Thing 5 (Week 3): Getting Started with RSS


What is RSS?


RSS is a special type of computer code that allows users to know automagically when new "stuff" is added to their favorite websites. An RSS feed, which looks like a scary piece of computer code is an incredibly powerful, amazingly useful piece of Web 2.0 technology that is not actually scary at all (honest!). RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication, allows web users to subscribe to multiple websites and have new content delivered to them automatically in one location, called an RSS reader. Instead of visiting each website to check for new information, the user simply checks his or her reader, which has collected and organized all of the new content using RSS. In short, when you set up an RSS reader and subscribe to the content (feeds) you choose, it's just like creating a customized newspaper or magazine containing only the stories, media and information you want to read, delivered "fresh" to you every day - spam-free, ad-free, and just-plain free!

Why is it called a feed?

Essentially, you (via your RSS reader) are being fed new content (news, blog posts, journal articles, book and movie reviews, images, podcasts, etc). You don't have to go out and get it. It just comes to you.

What do I need to take advantage of this wonderful RSS stuff?

There are two basic parts to using RSS - first is the feed, which will be available as a link or icon on the website or blog you want to subscribe to, and second is the reader, which is the container that manages all of your subscriptions (or feeds). There are many different readers available on the web, and for mobile devices such as Smartphones and iPads. For this course, we will use Google Reader, a free, simple, browser-based reader that comes with your Google/Gmail account.

Basically, it's like this : You visit a website you like, click the RSS feed/subscription link and add or paste the URL into your reader. Then, you visit your reader anytime you want to see what's new at all of the sites you have subscribed to. Voila!

How can RSS help educators?

Educators can use RSS feeds to keep up-to-date with news items, favorite blogs, journal articles, book reviews or updated items from any area of interest, keep current in educational trends, track student blog posts or changes to a class wiki site, and share news, resources or media items (such as podcasts, bookmarks, images or videos) with students, colleagues and parents. For a list of ideas for using RSS in your classroom, check out Ten Tips for Using Web Feeds in the Classroom from Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson.

RSS in Plain English (3:45)

Watch the following short video in which our friends at CommonCraft explain the essence of RSS.

If you have trouble viewing the video above, try:

A couple more RSS explanations that may be helpful (not required):

Discovery Exercise: Set Up your Google Reader and Subscribe to Some Feeds

Just some of the possible RSS subscription icons
Just some of the possible RSS subscription icons
For this course, you will use Google Reader as your RSS reader.

To get started, everyone will subscribe to the same 5 feeds. (In Thing 6 you will learn how to begin finding and subscribing your own preferred feeds).

Different sites present their feeds using different icons and links. Most commonly, you will see an orange icon, or a link that says Subscribe, RSS, XML or ATOM. With a little practice, you can learn to locate and use the various subscription icons and links with relative ease. Additionally, Google Reader is pretty smart and can find the feed to most blogs via the regular web address.

DISCLAIMER: Google is slowly (or not so slowly) integrating Reader features into Google+ -- so it may end up absorbed altogether. Your efforts will be worthwhile regardless, as RSS is a "killer" technology regardless of the container you use to collect feeds.

To subscribe to a feed, simply click the RSS/Subscribe icon or link and you will then typically see a button to click to add the feed to your Reader. My favorite way to subscribe to feeds is to copy and paste the feed URL (feed web address) into my Reader. That way, it's always the same process.

To set up your Google Reader, just log into your Gmail account and click More > Reader on menu bar at the top of the Gmail window. (The first time you log in to Reader, it will be "empty" because you aren't subscribed to anything yet).

Then, in another browser tab or window, visit the following sites and subscribe to each feed. For each of these sites, all you have to do is copy and paste the main site address (e.g. into your Reader's "Subscribe" field, click "Add" and it will "find the feed."

Confused? Watch this:
‡ HELP Video: Add the five feeds to your reader.

(In the Task below, you will find instructions for "what to do" with the feeds after you have successfully subscribed).

