Just because of size and influence, Google has the ability to change the direction of a technology trend in a single instant. Such was the case in July 2013, when Google discontinued its aptly named best-of-class (RSS) reader. Since then, content consumption by way of RSS reader has not been the same. Which begs the question - in 2016, has the RSS ship sailed?
As an educational technology tool, the short answer is - not yet. RSS, like other forms of content curation, is a way to bring (and share) engaging, real-world content into the classroom. Dealing with the problem of "information overload", RSS provides a user with a comprehensive stream of content that may be accessed on the user's terms. Information overload is a reality and using RSS in a classroom still makes sense. To that end, teaching students how to access and manage digital information is a critical 21st century skill. At an appropriate level, enabling students to curate their own content in an RSS reader is a valuable 21st century skill. Most importantly, an RSS reader can serve as a one-stop-shop for students and teachers to aggregate and archive ALL content from multiple streams (blogs, Twitter, YouTube channels, and podcasts).
Identify Relevant AND Rigorous Content to Share with Students
Having previously taught Language Arts, Humanities and Technology courses at the high school level, I learned the value of bringing current events into the classroom. Specifically, current events that are relevant to the students' lives. In July 2016, conversations around Pokemon Go would instantly engage students. Using an RSS reader like Feedly, I monitor a variety of RSS feeds, ranging from the New York Times to Lifehacker to Sports Illustrated. Perusing content this weekend, I discovered a variety of articles that unearthed social issues around the viral game. "Where Pokemon Should Not Go" is an example of content discovered from an RSS feed that can lead to stimulating, standards-based discussion in the computer science courses I previously taught. NPR published a letter from a listener that addresses screen time addiction - which may result in instant engagement with students.
Identifying rigorous and relevant content from RSS feeds doesn't just benefit my students. The act of identifying and vetting new subject area content to bring to the classroom is one tenant of professional development. As an educator in the State of California public school system, my craft is guided by 13 Teacher Performance Expectations (TPE'S) that are adopted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The 13th TPE is focused on "Professional Growth"; on a daily basis, monitoring an RSS feed can be a form of professional growth - particularily, when education-centric RSS feeds like Two Geek Teachers are monitored in my reader. With so many resources available, using an RSS reader to accumulate content is one artifact for CATPE #13.
Monitoring my RSS feed for relevant and appropriate content is the first step to engaging students. CATPE #4 and #5 focus on engaging students and making content accessible for them. To that end, it is important to identify content that is relevant to students' experience AND provide a means for them to "respond to and frame meaningful questions" about the content. For accessibility, I encourage my students to read all content using a Chromebook with the Readability and Read&Write extensions installed. This allows for focused, deep reading and real-time note-taking capabilities. Additionally, I encourage students to "save" interesting content to a tool where they can read it at any time, on any platform. Enter Pocket. Directly from within the Feedly interface, students can save special content to read later. The mere act of discerning important content to be read and understood later is a Depth of Knowledge Level 3 skill. Using Feedly and/or Pocket, students and I can easily share relevant content to Twitter, using a #hastag for quick searchability. Sharing from an RSS feed is CRITICAL - it is only when the content is in a social platform that conversations with the students may occur.
Enable Students To Critique and Analyze Individualized Content
As social media companies continue to hone machine learning to curate content that is "immediately visible" in content streams, the art of curation seems to be less relevant. The last time I was on Facebook, the News Feed computer algorithm was trying to give me the most relevant content. Content-generating algorithms fly directly in the face of creativity, an appreciable human trait. For example, popular music streaming services really on human curation to build interesting and engaging playlist (it is worth noting this article was discovered in my RSS feed). To have a student monitor and collect his or her own content AND share it to the aforementioned Twitter #hashtag is a truly creative activity that may be viewed by an authentic audience is unbelievably engaging. However, because depth and speed of the Twitter stream, this may not be the most appropriate way for students to proudly display their curated content. Re-enter Pocket and its friend, Sharedli.st. Using this dynamic trio (with Feedly), students can select interesting articles (Feedly), read them at the most appropriate time (Pocket), and publish them to a public reading list (Sharedle.st). The icing on the cake is ... wait for it ... the stream coming out of Sharedli.st is an RSS feed itself, which I pull in to my own RSS reader. This allow for me to evaluate a student's curation. In the end, encouraging a student to critique and analyze content from his or her RSS feeds addresses all four areas of Webb's Depth of Knowledge model.
Aggregate and Archive Content for Future Reflection and SYNTHESIS
A third way in which RSS is utilized in my classroom (and why the RSS ship has not yet sailed), is to create a COMPREHENSIVE archive of content from reliable sources. While dipping in and out of Twitter is a great way to access content and insightful conversation, SO MUCH content is missed. Utilizing an RSS reader like Feedly, in conjunction with Pocket, IFTTT and Evernote, I save every single that I read. The idea is that I may read an article that is not appropriate for tomorrow's lesson, but may be very applicable to a lesson next month. Using Evernote's search functionality, I am able to locate applicable content AND annotate on how/why the content was used in my class. In that way, my RSS feed indirectly benefits student learning.
Because RSS feeds are excellent ways to collect and share relevant content - for both teachers and students - the RSS ship has not sailed!
Be sure to check out my reflection of this comprehensive blog post.