Random Thoughts

Understand RSS and make the Web Work for You

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I’m a few hours away from calling a taxi and starting the 17 hour trip to Portland, Oregon (via Seattle of course) for the ITSC11 Conference e. I’ll be doing three sessions. Blended Classrooms, Blogs as E-Portfolios, and 10 Digital Tools for Digital Educators.

It’s this last session that I always have the hardest time with. What 10 digitals tools should educators know about? There are so many and depending on the attendees, you never know what people really want. That’s why this session usually ends up being a great discussion starting with “What do you want to know about?” and off we go.

As I’ve been thinking about the session I keep coming back to how important RSS is to the web. What seems like a such a simple piece of the larger web, this little bit of technology pushes and pulls information around the web behind the sense so gracefully that you probably use it in one form or another everyday without realizing it. Yet, if you can understand it, it becomes a very powerful way to push and pull information around the web where you want it to go. 

Apple, iTunes and Podcasters have made a living off of RSS. Ever wonder why most podcasts are on a blog? Because blogs come with RSS technology built in and iTunes Podcasts run off of RSS feeds. When you “Subscribe” to a podcast in iTunes you’re just subscribing to that podcasts RSS feed. iTunes simply delivers the content to your computer. 

RSS is a push and pull technology. It allows you to push and pull content around the web with ease. Many people don’t use RSS Readers anymore with them being replaced by Twitter streams, yet the use of RSS goes beyond just pulling content to you.

Here are some ways that I’m using RSS at my school and in my professional life to make things easier and to tie things together. 


COETAIL is a 5 graduate class certificate program that Kim and I run here in Asia (more on the explosion of this program soon). For each cohort we run we set up a blog such as this one I set up for the cohort in Taipei. Part of the problem I was having was when I found content to share with the participants I needed a way to push that information to this blog without going there, logging in and writing a blog post. Using the FeedWordPress Plugin that takes the content in an RSS feed and turns it into a post I now have a way to pull information I share on the web to the site.

Next was finding an RSS feed that was simple and quick and didn’t take much time to use. I decided to use Tumblr as a way to quickly gather web clipping I wanted to save all in one spot. Next I came up with a tagging system. Most blogging systems and even social bookmarking sites have an RSS feed for every tag. Tumblr does and it also has a fantastic Chrome Browser (one of the 10 tools) extension that works great. Now I have a quick way to get information to the different cohorts. Once I find something I want to share I click the Tumblr extension which automatically grabs the URL and the title of the webpage I’m on. I quickly add a description, click on the advance button and add my tags. If I want the information to go to the Taipei site I use the tag coetail@tas. If I want the information to got to the ISB site I use coetail@isb. If I want it to go to all the coetail blogs I simply use the tag coetail. 

Within seconds I can push this content out to the web on Tumblr and then pull it back into different blogs based on tags. 

ISB Blogs:

Using this same idea, students have to write a reflection about their GCW Trips (Global Citizen’s Week) that we went on last week. The trip leaders don’t have all the student blog addresses and we want the students to own the reflection, we want it to become part of their learning/eporfolio here at ISB. Using the FeedWordPress Plugin on our WordPress MultiSite install I created a tag for each trip. Students write their reflection on their blog and tag the blog post with the specific tag for their trip. I then set up a blog for each trip, grabbed the RSS feed for that specific trip tag and pulled all the blog posts into one blog that teachers can easily read and grade.

Here’s the idea:

URL to sitewide tag: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/blog/tag/gcwmekok/

The Feed for the tag: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/blog/tag/gcwmekok/feed

Where all these posts end up: http://blogs.isb.ac.th/gcw-mekok-village/

One great feature of the FeedWordPress Plugin is you can have the link to the post send you back to the original source. So if you want to leave a comment on a student blog post click on the title and it will take you to that student’s blog where you can leave the comment. Again keeping the student in control of their content.

This setup could be used in a number of ways. You could create a class blog that basically acts like an RSS reader. Students blog about your class, tag their blogs for your class with a specific term and you and the rest of the world get all the information in one spot, yet the students retains ownership of the content.

