information from a “feed,” the subscriber needs to have access to a “feed reader” called an aggregator. Aggregators can either be found on a computer’s desktop (along with “My Favorites”) or my personal favourite, on free, web-based sites that allow users to access their feeds from any computer.

Although RSS feeds have been around since 1997 (Cohen, p. 4), they have come into their own with the Read/Write web. Before the advent of Web 2.0, anyone wanting to publish information on the Internet either had to know complicated computer language or find someone who did. Now with various Web 2.0 sharing and communication tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, picture and video-sharing sites that require no special computer-programming knowledge to use them, virtually anyone with Internet access can publish information on the web. This has caused an explosion of information available on the Internet and has opened up new avenues to network with people from all over the world.

The beauty of RSS is that it allows you keep up with this enormous amount of information that is now being generated worldwide on the Internet and it actually saves ye time in the process. RSS is all about convenience whether it’s for the creator of the information who wants to let others know about what they’ve created or the reader who wants to keep up with the latest information on any topic, events, groups or individuals. Stephen Abram, an avid blogger and vice president of innovation from SirsiDynix claims that he can keep track of “500 blogs in fifteen minutes twice a day” using Bloglines. How is this possible you might ask? Before the days of RSS, if you wanted to find the latest information or thinking about your chosen topic of interest, you had to conduct a search using one of numerous search engines at your disposal every time you wanted an update and visit each site religiously just to make sure you weren’t missing anything. In other words, you had to do all the work and a lot of time was wasted going to sites that didn’t even have anything new to offer.

With an RSS feed, instead of you doing all the work, the RSS feed does it for you. By subscribing to one or several (the number is unlimited) feeds about the latest news, your topic and/or groups or individuals of interest, every time that site(s) changes, the updated information is sent to your customized aggregator where it is saved until you decide what to do with the information. No more time wasted going to sites that haven’t changed and as Chris Harris states in his blog post “Staying Ahead of Bookmarks with RSS,” “The RSS feed won’t bug you unless there is new information, which helps you avoid overload.” Using your aggregator, you can quickly skim through the feeds to see whether any interest you, read the ones that do and save them in your favourite bookmarking site, email them to yourself or others, print them or save them to file and delete the ones you don’t want.

I think that the best part about RSS feeds is that they are guilt-free. Unlike email where you must open up and read everything, using an aggregator, you’re in total control – read what you want, when you want and delete the rest.

At one time, RSS feeds would have been used mainly by the creators of web sites and blogs but one of the interesting features of RSS feeds is that they are able to convert any digital medium into a text-based feed. Not only can blogs be syndicated but now a wide variety of digital sources can also be fed to your aggregator which can be read on your computer, your phone, your personal digital assistant (pda) like a palm pilot or blackberry or listened to on your MP3 players. I think it’s amazing that I can subscribe to a podcast feed and my iTunes program downloads it directly to my iPod.

In a presentation prepared for the 2006 K12 Online Conference, Quentin D’Souza shows both the various types of online sources that can be syndicated using an RSS feed and how RSS feeds have evolved into being an essential part on all online digital sources and not just blogs as they once were:

rss-feed-possibilities

Getting Started

Using RSS feeds is as simple as its name suggests. It’s simply a matter of signing up for a feed reader or aggregator account such as Bloglines or Google Reader and then copying and pasting your favourite sites into the aggregator. Sometimes it’s even as simple as clicking on the RSS icon and then choosing which reader you want the feed sent to. Then you just need to sit back, relax and wait for the feeds to come to you. Your feed reader can be placed right onto your home page such as iGoogle, Yahoo! or Pageflakes, on your blog or wiki, or onto your desktop so it can be accessed easily. You gotta love it!

I chose to sign up for a Bloglines account because that was the type of aggregator I could attach to my WordPress blog. You can see it on the right of this blog. The first thing I did was to add the blogs of my fellow students in this course by copying and pasting their site addresses into the section in bloglines that said “Add.” I also added a direct feed to the Blue Skunk Blog just to see if it was possible. No problem. My next order of business was to find other blogs, wikis or podcasts to subscribe to in my chosen field. I asked some of my teacher-librarian collegues if they had any favorites and from the sites they suggested, I was able to generate a list of other sites by clicking on the “related subscribers” icon in Bloglines. I have since discovered that I could have also found sites of related interest by conducting searches in Technorati or Syndic8. I have also discovered that I can send my favourite feeds to others by using the edit feature on Bloglines which allows you to export and import feeds.