Five Required Feeds (please subscribe to all 5 -- you will be free to cull later)

  • Free Technology For Teachers -
    "A review of free technology resources and how teachers can use them. Ideas for technology integration in education." Riches abound on this site.
  • Langwitches Blog -
    Phenomenal educator Sylvia Tolisano's blog "contains thoughts, ideas and projects on [her] journey as a Technology Integration Facilitator and 21st Century Learning Specialist." This is one of my "go to" resources for learning about what 21st century learning "looks like" in classrooms and schools. I have been especially interested in following her series of posts this year about implementing the "Digital Learning Farm."
  • Connected Principals -
    Collected thoughts of 30+ school administrators that want to share best practices in education. You don't need to be a school leader to appreciate the voices in this blog, and if you do appreciate the voices in this blog, I encourage you to share it with your principal :) NOTE: The RSS link for Connected Principals is at the VERY BOTTOM of the very long page. It says "Blog entries."
  • Successful Teaching -
    28-year veteran teacher Pat Hensley (a.k.a loonyhiker) offers "strategies and tips for successful teaching." Her blog embodies the Web 2.0 spirit of sharing.
  • Edudemic -
    "Our mission is to make people smart... [by] giving everyone access to the leading edge of thinking [about learning] in the most accessible, consumable, compelling way possible." An ever-fresh collection of emergent ideas and resources about learning + tech + social media.

Two Stretch Feeds - Go Beyond Blogs...

(Optional, but really good to know). Your Google Reader can read any kind of RSS-syndicated content, such as news stories, images, video clips, bookmarks and podcasts. Try adding a news feed and a podcast feed to your reader. It works the same as adding a blog feed.

‡ HELP Page: Step-by-step instructions for subscribing to the two stretch feeds.

Google Reader Official Help: Getting Started with Google Reader


PART 1: Get comfortable using your Google Reader. Read through the "new items" from the above subscription feeds in your Google Reader. This brief video shows you how. You are not expected to read every item thoroughly, but rather to scan and skim all items and read those that seem relevant, thought-provoking or interesting. You will need to click the blue title of an expanded item to go to the actual site and read any comments. Be sure to star any items you want to save for later reference.

‡ HELP Video: Using Google Reader to Read Your Feeds

¤ IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT YOUR GOOGLE READER: The content in your reader can be overwhelming because it will continue to "pile up" endlessly. BUT -- it's not actually there -- it hurts NOTHING for you to skim and skip items and mark them as "read" just by scrolling past them. You aren't actually deleting anything. In fact, learning to quickly scan and process a lot of news items is an essential part of RSS literacy and information management -- the important ideas will always come back around, and you will also learn to pare down your subscriptions as you go. If you feel compelled to thoroughly read every item, you will remain completely overwhelmed and quickly "quit" your reader. Keep trying -- it gets easier!

PART 2: Write a brief blog post telling about an item of interest from your reader. Provide a direct link (permalink) to the item within your blog post.
NOTE: You will need to visit the actual blog or website to get the direct link -- your Google Reader is just "pulling in" the content -- like a radio "pulling in" a signal. The "real show" is being "broadcast" from a remote location (the blog or site). Click the title of the article in your reader to visit the actual site, and be sure you copy the link to the specific post, not the main address of the blog (see Permalink video below). Be sure to include "Thing 5" in your post title.

‡ HELP Videos:
  • How to locate a blog post Permalink (Crucial for linking to a SPECIFIC blog post!)
    The Permalink is the direct link to a specific blog post. It will include the date and title of the post, or a post number. You must use the Permalink when linking to a blog post -- you can't just link to the main address of a blog.
  • How to insert links in your post (from Edublogs)
    Please WATCH THIS to make sure you are good to go. It's not difficult, but you cannot just copy and paste a link and expect it to be "clickable" like you do in email or Word.
  • Adding permalinks from other blogs (a more thorough explanation of the Permalink concept)

Google Reader Official Help: Getting Started with Google Reader