How about this….every tag in Diigo has an RSS feed: http://www.diigo.com/rss/user/Jutecht/qrcodes

You could connect your Diigo account to your Twitter account so that every time you share a link on Twitter it pushes that link to Diigo where it’s bookmarked (directions here). Once there you can push the RSS feed of the specific tag you use where ever you want it. In a Moodle, on a Blog, a Google Site…..anything that reads an RSS feed could then display this information. Think about this for a second…..one click to Twitter and you push content to Diigo which pushes it out to a blog. One click….three sites get the information and you share with others across networks. 

I’m sure you can think of countless other ways to use this in the classroom….it really is a technology worth learning and is a basis for many things on the web today.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Pingback: edbuzz.org » The Weekly Update: February 14 – 20

    • John, that’s what I thought until I watched the video. The video is very helpful and visual which cements the understanding for us novices.

  2. I absolutely agree that RSS is too little understood by educators and students alike. Great to see it getting some attention.

    I already have my twitter favorites running via Diigo to my course wiki (pbworks) – smooth as buttah.

  3. Wow… that was a lot of information in a small amount of space. I am a novice to the complexity of RSS. I had never heard of the terminology RSS until I started an online book discussion last week. I think I now have a clearer (not crystal clear) picture of how RSS can make the Web work for me. What is a “cohort?” Is the underlying concept with RSS is that it helps the user take information from one place on the web and put it into another place? I checked out the three “ISB” blogs. I don’t think I understand the differences between them in terms of the RSS tool. Could someone shed some light on this? Thanks so much… All of this cool stuff makes me want to start a blog to help students and parents at my daughter’s school navigate the world of first grade. I checked out Diigo and set up an account. I am going to explore that next. I figure the more new things I try the more I am bound to learn.

    • Hi Bridget,

      A good place to start is with this video.

      RSS basically let’s you push and pull data from one website to another. Or allows you to pull information from a bunch of websites to one central location where you can read everything you’ve subscribed to. Won’t you get started with RSS and you start to have information coming to you instead of you going out and finding it…it changes the way you learn, read, and think about the Internet.

      • Thank you so much for the helpful video. I now have a better understanding of what a RSS is and how I could use it. I am anxious to try it out today with my favorite blog and news sites. I was doing it the old way and now I see how it can be improved to be more efficient. The “Common Craft” videos are great for novices. They are clear and concise and I love the graphics. Thanks again for sharing this information with me.

      • The video was a great resource. I’m a visual learner so the video helped reinforce the readings for me. I appreciate how these videos about the new technologies are short and to-the-point.

        • and their free and always there. I do more learning via YouTube then any other single place. First place I go to when I want to learn something or look for a resource. I’m an auditory learner so the audio will watching is great for me.

          • I fixed my gas dryer by watching a youtube video. Great stuff! Now Jeff, which Reader do you recommend for the no frills beginner?

          • My two recommendations are Google Reader and Netvibes. The display content differently so you’ll have to choose which way you like getting the content delivered to you.

        • Bridget I also liked that the videos where short and to the point. At times I feel as though I have adult on set ADHD. The videos were excellent in reinforcing the reading.

    • I feel the same way about RSS and figuring out how complex-and how simple-RSS really is. I’m glad that I’m taking this online course and plan to use what I learn to enrich the classroom.

  4. Thank you for that great, simple, straight forward video on RSS. I must be honest, I didn’t really understand all that well until I saw the video. This capability has the potential of saving hours of visiting favorite educational sites only to find out that there was nothing new of interest posted. I’m looking forward to getting this capability up and running for myself.

    • Hi Connie,

      Yes..that blog posts was ment or advance users of RSS…..people who have been using it for awhile and wanted to push it’s use into other areas. The video is a great place to start and so is Google Reader or Netvibes. To of my favorite RSS readers to get you started. It will change the amount of time you spend online as well as the resources you find. There are also other helpful links on the Reach Tutorial website for RSS here.