As I found other sites of interest throughout the course, I added these to my Bloglines account. One thing I noticed about subscribing to various sites is that there are options to which parts of the sites I want to subscribe to. Although this works well with news feed, in particular, I found it a pain to have to subscribe to both the posts and the feeds separately. When I first started using Bloglines, I thought that my aggregator wasn’t working because I wasn’t getting the comments updated. Hmm…now I know better. I also discovered that there isn’t just one symbol to indicate whether a site can be syndicated or not. I found this to be confusing at first and I’m sure newcomers to RSS would find this as well. Although, the symbol that I attached at the beginning of this post now appears to be gaining in popularity, there are many others to indicate syndication. See why this is so confusing:

rss-logos-several1

Using Bloglines as an aggregator was extremely easy but after the discussion in our class about how to stay organized in a digital world, I decided to give Google Reader a try. This would allow me to consolidate many of the online tools I use on a regular basis to just one site – my iGoogle page. Since I already have a gmail account, signing up to use Google Reader took no time at all. It struck me that if I wanted my students and staff to use Google Reader, they would first have to have a gmail account. This would be a problem in our school since gmail is currently blocked. An alternative would be to use Bloglines where students could use their division-based accounts to sign up for an account.

I didn’t find that there was much of a difference between using Google Reader and Bloglines in terms adding and deleting sites, marking them all read and going to the original site or not but I prefer Google Reader because I can see and choose from a list of previous postings in each of the sites which I couldn’t do in Bloglines. This helps me find information in previous posts easier because I don’t have to go to the actual site.

Using RSS Feeds in Schools

I think that RSS feeds are so great for educators that I’m making a personal vow right now to ensure that each one of our teachers and administrators knows what RSS feeds are and how to use them.I will also be approaching our divisional teacher-librarian coordinator to ask her for time during one of our meetings so that I can teach my fellow teacher-librarians all about RSS feeds. Although I’m not as extreme about RSS as one of Andy Carvin’s colleagues who once told him, “If you don’t have an RSS feed, you’re already dead to me,” I cannot imagine a better tool for keeping teachers and administrators up-to-date on the latest educational news than using RSS feeds. What a wonderful professional development tool!

I think that one of the best ways to introduce teachers and students to the beauty of feeds is to teach them first how to subscribe to feeds in the social bookmarking tool, del.icio.us. Since I’ve already taught the teachers on my staff about del.icio.us and how to use it on a basic level, this would be the next logical step. From there, I would show teachers how to set up an aggregator and how to find sites to follow whether they are web pages, blogs, wikis or podcasts just to get them used to reading RSS feeds.

Once teachers are comfortable following their own feeds, I would introduce the idea of having the class follow feeds on a daily basis to keep up with current events, either local, national or international, or the latest information in any topic. This would be so easy to do with digital projectors and/or SmartBoards that are found in many classrooms today. Once the class is used to following feeds, I would teach them how to set up their own feed readers and begin following some sites on their own.

Teachers could use feeds from their classroom blogs or wikis to update students and parents of upcoming assignments, tests and class events. If students had individual blogs or wikis, teachers could subscribe to their feeds and read all the updates in one place rather than having to go to each individual site. Students could also subscribe to each other’s blogs and wikis and comment on the changes as they occur.

Although it might take awhile to teach all teachers and students how to use RSS feeds, I have immediate plans to teach our gifted bio-tech students how to use RSS feeds so they can have access to the latest information in their field. Since much of the latest scientific information comes out in digital format whether it is on the open or deep web, it only makes sense to teach these students how to use RSS feeds. In “Accessing and managing scientific literature: Using RSS in the classroom,” Pence and Pence discuss the importance of teaching their science students how to use this valuable Web 2.0 tool and how to use RSS feeds to integrate them with class curricular content (p. 1).

