Once our course content opened up on eClass and I began visiting the resource recommendations, with a trailfire for each topic, and also a links section with resources for educators entering a Web 2.0 world, my panic began to ease. Then I jumped into the our assigned text Blogs, wikis, podcasts: and other powerful web tools for classrooms, where I not only learned from Richardson (2008) that “blogs are hot” but also discovered that blogging can have a great deal of positive influence on students and adults because blogs can:
- Promote critical and analytical thinking;
- Be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associated thinking;
- Promote analogical thinking;
- Be a medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information; and
- Combine the best of solitary reflection and social interaction (p.20).
I believe there is the potential to use blogs in our program in lieu of a newsletter and as a way to bring current information to our students. staff and employers. I think newsletters have met their match. Blogs can capture and bring back your target audience when done well and when kept up to date in a routine manner. The ability to combine reflection and social interaction could be sole enough reason to consider having our student’s blog while they are in their work term placements. We could set it up so that it is private and confidential and students would interact with each other and the university while they are away, making them feel like they are less on their own when they leave campus to do a work term.
While I was gaining a context for understanding how blogs are important in education through the text and assigned readings, I decided that since I needed to soon create a blog of my own it was also time to start seeing what others do with their blogs.
I set out to find and consider a variety of blogs so that I could get a feel for what blogs are all about. I chose to seek out blogs on topics that interest me for both personal and professional reasons. I purposefully also kept my eye out for blog designs and structure’s that appealed to me visually and spatially, so that I could determine how I might proceed. I also tried to ponder what it was about a blog that made me subscribe so that I could return. I was trying to figure out what bloggers are doing when they have a successful blog.
At the beginning it is so amazing to discover blogs and blogging and it was a relief that I already had a bit of experience with the ability to subscribe to online RSS feeds for without that it would be easy to loose track or keep on top of many favourite and useful blogs. RSS stands for real simple syndication. If you have never used RSS feeds I highly recommend you acquaint yourself now because this one simple tool is your way to organize blogs, podcasts and other sites that you deem important from your explorations in cyberspace! If you are new to RSS, you may want to read a quick tutorial. The tutorial explain RSS aggregators too which you will find in the wiki on RSS aggregators are a must have web tool:
“Aggregators reduce the time and effort needed to regularly check websites for updates, creating a unique information space or “personal newspaper.” Once subscribed to a feed, an aggregator is able to check for new content at user-determined intervals and retrieve the update. The content is sometimes described as being “pulled” to the subscriber, as opposed to “pushed” with email or IM. Unlike recipients of some “pushed” information, the aggregator user can easily unsubscribe from a feed.”
If you find that you are repeatedly returning to a blog to see if there is a new post an RSS aggregator is just what you need! I personally use Google Reader and if you want to review this aggregator you will likely find Molly McDonald’s RSS tutorials to be very clear and straightforward. She demonstrates how to add, manage, find and subscribe to feeds through a ten part series of tutorials.
For a short explanation of RSS and how it helps you save time reading the web. This video is also available in an unbranded “presentation quality” version that can be licensed for use in the workplace.
Exporting subscriptions from other services
Most feed readers allow you to export your subscriptions as an OPML file and once you save the file you can import your subscriptions from your various readers, into Google Reader. Instead of saving my links into Google Reader I will often use my Microsoft Explorer RSS feed button because it is on my toolbar and with just one click I can subscribe to the feed and I remain on the site that I am visiting. The RSS button on the toolbar turns from grey to orange so that I know if the site has feeds and when there is more than one feed on a site the RSS button provides a drop down list of all feeds. With just one click my feed is saved and I can access it in the future from the feeds tab which you can find be clicking on the favourites tab in Explorer.
This has been the simplest method I have found to subscribe to feeds and to know if a site has feeds (I don’t need to go hunting for the RSS link in the webpage) and with just one click I am subscribed to the feeds of my choosing without a need to go to copy and paste URLs into Google Reader. I have found this is the simplest way for me to store my online finds. Using the two mechanisms works for me and I am able to export my feeds from explorer into Google Reader on a regular basis. I started with using RSS in Explorer early this year and until this course I had not been exposed to feed readers. That is why I find it comfortable to keep using the ease of the Explorer feeds.
There are a couple of reasons I decided to get an aggregator and not continue only using Explorer. One reason is that Explorer stores feeds only to the computer you are using and so if I store feeds in my home office that is the only place that I can access them. If I store them in my work office then I can’t gain access at home. As well, I had to keep going back to sites to see if they had a new blog post and that is a primary selling feature of aggregators.
One other aggregator that was mentioned in many of the articles I researched on the topic of RSS aggregators is Bloglines. You might want to subscribe to more than one aggregator to see which one best suits you and with the ability to export feeds you can put all feeds in one location, once you find your dream aggregator.
