Sunday, November 28, 2010

RSS and Blogs-BLOG POST #9

It's not about the tools.  It's About the Skills.

Photo from Flickr by langwitches

Becoming a Blogger

Mary Lee Hahn and I began our blog, A Year of Reading, on January 1, 2006.  Mary Lee and I have been friends for years and we had a tradition of getting together to talk about books and predict the Newbery winner each year.  In 2005 when we met, Mary Lee suggested we have our 2006 conversation on a blog instead.  I had no idea what a blog was but it sounded like a good idea, so Mary Lee set up the blog and we began.  Little did I know how that conversation would change my professional learning life.

Our blog started out slow. We didn't know much about blogging and used it mostly to talk to each other. We had very few readers and didn't understand how blogs worked.  But then we discovered that there were other people out there, blogging about books. Some of the first people we blogs we found were Read Roger and A Fuse #8 Production (before she began blogging at SLJ).  We started to read their blogs and in turn,  learned so much about writing a blog.  We quickly realized the power of linking and began to read and write differently. We slowly became part of a larger conversation, and part of a community of bloggers who call themselves the "Kidlitosphere".  

On June 5, 2008, Melissa Wiley a blogger invented the world Kidlitosphere as a way to define our group.    In the post below, she proves to us that she invented the word because it had zero hits when she googled it.  (Today, when I googled the word, there were 88,300 hits! Kidlitosphere has definitely become a word!)

Blogging is really about a community coming together. Blogging allowed me, as an educator, to become part of a community I could not have imagined.  For years in my professional life, I shared and talked with other teachers and reading specialists. The conferences I attended had the focus of reading and education. When we started blogging, our community grew. All of a sudden, I was also learning from librarians, parents, authors, and illustrators.  The community of people who love children's books is bigger than I knew before I started blogging. Blogging allowed me to learn from people who had different areas of expertise than I did and the community grew and changed based on the people who joined.

On his wiki, Will Richardson defines connective writing as "the ability to publish in a variety of media with the intention of connectingand sharing it with others who have an interest (or passion) in the topic." He goes on further to explain the specifics of connective writing on the wiki. For me, this connectedness is what makes blogging so important to me as a professional.  

As bloggers subscribe to other blogs on similar toipcs, conversations build. Comments are a natural way for conversations to build but blogging allows for more depth than merely comments.  Linking allows bloggers to connect to something another blogger said.  When this occurs, ideas are grown throughout the blogging community. As a blogger, I learned this early in my blogging experience and it changed my blogging practices.  Soon after we began our blog, A Year of Reading, we noticed Jen Robinson's list of "Cool Girls in Children's Literature."  We loved the idea and had also noticed the stereotypical ways teachers are often portrayed in children's books. So, we decide to begin a list of "100 Cool Teachers of Children's Literature" and to ask readers to submit any that we had missed. The list has been growing for 4+ years and has definitely been a community effort. Two recent examples of this type of idea growth are Reading Trading Cards and ARCs Float On Campaign. Both of these ideas began with a blog post and grew as others picked up and changed them.

Community events are also an important part of being a blogger. These events evolve over time and take place both online and in person. The Kidlitosphere is quite active and has several events throughout the year.  The group has created the CYBILS awards-book awards given by the Kidlitosphere.  There are blog carnivals each month, a Poetry Friday celebration each week and a Kidlitcon (conference) each year where bloggers meet and learn in person.

Blogging has given me a professional community I could not have without Web 2.0. Becoming a blogger helped me to see the power of the Web and how much it could impact my professional learning.
I agree with Will Richardson when he says, "As you'll see, blogs are only one of many tools of the Read/Write Web, but I would argue that they are the most important and the most reasonable place to start your travels." (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom p. 54)  Blogging is one of the few Web 2.0 tools in which I am equally a consumer and creator. For me, it is hard to separate out the consumer/creator aspects of being a blogger because they are so connected.  Reading and writing become one in blogging and that connection has been powerful.