    • The RSS video truly simplified the reading to me. I was with you. In the beginning, RSS- is that text messaging? I had not a clue. After reading the article and viewing the video, I am in a much better place of understanding as well!

  5. Although I feel I’m proficient with using the internet for personal use, I am no seeing how easy it is to incorporate what was usually used for entertainment, such as blogs, into the classroom. RSS is one of those terms that I have seen, used and had some familiarity with without even knowing it. I subscribe to radio lab from Itunes, and I have been receiving that Podcast for quite some time now, but I had no idea that RSS was what made Itunes so easy to use. Nice blog post. I plan on watching the video soon.

    • RSS runs a lot of the Web 2.0 world in different ways. Facebook is built on the basics of RSS with you seeing your news feed and having all your friends posts show up there. It’s a powerful unseen tool that runs the web and can be very powerful in creating powerful learning for students and teachers alike.

      • Some of my students are already using RSS on their favorite sites. This tool would benefit my students when we are blogging. I haven’t exposed all of my students to RSS because I didn’t have a good experience with Google Reader. It was TOO MUCH, 24/7 and I found myself wasting time having to delete content to get to what truly interested me. I’m one of those people who pay for their Netflix faithfully, but have time to watch a movie once every six months. I am also one of those teachers who think that more lessons are learned during the process of searching than from when the desired content is finally found. However, I realize that my students need to be able to survive in this “Give me what I want, right NOW!” age, so I can see myself mixing instructional methods. I don’t want to handicap my students because I prefer one method over another. So RSS, I’m baaack…

        • Bridget I think it is exciting that you are embarking on using RSS in your classroom. I have been amazed at the resources out there that we have been exploring over the last three weeks. I would love to see your final product when it is up and running. Thanks for sharing.

    • For the most part I also only use the internet for entertainment. This class has presented internet use in a new light for me. For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking of ways in which I can incorporate what I have learned into my guidance curriculum.

      • I totally agree with you that at the beginning of the class I wondered how much I could really use this information in my classroom. I am beginning to see that students and teachers can benefit from new technology. I can’t be afraid to try new things and learn from my own mistakes. My students will enjoy the fact that I am trying new things and respect me. It is extremely important that you connect with your students and technology is a medium that they use all of the time.

  6. I like many others consider myself a novice when it comes to the world wide web and technology. I must say in the past week I have discovered/learned way more than I ever thought possible. The video and the readings have made it clearer but I still have long way to go on this journey.

    • And the journey never ends….we need to be comfortable with always being a beginner because as soon as you think you’ve mastered something something else comes along and changes the way we do things. We’ll never catch up, we’ll never know how to do it all, but what we can do is learn ourselves and help teach our students to alway learn, always question, and alway figure things out.

      • You are so right about how the journey never ends. Where I am at in my life, I feel like I haven’t mastered anything yet. Your post made me feel better about how we will never catch up but what we can do is learn and help teach our students. I need to remind myself of this everyday. Thanks for this post..

    • The good thing about pursuing education as a career is that it makes you a life long learner. I realize it’s ironic coming from me because I have not obtained a full time position yet, but the online course is showing me this to be true. It’s good to see established teachers working and trying to learn the different ways to better the classroom.

      • Mike,

        As an educator these tools are great and only help in the education of students. However, I feel many of the educator I know are not aware of these tools. If it was not for the Reach class that I am in currently, I would’ve never used or signed up for an RSS. I will say, it will help save a lot of time as I hope to obtain new and exciting ideas.

        • Glad to hear it Andy!

          And yes….I’m all about “Reducing Clicks”. If I can have information coming to me in less clicks then I’m all for it. I can read and get back to work faster. Saving a click here or there really adds up over time. Finds ways to reduce your clicks and RSS readers are a big part of that. So glad you’re enjoying the reach class and hopefully the book as well. πŸ˜‰

  7. Karen Conley Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    I just wanted to do a post here as I am having a learner in the Reach class who is having problems getting her post to “stick”.



