Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogs and Aggregators...a Match Made in Heaven

The Big Picture

Many historical events have stopped the world in its tracks. Events like the theory of relativity, the invention of the printing press, and the birth of Tim Hortons rank right at the top of the monumental events list. But ultimately, stories of love continue to strike our souls at the very core. Many of you may be thinking of New Moon but before those vampires hit the screen, the biggest love story of all time was...
Randy the Macho Man Savage and Elizabeth.

The Proposal

The Response

I still remember where I was for this wedding....Barbados, drinking sour sop punch and sweating like a mad man. What is the point? Blogging and feed aggregators are two tools that were meant to be together. Any teacher or librarian who chooses to bask in their radiance will be changed forever. Don't believe me?

My First Experiences with the Lovely Couple

Before September I hadn't met either partner. I didn't know what blogs were and I definitely didn't know what 'RSS' or feed aggregators were (hmmm...sounds like aligators). This posting could go on for days so I want to focus more on the relationship between the two tools rather than breaking each down individually. If any of you are unsure about what blogging is you are reading one right now and my colleague did a great posting about the basics of blogging (Click here) Check out the links under "Google Reader Wonderfulness" on my sidebar to tour blogs and to find blogs about blogs.

The learning process has been long so I will give you brief highlights in the screencasts below.

1. blog_and_RSS1

2. feeds

3. Blog_and_RSS2

4. Blog_and_RSS3

The Couple's Impact on Me and Society

1. Self Efficacy - I am a person who wears many hats. Many of the roles I play in my personal life require skills that I don't have. As a dad, this fact drives me crazy. My mom always talked about how her father and mother would show her everything she needed to know. She walked side by side with them as they demonstrated the skills that she needed. Fast forward a few decades, I come along, both my parents worked, and the information age kicked into overdrive. Now I have to figure things out on my own. My son, my professors, my wife, my in-laws all seem to turn to me for advice or throw things my way that I am ill prepared to deal with. Having a planet full of bloggers and simple data collection tools such as Google Reader and Bloglines mean that I can learn what I need to know at any time. Even silly stuff like not knowing how to cook yams for his supper. Click. Click. Subscribe., tips, tricks, coming out the wazoo. I used to workout so people ask me for weight management tips. Besides referring them to a pro I can say check this out.

2. Move at my own pace without offending - One pitfall of feed aggregators is that they don't stop. They constantly bring you more...more...more. In fact, an hour ago I had only about 200 unread items, now I am at over 700. You can and will feel overwhelmed. The advantage to these tools is you are one step removed from a conversation. If you decide to ignore the incoming information or if you decide to mark them all as read so they magically disappear, no one is offended. Unlike Twitter where you are interacting directly with a community, these tools make learning all about you. Read what you want, when you want and nobody else is the wiser. For other management tips or considerations, check out Crystal's blog under Personal Implications (Click Here)

3. Join in...everybody's doing it - Take some time to read or listen to people like Joyce Valenza, Mack Male, Will Richardson, and Wesley Fryer. The constantly hit home that the web is now a venue for participation and conversation. If someone blogs something that strikes my fancy or gets me going...I don't have to sit idle. I can do my research, generate my own blog posting, and link my readers directly to the person I am responding to. I am part of the game. I am not on the sidelines anymore. This makes the internet far more exciting, personal, and alive.

"I suspect that the world-reach thrill of blogging might be novel and might wear off. But it occurs to me that the true power of working within an audience, as opposed to performing in front of an audience (writing to the teacher, what you thing the teacher wants to read), is the power of conversation. It’s knowing that somebody (even the guy in the next row) is reading what you are writing (not measuring it), and that the reader may respond to what you’ve written, pushing you to rethink and respond back." (

4. Positive pressure to improve - My son and I are about to start our own blog before Christmas. Knowing that people are going to read our stuff, that they will be able to use Google Reader to track our writings, and that they may choose to stop following us is exciting/challenging. Blogging pushes us to become better bloggers for our reputations' sake and for the sake of our community (

5. Styles of learning - I don't have research to back up this point. As my thrill over Google Reader calmed down a little, and as I reflected on the story I told about my mom growing up, a thought struck me. What happens to a society where reading and communicating online becomes the ultimate form of learning/interacting? I was fortunate to grow up with parents and grandparents that forced me away from my Vic 20 to go out and build, fix, and experiment with new things. My parents forced me to put my book down and try new experiences. I spent 6 hours in front of my computer today just touring blogs, flipping through my feeds and learning through conversation. I had to yank myself away once I realized my son needed to eat. What's the point? As cool as these tools are, they shouldn't replace all other forms of learning. I will have to continue the tradition and say "Son, enough reading about BBQing or how to rebuild an engine. Let's go do it"

How can This Relationship Help My Profession?

