E-learning with web 2.0


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- ► category - RSS is a web 2.0 tool which allows users to easily created personalised newsfeeds drawing on the collective intelligence of the wider web. Some RSS web services are also available in app versions which can be used on mobile devices (see Going Mobile below). In recent years, the mechanics of RSS have become more invisible to users, but it underpins crucial web 2.0 channels like social networking and social media newsfeeds, which are accessed both on the web and through apps on mobile devices.

- ► what - RSS refers to Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0). When you set up RSS feeds - or newsfeeds, as they are often called - from websites of interest, you receive automatic updates whenever those sites are updated. (Note that an alternative to RSS, Atom, can also be used to underpin newsfeeds.) Like folksonomies, RSS feeds are about pulling together distributed content from across the web but, unlike folksonomies, they provide a constant stream of up-to-date information in real time from preselected sources. RSS feeds can be accessed on the desktop of your computer, online, or via an app.

- ► why - RSS feeds are an ideal way of keeping up-to-date with new information about subjects that interest you. Teachers can set up RSS feeds on relevant educational topics, or students can work together to set up group or class feeds on topics they are studying. Drawing feeds from other sites into your own webpage, blog or wiki allows you to incorporate others' views and perspectives, potentially leading to the co-construction of knowledge within a new frame.

- ► how - For a light-hearted and simple explanation of how RSS works, you might like to take a look at Lee Lefever's video RSS in Plain English.

external image 48px-Feed-icon.svg.png- ► where - To start with, you need to select websites which have RSS (or Atom) webfeeds, usually signalled by the icon on the right, and subscribe to them (which is free of cost). Such webfeeds are typically found on sites that are updated on a regular basis, such as media websites, blogs, wikis or podcasting sites. There are two main set-up options, as follows:

  • to set up an online aggregator, you can use services like Feedly (see image above) or FeedReader Online, which create pages built around your nominated feeds. Note that the formerly popular Google Reader was retired in mid-2013, and the formerly popular Bloglines was retired (for the second time) in 2015. The demise of these services points to the increasing automation of newsfeeds, many of which now require little or no manual user intervention, as discussed under Variations below.

    Another possibility is to use a more general website service which incorporates RSS feeds, such as Netvibes, Pageflakes or several others listed on the websites page. You could also try out the more complex Yahoo Pipes. Further online aggregator options are listed in Wikipedia's List of aggregators: Web-based services.

  • to incorporate RSS feeds into a pre-existing webpage, blog or wiki, you can use the built-in widgets which have become common in website, blogging and wiki services, or you can use a separate RSS widget such as those available from Cyclur or FeedSweep. Note that the formerly popular Grazr widget was retired in mid-2010.

There is another, older option if you want to store RSS feeds on your own computer rather than on a webpage, as follows:


- ► going mobile - Some RSS web services like Feedly and FeedReader are also available in mobile app versions.

- ► variations - A variation on RSS is provided by Google Alerts, which regularly emails users the results of Google searches on terms of their choice.

There are now many aggregator services which work on the principle of RSS, but which simplify the collection of feeds in such a way as to render RSS almost invisible to users. This is true of many social networking and social media newsfeeds. Beyond this, aggregator services like Flavors.me and Symbaloo have become popular ways of pulling together different elements of an individual's web presence and may be useful in the building of e-portfolios or PLEs. Aggregator services like Flipboard and Zite fulfil a similar function on the iPad, collecting updates from personal accounts on sites like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter alongside newsfeeds from media outlets. Such aggregators typically present updates in a magazine-like format.

- ► dangers - The main dangers with RSS are missing key information (if you subscribe to a limited range of feeds) or, more likely, becoming overwhelmed by information (if you subscribe to too many). The key is finding a balance point between these possibilities.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about RSS, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.



Credits: The image at the top of the page shows a screen capture of Mark Pegrum's feeds on Feedly. The RSS button on the right is a standard icon used across the web.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.