Tuesday, August 07, 2007

RSS for the Fall

I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning toying around with ideas for how I want to integrate RSS into my classes this Fall. All three of the classes I'm teaching are hybrids -- a new idea that CSR is working with that has one credit of a four-credit course as a digital credit. In some ways I'll just be doing what I've been doing -- having students blog, work with wikis, etc. -- only I'll be able to have that extra credit hour a week to work in these digital arenas as opposed to doing it on top of all the traditional f2f reading and writing that goes on in the classroom. I'm also hoping that students won't be quite as shocked by and resistant to the online work now that it is "officially" a part of the class (though I've always included it in my course descriptions, students have always expressed surprise over the required blogging).

Over the past couple of semesters, I've experimented with different approaches to teaching students RSS. First semester we used flock. Second semester I had them use google reader. My concern is that students aren't checking their readers regularly. This is most important in terms of the class blog, because that is the space with the greatest number of updates and the material pertains to class, assignments, etc. For reading the blogs of their peers, it's okay to sit down when they're ready to comment, login to google reader, and start flipping through posts (although my problem with this is that it isn't the best way to really learn RSS and see the ways in which it can help manage all the web-based content out there).

So recently I've decided to take a bit more seriously the claim about email being for old people. Last week I was teaching a group of students between ninth and tenth grade as part of a program called Summerbridge (Philadelphia). We had a sesssion where we met with some admissions counselors, one of whom started talking to the kids about how they tend to communicate. I was actually surprised that all nineteen of the students present have a myspace/facebook account (they seemed so very young to me). Anyhow, the conversation led me to think about ways to integrate RSS with myspace/facebook as part of my upcoming hybrid classes -- with the thought that since these are the spaces that students visit each day, then these are the spaces in which to incorporate any class announcements or updates. The question left ahead of me: How?

For myspace I chose the SpringWidgets RSS reader (widget). And for facebook I finally found the application, myRSS, for feed subscriptions. I think these will work well for staying abrest of the class blog updates (for those who have myspace/facebook accounts). The questions I'm left with: Are these widgets/applications the best way to utilize RSS? Probably not. Are they appropriate for keeping the subscriptions to all of their classmates' blogs? Probably not. What about students who don't have a myspace or facebook?

Ultimately, I think I will have them use google reader as a supplement to these additions on their social networking site of choice. I don't want any of this to seem too cumbersome, because I really want students to see the ways in which RSS can help make their learning, researching, etc. processes more effective and efficient (and more interesting and diverse to some extent). For now I'll continue to play around with various ideas, and on the first day of class, I'll really need to get a sense of how many students have these accounts (and utilize them regularly) that will certainly affect and direct my thinking and practice in terms of RSS (and other digital practices) for this Fall semester.

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