I think the easiest way to set up RSS feeds to keep up with the latest research is to use Google Alerts. You can set up any number of “alerts” of the latest information on your topic that appear either on the web, in blogs, in the news, videos, groups or all of the above. The alerts can either be sent to your email or directly to your Google Reader (my preference since I hate my inbox to be cluttered or you could create a gmail account just for Alerts). If you use Bloglines, the feeds can be directed there, as well. If you want information sent to you from a particular news source(s), you can subscribe to feeds directly from Google News by clicking on the RSS button in the lower left hand side of the screen after a search has been completed. Students and teachers interested in current events or the latest news in their field or interests might also like to check out Moreover.com It’s another great source of news that allows you to set up feeds that I think teachers and students will love.

I also hope that by learning how to use RSS feeds, teachers and students might be inclined to use the “alert” feeds on our online database, Ebscohost which “has always been on the cusp of RSS technology” (Cohen, p. 3). Like many other teacher-librarians, I have found Ebscohost to be a tough sell. If, like Cohen suggests, teachers and students catch on to the “hip technology” of RSS, maybe online databases would be used more in schools. If nothing else, I’d like to teach my staff how to set up email “alerts” of their favourite professional and personal periodicals. Every month, your favorites periodicals can be sent to your inbox for free – how can anyone beat that??

In the library, I could set up feeds to search for news of our favourite authors and book reviews. To find the latest books for my library’s collection, I could subscribe to feeds from online book sources such as Amazon.com. I could even subscribe to LibraryThing to find out what others are reading. If students are looking for specific information, I could create feeds for the library and provide reference service in a slightly different way. Using RSS feeds to supplement reference services in the library is outlined in an article by Steven Cohen, “The power of RSS: Instant information updating based on quality searches.” In this article, he reinforces the idea of how easy it is to keep up with the latest information using RSS feeds in order to provide quality service to your library’s patrons. To see how the Ottawa Public Library is using feeds, go to: http://www.biblioottawalibrary.ca/events/rss/rssmain_e.cfm

I have found that one of the most interesting ways feeds can be used is to find out what others are saying about you on the web. I’ve had two instances in this course of individuals whom I have quoted in my blog who have left me comments. I’m sure the only way they found themselves on my blog is if they have a Google Alert feed set up that tells them when their name is mentioned. If you want to know whether others are quoting the information on your blog, you can set up a watchlist at Technorati for your blog address.

Final Verdict

I was truly amazed at how easy it was for me to keep up with the latest news, Web 2.0 tools, conferences and library events using Bloglines and Google Reader. Although I’m not following 200 blogs like Stephen Abram, I am subscribing to enough blogs and listening to enough podcasts that I believe will help keep me connected to the latest educational information the world has to offer. I simply got into the habit of reading my feeds everyday after checking my email and Facebook pages. I was usually finished within ten to fifteen minutes and didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I didn’t feel pressured to read them everyday and although I’ve skimmed a great many, now I feel really connected to the people and ideas floating around the edublogosphere.

I will definitely keep reading my RSS feeds in the future and I hope I will be able to convert a few teachers and students along the way. In Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms, Will Richardson reminds us how important it is for educators to model the use of RSS in their classrooms in order to give students the skills they need to cope in the 21st century (p. 77). As educators, Richardson believes that it is vital that we give students the tools to sort through the enormous amount of information they are currently exposed to and will be exposed to in the future. We also need to give them the skills to quickly assess for themselves which information is relevant to them if they are to avoid the pitfalls of information overload.

Onward, then, to find and teach the “holy grail” of the information age: RSS feeds.

References

Abram, S. (Dec. 4, 2006). Bloglines. Stephen’s Lighthouse. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2008, from http://stephenslighthouse.sirsidynix.com/archives/2006/12/bloglines.html

Carvin, A. (Sept. 18, 2006). RSS Feeds: Making Your Favorite Websites Come to You. PBS Teachers Learning Now. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from

http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2006/09/rss_feeds_making_your_favorite.html

Cohen, S. (Jan./Feb., 2008). The power of RSS: Instant information updating based on quality searches. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(1), 1-4.

D’Souza, Q. (Oct. 26, 2006). RSS for Educators (Advanced). In Lani Ritter Hall, K12 Online Conference. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=47

Goldsborough, R. (Feb. 2007). Keeping up with really simple syndication (rss). Teacher Librarian, 34(3), 103.

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