Thing 5: What is RSS?

by Daniel F. Pigatto

RSS is a special type of computer code that allows users to know automatically when anything new is added to their favorite websites. An RSS feed is an incredibly powerful, amazingly useful piece of Web 2.0 technology. 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. This location is 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. You don't have to go out and get it. It just comes to you.

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

Google Reader in Plain English (1:05)

And this one which explains Google Reader:

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

For this course, you will use Google Reader as your RSS aggregator.

To get started, everyone will subscribe to the same 3 feeds. (In Thing 6 you will learn how to begin finding and subscribing to your own preferred feeds. Anxious to get started adding your own feeds? Check out this blog post for suggestions.

A few of the possible RSS icons.
If a feed is available from a website, you will see some kind of "Subscribe" button. 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. With a little practice, you can learn to easily locate and use the various subscription icons and links.

To subscribe to a feed, you simply click the URL of the website and copy it. Then open a new tab and log in to Google Reader. Click Add a subscription and paste the URL you had copied.

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).

Then, in another browser tab or window, visit the following sites and subscribe to the feed.

‡ HELP Page: Step-by-step instructions for subscribing to each site

Three Required Feeds (please subscribe to all)

  • 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."
  • Shutters Unshuttered -
    Beth's blog: Look for teaching and technology ideas that are specifically related to Roycemore School happenings.
  • 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.

‡ HELP Page: Step-by-step instructions for subscribing to each site

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 each site

Google Reader Official Help: Getting Started with Google Reader

Task 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. If you feel compelled to thoroughly read every item, you will remain completely overwhelmed and quickly "quit" your reader. Keep trying -- it gets easier!

Task 2

After you have checked your Google Reader for a few days, write a reflective 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. Be sure to include "Thing 5" in your post title.

‡ HELP Video: Using Google Reader to Read Your Feeds

Stretch Task

Take a tour of iTunes U - iTunes U is a part of the iTunes Store featuring free lectures, language lessons, audiobooks, and more, that you can enjoy on your iPod, iPhone, Mac or PC. Visit iTunes U after your tour, blog about what you discovered. What was interesting, was it easy to navigate, did you learn something, would you recommend it to a colleague? Be sure to put Thing 5- Stretch in your post title.

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