      • Karen Conley Reply

        No problem, Jeff – We all understand how “busy” you are πŸ™‚ We so appreciate your participation in the course!!

  8. After reading the article and then viewing the video, I now have quite an understanding of a RSS Reader. What a fabulous, educational tool that will save countless hours of research. I have spent too many hours, researching a topic only to come up with nothing. I love how the information now comes to me and it is just a click away from my fingertips. Being introduced to a RSS will make my life easier once I get it up and running. It is just the ability to find the time.

    • It does take time to set up…but it’s time well spent. ONce it make the connection from the website to your RSS the rest takes care of itself. You can see my public RSS reader here and see what feeds I’m reading right now.

      • Wow-just looking at that was exciting! I want to take some time to go through your information. Thank you-I do like the setup of Netvibes.

    • Marcy I couldnt agree with you more. The countless hours I have spent on the Web looking for information for classes. It seemed like it would never end. Now, the information will just come to me. Great post.

  9. I feel that I have a grasp of the concept of RSS. I have some familiarity with RSS; however, there are times when I have struggled with following the directions. Honestly, at this point, using RSS is too abstract for me to feel comfortable with bringing it into the classroom. When I used it a few times before, I couldn’t control the amount of information that I was receiving. Eventually, it became a nuisance. My challenge would be keeping my students from being overwhelmed or desensitized by the nonstop contact.

    • Agreed and that’s why I think you have to have a purpose for using it…and know that it’s not to read every piece of information. We use it has a start page for our 5th grade. You can see the public RSS Reader here. You can easily view all the students blogs in each class by clicking on the teachers name, or click on the Envior. Sustainability tab to see news feeds added by teachers for kids to read and create a map with. Here’s how we set it up.

  10. Having read through your article I becam a little confused. However, after watching the video, I truly understand an RSS and how valuable it can be for educators. As a health teacher, I am always looking for current news and events. The use of RSS will help me with keeping students up to date on current events.

    • Agree…this article was written for people who were already using RSS on another way to expand its use in a school. I’m glad the video helped and check out Google News. You can subscribe to a Google News search via RSS and get the latest news about any topic from over 4500 newspapers around the world….pretty powerful stuff.

  11. This is great information and I am excited to begin using RSS. I’m not currently working in the education field, but I do hope to use RSS both professionally and personally. I think the best way to learn and understand the RSS concept is to play around with it. I appreciate the links and the video you provided. They help clear things up!

    • Hi Lisa,

      Absolutely the best way to learn how it best works for you is to start playing around with it and focus on stuff you are interested in personally. The professional side will come naturally.

    • I agree Lisa the best way is to just try it. I know one of the problems Im having is finding time. However, once I get it figured out, this will RSSs wil definitely help on saving time!

  12. Hey Jeff, I’m a physical education teacher and typically there is only one of us per school building. Sharing concerns and ideas about PE with other PE professionals can be difficult and far too often non-existant. Other classroom teachers typically have many colleagues to collaborate with about students’ needs. The information in your book and articles will hopefully increase my overall knowlege about my profession simply by making more contacts, learning from others, and sharing our ideas. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome and there are a lot of PE teachers out there to connect to. You might want to start with The PE Geek. He’s great and you can use his connections with other PE teachers to start building your own PLN.

    • Great post Kristi. I know when I have searched for news and ideas, it was always seemed difficult to find others in our profession. Whats even better, through this course we will be able to share information a lot easier now too. Hey maybe we can start a Wellington PE Fanpage on Facebook! Also, thinking, this class and book, may help with the Wellness Team and being able to pass information on through a blog or Wiki. Just a thought.

      • Hey Andy, I completely agree about sharing our wellness and PE info on Facebook. A concern though, something more to check, update, and reply to. Extra time that neither one of us has alot of. Don’t mean to be a downer but it’s just reality. πŸ™ Although with the amount of emails we’ve sent lately, it just might help!

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