Much like the Macho Man and Elizabeth, aggregators (like Google Reader and Bloglines) and blogs are powerful on their own but together they can be magical.

1. Resources - Have you ever been on a tight budget? Have you wandered around education fairs wishing you had the cash to buy everything? Concerned about the environment as you print off copies of articles or lesson plans for colleagues? Blogging is free. Accessing blogs is free. Highly skilled professionals are sharing infinite mounds of good stuff through these free tools (check this out). You can share these resources paper free (thanks for the idea Wesley and Will).

2 & 3. Enriching + Time Saving - Will Richardson (2009) drives home the power of blogging to engage students in rich learning experiences. He also suggested an idea I wouldn't have come up with on my own. Imagine a world where students' work was not only interesting but it automatically came to you instead of you having to travel around to find it:

"If you already use Weblogs with your students, the uses of RSS should be pretty apparent. Instead of checking out all twenty-five (or thirty, or more) student Weblogs every day, you could just collect their work in your aggregator using RSS feeds. That way, you can scan through all of the class content in one place, make sure it's all appropriate, and clich through to a particular post if you want to comment on it." (p. 77)

4. Be or have a guest speaker in a whole new way - I live in an isolated community. If you watch Ice Road Truckers or the new show Ice Pilots, it will give you an idea how hard it is for me to get people in to my class or for me to contribute to another person's class. Josh Hanagarne opened my eyes to a new possibility. He did guest postings on other peoples' blogs. Potentially I could have specialists in various fields actually do posts on my blogs which will automatically be passed on to my students and colleagues through their aggregator of choice :) Here are a few other lessons Josh learned:

By November 1 I had written over 50 posts. 42 of them had aired on other blogs. Here is what I learned:

•A lot of bloggers seem to have a fear of guest posting. Get over it or be happy with your current rate of growth.
•You will meet awesome people.
•Those people will act like you are doing them a favor by borrowing their traffic.
•You are doing them a favor, provided you give them something they can use. I love to have guests!
•This marathon approach is not for everyone. Do not try to write more than you are capable of. Test yourself but don’t flame out. I have a masochist work capacity and I still wound up with more than I could handle. I thought I would get the 80+ posts written before November 1. Life, sleep, the flu, a book proposal, and kettlebells all conspired against me.
•Don’t commit to anything that will prevent you from taking care of business at home(page). There’s nothing more pointless than writing a killer guest post and having all those new visitors land on a dancing Hello Kitty graphic that’s a year old.
•Don’t pretend you know things you don’t. If you can’t talk about stocks, either find another approach or turn it down. Don’t be a poser.
•Don’t be afraid to say no when people pitch ideas to you. You made the rules, right?(Click here for the full posting)

Oh and he also mentioned the slight benefit of a drastic increase in people subscribing to his blog. A nice little perk...

5. Protect yourself by Projecting yourself - It is sad to say but due to the position that leaders such as educators hold, we have to be vigilent in everything we do. Our codes of ethics and professional conduct combined with our natural instincts for self preservation have always kept us conscious of how we portray ourselves in public. Thanks to the new read/write web and the Google monster...public has a totally new meaning. Blogging, publicly sharing your links/feeds, linking yourself to other reputable people and other online practices can help you generate a digital footprint to be proud of. Wesley Fryer is a major proponent of actively generating your footprint. (Click here to explore further)

There are so many more tips, tricks, applications, and implications surrounding blogging, RSS feeds and aggregators. I can't possibly cover it all (check out my followers as many of them will be adding to this conversation as well). Ideas are more.

6. Social Bookmarking - This just hit can a teacher remember why they subscribed to a feed or a specific post? What if you used your aggregator to bring in the information and as you read you used your Diigo account to highlight key points, add notes, and generate conversations? Not only will you have a permanent record of why the blog posting was important to you, you can actually network with others in a different way. (If you are new to social bookmarking check out my archived posting or Joseph's)
Give blogging and Google Reader or Bloglines a try. The relationship they share will likely enhance your life, the lives of your colleagues, and the lives of your students. Possibly even more than the Macho Man's wedding did :)

Nonlinked References:

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.