Thursday, July 23, 2009

Managing all those Blog feeds

One of the key indicators we are researching through our Manaiakalani Cluster projects is the impact of authentic audience on student motivation and engagement, and ultimately on their learning oucomes. This means that they are increasingly publishing their work in online spaces such as blogs. As our students move more and more into working in online spaces the task of tracking their changes and just keeping up with it all can become daunting, particularly for those in school management roles (and secondary school teachers) who are overseeing more then one class of students. At the moment there are close to 100 blog feeds alone from our cluster students, from Year 1 - 13.

I have been working with principals and teachers to introduce them to RSS and try to find a method that suits their eLearning style to aggregate their RSS feeds. We have explored all the usuals; Netvibes, Google Reader, iGoogle, browser based, Apple Mail (would love to know if Outlook and Entourage have simple RSS like Mail does), etc and the most commonly used appears to be adding a feed gadget to the sidebar of their own class blog, as I have done on this blog. But this doesn't allow for the sheer volume of blogs they want to follow.

I have come to accept that the sort of person who is reading this blog has no problem with the concept of RSS, but not everyone is willing to either set up an aggregator OR go searching for the feeds. Most willingly accept responsibility for a feed from the work they monitor from their own students as part of the job, but the rest of it feels too hard or too geeky. So I am trying another solution.

I have tried adding individual feeds to our cluster website using Grazr, and that worked well while we only had 10 or 20 accounts feeding in. As the numbers grew it has become a 'hunt the needle in the haystack' to try and find them.

In the holidays I saw isaac_d send a tweet from Twitterfeed and I checked it out to see if it might be a one stop solution for Manaiakalani. I created a new Twitter account, clusternz , then signed up to Twitterfeed and added all the RSS feeds from the cluster blogs one by one - very tedious, as even on our KAREN connection it doesn't load fast! Now every time one of the cluster blogs publishes a new post clusternz automatically sends out a tweet.

However, I didn't actually create it to Twitter from myself, as I can't imagine many people wanting to follow an account that only tweets blog updates! I really wanted the RSS feed that Twitter generates on the side bar.

So now I have another option for creating widgets schools can put on their web pages, like this one, or individuals can add to their blog side bars (an example in the sidebar of this blog), or the RSS feed works in Mail, iGoogle etc. I have had feed back from two people this week who say it already feels much better having all the kids' blogs consolidated into one feed and not swamping all the other feeds they follow.

The only problem with this is for teachers in schools who block twitter, but maybe if this is an effective system for the principals to use, they may unblock it ;)

And now, I am waiting to hear feedback from you all that there is a MUCH simpler solution that I haven't thought about yet.....