RSS and Syndication for Educators

RSS and Syndication for Educators

Keith Stuart Webster (Royal Roads University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2399-4.ch031
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RSS and other forms of syndication offer key opportunities for educators to engage in professional development and enrich their teaching. The use of these technologies can encourage students to become self-directed learners and provide educators with methods to leverage the content they collect and curate. This article explores the possible uses of RSS and syndication for educators and the technologies used in developing these. The current range of web services and the possibilities for integrating them has added a new level of dynamic content distribution at the educator's fingertips.
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RSS, Rich Site Summary but often called Real Simple Syndication, was one of the early technologies that enabled the growth of the world wide web as a site for communication and learning. It was, and continues to be, one of the most important technologies on the internet that most people have never heard of.

The original purpose of RSS was to provide dynamically updated summaries of the newest content available on a web site. Obviously the greatest early application of RSS was on blogs and news sites. These summaries are created by the platform that hosts the web site, like WordPress or Drupal (popular content management systems), and are delivered in a standardized, structured format called XML (Pilgrim, 2002). This means that the author of a blog post doesn't need to create an RSS entry to match a blog post, the blog platform does this automatically. The standardized structure used in these RSS feeds allows the end user or 'subscriber' to configure their view to see their choice of titles, links, author names, an opening snippet of text, or the whole article.

RSS has evolved with newer standards and it has been used to syndicate and aggregate various types of media, including audio and video as well as the more traditional text and graphics (2016, What is Classroom Podcasting/Vodcasting).

Syndication in this context refers to the process of distributing content from one place to many. If you think of a syndicated column in the world of newspapers the same principle is followed. RSS is one technology that supports syndication, and the most easily manipulated by educators, but this chapter will cover many methods of syndicating content for educational purposes.

Web services are applications that function on the internet and are accessed by users through a web browser. Where the early internet featured content displayed online, the modern web has social networking sites like Facebook™ and applications like Google Docs™. These web services are becoming the main location for the work we do on the web. Web services offer educators the opportunity to distribute and aggregate media for learning.

In this article there are many technologies described and the methods for using these technologies are detailed in as useful a way as possible. In every instance there are multiple choices of software and web service to accomplish the described tasks and, as time progresses each of these will be modified, improved or abandoned by their makers. For this reason, technical descriptions here will be general and use the principles involved rather than the names and steps specific to individual applications. It is hoped that these descriptions will help you use these tools effectively but if you are stuck these tools typically provide tutorials, a help section or FAQ (frequently asked questions) service. Additionally, Google™ will usually provide links to good tutorials if you can phrase the right search term, like “RSS feed in Flickr”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Management System: A website platform for the creation of educational websites with various activities and media types supported. Examples of a learning management system (LMS) would include Moodle™ and Blackboard Learn™.

API: The application programming interface is a set of standards and protocols for designing the way software and web-based applications interact with each other.

Social Constructivism: A learning theory that argues effective learning is promoted by constructing knowledge in groups.

Connectivism: A learning theory and theory of knowledge that argues that knowledge is found across networks of connections and that learning must develop the ability to exploit these networks.

Personal Learning Environment: Also called a PLE, the personal learning environment is a collection of web based communication services and tools that enable an individual to engage in professional development. A typical PLE might include following influential colleagues on Twitter and subscribing to key journals and blogs via RSS.

Syndication: The process of making content in one place available in many places. This can be accomplished using RSS or other technologies.

RSS: Rich Site Summary but often called Real Simple Syndication today. RSS is a standardized system for describing each of a series of content items presented by a website.

Web Services: The provision of communication, media production, distribution and other applications on the web, access through a browser, without the requirement for users to install software on their own computer. Examples would include Google Docs™ or Flickr™.

Widget: A small piece of web functionality that can be placed on a web site. A widget might display items from an RSS feed or the current weather for a location.

Content Management System: A type of website platform designed to allow typical administrative staff to maintain a complex website. Examples of a content management system (CMS) would include Drupal™ and WordPress™.

Podcast: A regularly produced series of audio files that can be accessed via RSS. A similar series in video is often called a vodcast.

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