Getting Started with RSS


What is RSS?


RSS is a special type of computer code that allows users to know automatically 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 or aggregator. 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 (or aggregator), which is the container that manages all of your subscriptions (or feeds). There are a number of different readers available. For this course, we will use Google Reader, a free, simple, browser-based reader. 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.

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 or media items (such as podcasts, images or videos) with students, colleagues and parents. For a list of fantastic 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.

Note: Additional RSS explanations that may be helpful:

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

Google Reader will be our RSS aggregator.

Different sites present their feeds using different icons and links (though there is a current push for standardization). Most commonly, you will see an orange icon, or a link that says Subscribe or Syndicate, RSS, XML or ATOM.

To subscribe to a feed, you simply click the icon or link for the feed and you will then see either a button to click to add the feed to your Google Reader, or a page of "scary code" from which you copy the URL and paste it into the Subscription field of your Google Reader.

To set up your Google Reader, simply visit and log in with your Google Account. (The first time you log in, you will see a welcome screen containing a brief introductory video).

Feeds that you may want to subscribe to:
  • Infinite Thinking Machine -
    A group blog "designed to help teachers and students thrive in the 21st century." Rotating posts by eight authors. Updated about twice a month.
  • Instructify -
    From LEARN NC. "Instructify is where teachers can stock their toolboxes with practical, time-saving classroom ideas and cutting edge methods of instruction. It’s where to find useful, free technology to utilize in the classroom. And it’s a fun place to spend your planning period."
  • Blogboard -
    A round-up of "what's new and noteworthy in educator blogs," from Education Week's Teacher Magazine.
  • Students 2oh -
    A blog co-authored by several high school students who are interested in the future of education. Though infrequently updated, the posts and comments are impressive.
  • Successful Teaching -
    27-year veteran classroom teacher Pat Hensley (a.k.a loonyhiker) offers
    "strategies and tips for successful teaching." Her blog embodies the Web 2.0 spirit of sharing.
Note: 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.

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 item to go to the actual site and read any comments. Be sure to star any items you want to save for later reference.

¤ 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.

1) Find 2-3 Edublogs of interest to you and add them to your reader

You will have to invest a little time, over time, to find the first couple of bloggers whose voices really resonate for you, but once you find a couple of folks you really like, adding others becomes easy. In the "blogosphere," you will find that the voices you value are often connected to one another.

  • Livemocha: Top 100 Technorati-Ranked Edublogs -
    This is a list of many "recognizable" names in the Edublogosphere. While it doesn't give a description of each blog, it's a great starting point for exploration. Edublogs Magazine profiles several of them in this 2008 article.
  • 2008 Edublog Award Winners and Nominees -
    A fantastic resource for finding valuable education blogs. Check out the winners and nominees, especially in the first seven categories -- click a category under "2008 Nominees," then scroll to the bottom of each page to see the list. You can also explore the winners and nominees for last year by clicking the "2007" tab at the top of the blog.
  • Support Blogging! Links to School Bloggers -
    An un-vetted but rich list of possibilities. Many recognizable names, some hopefully serendipitous finds.
  • OEDb: Top 100 Edublogs -
  • Alltop Education News -
    An RSS-driven collection of the most recent posts from several dozen education-focused blogs and news sources. Click the title of any article to go to the originating blog or news source.

2) Use a Blog Search Engine to Find Feeds
There are a number of different "blog search" tools on the Web. Our omnipresent friend Google offers two such tools. Use these tools as you would a "regular" search engine to search for blogs or news feeds. Do not spend an inordinate amount of time on these. I just want to you experiment a bit.

  • Google Blog Search -
    Type your terms into the search field and click Search Blogs. Use multiple keywords and phrases (in quotes) just as in a regular Google web search. Adding clarifying terms such as "education" or "elementary" to your main topic may be helpful.
  • Google Reader "Browse for Feeds" -

Check your Google Reader at least every other day (preferably daily) for 5-7 days.