Bloglines tagline is “Your Paperboy Just Got Smarter: It’s the same Internet minus the clutter” and the homepage breaks the process down into three simple steps that you can take to enjoy the web again:
- Take everything you love on the web. Choose the kind of content you like to read. News, blogs, weather. It’s up to you.
- They deliver those faves to your homepage. Imagine browsing all your favourite websites in one simple page.
- Enjoy the web again. Grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up and enjoy your internet.
My classmate Tara had her blog on this topic done a couple of days early – she is super organized to be this far ahead of schedule. Tara also uses Google Reader and she had more than 1000 unread feeds to deal with so she came up with some great techniques to help her sort her feeds in a way that has meaning to her and I want to share a condensed version of her tips with you here.
- Tara’s Plan for RSS success:
Cull the amount of feeds you receive. I decided to cull the feeds I was receiving to only those that I would read. I know that 15 feeds was not a lot, but in my case I needed less information until I became used to using the aggregator.
- Set aside a daily time to read the feeds. I have decided that I need to make reading the RSS feeds a part of my daily routine, just like checking e-mail is. In fact, I have decided that when I check my e-mail in the morning, I will also check Google Reader.
- Don’t feel obligated to read everything. Initially, I felt a need to read everything that came across the screen via RSS… decided to opt for the skim and scan technique and only read items of interest.
- Sort usable information. Google reader has several features such as starring items and marking them as read which help to sort information. Louis Gray suggests using the share or share with note option to leave comments on interesting items. If these items are public, you may even start an interesting conversation around an item.
- Be choosy when adding new feeds. The temptation is always there to add more and more feeds as you travel through the Internet. Some bloggers such as Om Malik have raised concerns with RSS feeds becoming spam like in the content that they are sending through as feeds.
Thanks for the great tips Tara! And thanks for being so on top of the game so that I could use your great material and consider it while I too joined you to lighten my RSS feeds overload.
Deciding to blog for professional development by frequenting blogs with the best practices
Okay now that I have shared about why I might consider using blogs in education and I provided some tips on keeping organized with the blogs you do find and look to as exemplar’s, I will talk about blogs that I follow for best practices in using Web 2.0 tools and for professional development in my field. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and finding and following blogs that highlight the potential in our field, is a useful professional development practice.
Sharing of best practices amongst colleagues and across like organizations is a form of flattery, I believe and I have found blogs that will help me and my colleagues improve our instruction. Another favourite discovery is worth following as a way to constantly consider and improve blogging methods. I also already have many personal favourite blogs, some will help me plan my next trip abroad and one that is actually created in Blogger, is just down right pretty.
I came across a site that delineates many ways blogs can be used by faculty and students in universities. There is also a must visit blog, The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is an amazing example of the potential for bringing blogging into practice, for any educator teaching or working beyond the K-12 classroom. Higher education bloggers provide us with models for using Web 2.0 tools in programs that are similar to ours.
As you can see I explore many blogs on various topics and several are listed in my blogroll links that are in my sidebar on this blog. You will find blogs on the topic of Cooperative Education (aka, co-op) and blogs related to career advice that I found interest me. There is also a list of my classmates blogs in the sidebar.
The majority of blogs that I follow are related to business and career advice and I also have several higher education blogs I follow. The knowledge that I gain from these insightful blogs will enable me to provide informative instruction and guidance to our students and will allow me to show staff some best practices being used in our field.
One blog that I found very early on was a blog that combined how-to blog advice with a business focus. Business Blog Wire has the tagline, “Business Blogging News and Advice for Business Bloggers” and I instantly found this blog visually appealing. It was created using the open-source blogging software at WordPress. Another blog that also uses the WordPress blogging software is Work in progress. This Time magazine blog shows off the full potential of what a blog can become; it is informative, entertaining, well-organized and jam packed full of information!
With several exemplars of what I thought pleased me the most aesthetically, I decided to dive into WordPress, as did one other classmate, Dan. The rest of our peers all chose Blogger as their blog host. It is owned by Google and came highly recommended by Richardson (2008, p. 48). With the backing of Google and all related Google tools it is an excellent choice to consider.
If you choose to blog with WordPress you will find great tutorials at WordPress TV and I recommend beginning with the how to video on the topic of writing and publishing a blog post.
In addition to the help and tutorials you can find in your blog platform there are an overwhelming amount of great resources online. If you are looking to find some blogs that might capture you as an audience member check out the blogs designated as Winners: Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs for 2009.
~:) Heather Kennedy-Plant – EDES 501, Web 2.0 for teachers, summer 2009 with Jennifer Branch
Richardson, W. (2008). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. (Second Edition.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Welcome New Bloggers! (teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com)
- What’s Really Killing RSS Feeds? Hint: It’s NOT Twitter (shegeeks.net)
- Google Decided Reader Will Be The Real Time Hub (regulargeek.com)