Many teachers who blog feel the same way.  In her post, "Blogging: How It Has Changed Me", Katie Dicesare says, "Learning is not about right or wrong, rather, it is discovering what you love, searching for more and creating with what you are learning along the way. Blogging has allowed me to discover my own voice, dabble in collaboration, reflect then make changes in my own practice and share my love of teaching and learning with others"

RSS Feeds to Keep Up With Blog Reading

As the Kidlitosphere grew, so did my list of blogs to read each day.  I had an RSS set up long before I understood what it meant and how it worked.  Now I understand it better. In Reach: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development, Jeff Utecht explains it this way, "RSS is nothing more than a connection between your RSS Reader and a website of information.  ..An RSS Reader acts like a gateway to the web. After the connection  to the website has been made, your RSS Reader 'fetches' the information from the website and delivers it to you.”  And in Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World, Pam Berger and Sally Trexler further explain the way that it works, "Once a blog is included in the aggregator, the aggregator takes on the job of checking, usually frequently, for new content on that blog.  Users decide when to read the chosen blogs; they will be left on the reader." (p. 109)

I set up my RSS feed years ago using Google Reader. It has worked well for me, except that it is disorganized due to the subscriptions I add almost daily. I add subscriptions quickly every time I see a blog I like. My problem is that I haven't organized it in any way so my reading feels very sporadic.  I sometimes read everything in my reader. Other times, I mark everything as read to keep my sanity. I have trouble finding articles I have read before and I have never weeded out the blogs I subscribe to in my reader.

So, I decided to learn how to better utilize my Google Reader and to find ways to be more strategic about the feeds I subscribe to.  I was amazed at the many features Google Reader has that I was unaware of.  I have definitely been underutilizing the tool!

Learning About Google Reader

I began my learning by looking more closely at the Folder option in Google Reader. I had played with this a bit earlier but had only put a few items in folders. Since I have so many subscriptions in my reader, I went to my Folders and Tags to remind myself of the folders I had.
I started several folders to begin to organize my subscriptions.

I then went into "settings" to look to see how things were set up.
When creating folders, the "Settings" allow you to decide whether or not to share lists.

I finally was able to put subscriptions in folders.  When adding a folder, the steps are clear. I went into my "Subscriptions" tab at the top of Google Reader.  Then I was able to see all of my subscriptions, alphabetically, in list form.  On the right side, I could choose to put each blog into a folder.  I had the option to choose a folder from the pull down menu that was already created. Or I could create a new folder. This made folder-making easy as I could look at each blog to see where it best fit. I also had the option to put blogs into multiple folders if they met multiple categories.  

The folder options helped me to organize and reorganize my subscriptions.  This is a process that will take time but with folders in place and in use, I can now add new subscriptions to folders as I subscribe.

Google Reader Sharing
Another feature I was unaware of was that I could create "friends' and "groups" in Google Reader.  This was a good discovery for me. I found that I could share things I want to from my reader with various people. I can also highlight and add notes before I share. I think this is a great feature to know about and I see it as one that will be a great addition to my professional learning.  I love the idea of having access to articles and links that other people think are worthwhile. I found a few people I wanted to follow with the follow box and added them to my list.  

I figured if I was following people, I should also learn how to share articles.  So I went into my Google Reader and decided to learn to share. What was interesting, was how it changed my reading. I shouldn't have been surprised. All of the Web 2.0 sharing that I do, really changes the way I read. But, with the new share feature, I find that I am already reading wondering whether this is something worth sharing via Google Reader, Twitter, etc.  The same toolbar lets me "star" or "like" items. Starring an item puts it in my "Starred Items" folder. If I "like" an article, that becomes public.  

There are several options for sharing at the bottom of every post in Google Reader.

Google Reader-Sort by Magic
I also looked at the sorting features. My reader is always sorted by date so that I see the newest posts first. When my box is too full, I tend to only look at the first several.  I have been trying to use the "Sort By Magic" sorting tool when my box is full.  Based on my history, the reader will decide which posts I probably want to be closer to the top. I love the name and the idea behind this tool but I realized after reading Google Reader Adds Magic to Your Feeds by Barb Dybwad, that I need to favorite, share and like items for this to really work.  

I can now see why my Google Reader box was becoming so overwhelming.  I was not aware of many of the features available to better utilize and organize the information that I am receiving through this RSS. Now that I know about following others, I will have access to other great articles that fit my areas of interest. The Sharing and Starring features will also help me revisit items rather than reading and forgetting about them.  Taking the time to learn the organizational features of this RSS feed was definitely time well spent.

Learning About Netvibes and Pageflakes

I have been hearing about Pageflakes fand Netvibes or a while. I had the opportunity to hear Joyce Valenza speak this summer and she mentioned them. I also read a bit about them on Buffy Hamilton's blog, "The Unquiet Librarian". But I had no idea what they were.  I came across them again during my RSS study and decided to explore.  

Pageflakes advertises itself as "Social personalized homepage-the easiest way to read, see, discover, and share your favorite things on the web." Netvibes and Pageflakes have many similar features and they both describe themselves as personalized dashboards.  Will Richardson writes about Pageflakes on his blog in a post titled Using Pageflakes as Student Portal.   He says, "
From a student standpoint, I think it’s a great way to introduce RSS, to give kids some ownership over the type of page they create (assuming you’ve had all the responsible use conversations already) and let them start working out their own processes for consuming and deciding about content in this content rich world."

So I played around with Pageflakes to try to understand what they meant and how these tools were related to RSS.

With Netvibes, I was able to choose a topic of interest.  Below you can see that I created a page by searching "Library Design".  A page like this allows me to discover web resources that I may not know about on a topic of interest to me and keeping them updated on this page.  I started by creating a "New Dashboard".

Once you decide to create a new dashboard, Netvibes asks you to type in your search/topic.

Then you choose one of their images to personalize your page.

Below is the final page with recent web resources around Library Design.

I see this as a useful way to find new web resources on a given topic. 

Pageflakes is very similar.  Pageflakes seem to have more features for teaching and it allows you to build your own page with your own resources.  For example, for the page below, I was able to create a page with all of the blogs about children's books that I follow. When I go to this URL, I find updates for each of these through the RSS. Pageflakes allows you to build a page to collect RSS feeds.  It is a way for me to collect RSS feeds on a similar topic.   

Carl Harvey shares a benefit to Pageflake that I hadn't thought of. He says, "Another option is to set up a site using PageFlake for students to view RSS feeds from.  This eliminates the need for them to create an account with Google or Bloglines." (The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program, p. 88)  

What Does this Mean for the Library

The library is a perfect place to support blogs as both a consumer and a creator. When thinking about RSS, 
I see great possibilities with these tools and the ways they can support students.  As a teacher-librarian, creating Pageflakes on various topics brings current information to students.  For students, this is a great intro into RSS feeds and how to personalize information you'd like to receive.  Looking ahead, I can see the power in creating Pageflakes for and with students.

In his book, The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program Carl Harvey shares his support for RSS when he says, 
"In an elementary school setting, the teacher might set up an account for the class and subscribe to blogs, wikis, podcasts, and so forth that connect with their current topic of studies.  The resources would be helpful to both students and the teacher.  Older students could begin setting up their own RSS reader."  (p. 88)

Blogging is also a powerful tool for students.  In his book The Digital Writing Workshop, Troy Hicks says, "students using blogs are engaged not only in what would have been solitary writing that is, coincidentally, posted in an online space but also in digital writing where students begin reading and responding to the blogs of others.  This recursive process, enabled by blogging technology, invites the same kinds of thinking that traditional, face-to-face peer response does, yet demands that students read, respond, and write in ways that encourage more specific response and utilize the features of digital writing space. That is, students who blog are able to hyperlink to sources of information and inspiration, embed multimedia for specific rhetorical purposes, and engage in larger conversations about their topic through the circles of other bloggers. (p. 41)

Lee Kolbert shares a great deal about her elementary students as bloggers on her blog, "A Geeky Momma's Blog". She works hard to help her students be effective readers and writers of blogs by teaching skills specific to Web 2.0 writing. One of my favorite posts was a lesson she shared on creating good comments.

Our district has art students at our high school who are using blogs to create a online portfolio.  My husband, Scott Sibberson, is the Technology Specialist there.  He worked with the students to set up their blogs, sharing this presentation, Creating Your Blog With Blogspot, and then sharing it on Slideshare so that they can refer to it later.  This is a comprehensive introduction to creating a blog that is helpful to students and teachers who are interested in blogging.

There are many ways to use blogs in schools. Teacher blogging provides a tool for professional development. Class blogs are a way to showcase learning with a global audience.  Student blogs can support students in writing and reading specific to topic or interest.  

It's not about the tool. It's about the skills. The possibilities for student and teacher learning are endless.

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