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RSS: A tool for teachers

A teacher needs to be a master learner. The web is a vast ocean of information, it is difficult to manage efficiently. The term personal web refers to the ability to reorganize, configure and manage online content according to a personal interest (Johnson, Levine, Smith & Smythe, 2009). Simple tools exist to help teachers create their own personal web using RSS. RSS is a technology which provides a means to take control of your own learning. This report describes RSS, how it facilitates personalized learning, provides examples of classroom use and describes the affordances and constraints of this technology.

Introduction to RSS

What is RSS?

Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, provides a way for web content to come to you automatically instead of you having to go get it yourself. Hidden code, called XML, creates a "feed" that users can subscribe to. RSS is a tool to help you consume web-based content conveniently and efficiently. Once you subscribe, all the information is delivered to you directly for you to quickly scan or read. The orange icon at the top of this page is the symbol for an RSS feed that you will find on webpages that have established feeds. Watch a three minute video that explains RSS in plain English. This technology holds great potential as a time-saving tool to streamline consumption of internet-based content.

How does RSS facilitate personalized learning? What is an aggregator?

Blogs, podcasts, wikis and many web pages feature RSS feeds. Using RSS you can build your own unique personal learning network. Information from a wide array of sources can be pulled automatically into one convenient location for you to browse or read. The websites that gather these feeds are called aggregators. The aggregator funnels information to the learner from a wide variety of sources via RSS feeds (Warlick, 2009). Examples of aggregators are NetVibes and Google Reader. To recieve these feeds, all you need to do is set up an aggregator account. Use an existing email account to create your aggregator account. Watch a one minute video that explains Google Reader.
Screenshot from Google Reader

Anywhere you see the RSS symbol feed-icon-28x28.png, you can subscribe to that feed through your aggregator. You will find resources in any imaginable area including news, scholarly work, or pop culture. The available choices are amazing. Using RSS, you will combine all the feeds into one location. Simply visit your aggregator site and quickly browse through the latest updates from your feeds.

How a K-6 teacher uses Google Reader: A Video Case Study

Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) is a K-6 teacher who uses Google Reader. In this video, she explains how.

Using an aggregator efficiently

Warlick (2009) gives useful advice on how to streamline and structure your feeds to make your aggregator more efficient.
  1. Start small! It only takes 15 minutes a day to learn something new.
  2. Create folders in your aggregator to organize feeds by topic.
  3. RSS feeds can be created for searches, so that you will be updated when the results of your search change.
  4. Scan the headings. You may only read a small percentage of the articles in your feeds but those can be very useful!
  5. Some feeds may be temporary, for a specific project. Feeds can be added or deleted at will.

Finding feeds

Subscribe to feeds that interest you. Many familiar publications have online versions with RSS feeds. Visit the website and look for the RSS feed symbol (it may be at the top or bottom of the web page). The New York Times has several RSS feeds, including one just for its renowned science section. The Discovery Channel hosts Discovery News, which provides several feeds organized by subtopics such as Earth, Space, Tech, Archaeology and Dinosaurs. Many excellent blogs are out there. Go to Google blog search. If you are interested in the use of cell phones in the classroom or Web 2.0 , those are just a couple of excellent blogs available. Many professional teacher organizations have feeds, or subscribe to teaching resources by subject. For example, MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) supports RSS feeds by subject area.

From within Google Reader, you can search for the topic or title of interest using the addasubscription.jpg button. Google Reader has a built in search utility to help you find the feeds you are interested in. Once you have made your selections of sources, you will have created a personal learning center that provides you with the latest information on all the topics that interest you.

Some Professional Organization RSS feeds to check out:
Virginia Society for Technology in Education www.vste.org
International Society for Technology in Education www.iste.org
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics www.nctm.org
National Council of Teachers of English http://www.ncte.org/
National Council for the Social Studies http://www.socialstudies.org/

Some interesting education blogs to feed into your aggregator:
Learning and Technology: A Blog for Reflection
Moving at the Speed of Creativity
Infinite Thinking
NYC Educator
The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
The Tech Savvy Educator
The Thinking Stick
2 cents worth
Free Technology for Teachers
The Quick and the Ed
Philly Teacher

Using iTunes as an aggregator

One specific aggregator resource that is worth investigating is iTunes University. iTunes University is located within the iTunes store. You will find college and high school course podcasts from hundreds of institutions. These can also be subscribed to and then be automatically delivered to your iTunes account. iTunes acts as an aggregator for iTunes University content. Hundreds of college courses can be viewed, for free, through this service.

Screenshot from iTunes U

RSS as a source of current events

In any content area, objectives often include real world applications. Since technology changes so rapidly, it is difficult to keep up fast enough to teach students about new developments in my field. I have solved this problem with my own students by using an aggregator as a source of current events. Every two weeks, students select an article of interest by scanning through the feeds. The student summarizes the article and posts their responses to standard prompts on their blog, along with a hyperlink to the article. The students are required to comment on a minimum number of other students' blogs to complete the assignment. Students use RSS to subscribe to their classmates blogs in an aggregator. In this way, my students are sharing with with each other about developments in Physics that are interesting to them. I have also learned more Physics in the process! By subscribing to feeds of my students' work, an online portfolio of student work is created.

Using RSS to distribute content

You can also provide content to feed into your students' personal learning centers. Suppose you would like to distribute a weekly podcast to your students. You can accomplish this easily using a blog to set up your feed and web space to store your content files. You do not need to know any code to do this. Create your podcast file. Put the file in an online location and copy the URL. Put a link to your file URL in your blog entry. Students (and their parents) can then subscribe to your feed, which will arrive in their aggregator inbox automatically.

Students should be shown how to set up their own aggregator account. Imagine the possibilities of resource materials at their fingertips! Students can use aggregators to monitor feeds from blogs, magazines, podcasts and journals. Students learn independently about topics that interest them, and can share what they have learned with others through blogging or social bookmarking. Students need to learn how to be intelligent and efficient consumers of online information and using an aggregator makes this much easier. Current research (Lee, Miller, & Newnham, 2009) has found that RSS is often not utilized, most likely due to a lack of knowledge regarding RSS. Teaching students about RSS helps them to become better consumers of online information. This skill is needed for lifelong learning.

Affordances and Constraints of RSS

  • Enables creation of personalized learning centers.
  • Online resource material, tailored to your specific interests, comes to you automatically.
  • Free aggregator software.
  • RSS capabilities built into many blogs and websites.
  • Ability to explore topics of personal interest.

  • Users must locate trusted online sources, which can be time-consuming.
  • Not all web sites offer RSS feeds.
  • Possibility of site blocking at schools.


Johnson, L., Levine, A., Smith, R., & Smythe, T. (2009). The Horizon Report: 2009 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. http://wp.nmc.org/horizon-k12-2009/

D'Souza, Q. (2006). RSS ideas for educators (Version 1.1). http://www.teachinghacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/01/RSS%20Ideas%20for%20Educators111.pdf

EDUCAUSE (2007). 7 things you should know about... RSS. Washington, D.C.: EDUCAUSE. http://www.educause.edu/ELI/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutRSS/156827

Glotzbach, R. J., Mohler, J. L., & Radwan†, J. E. (2009). Really Simple Syndication (RSS): An educational approach. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 3. http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/2009/03/

Lee, M.J., Miller, C., & Newnham, L., (2009). Podcasting syndication services and university students: Why don't they subscribe? Internet and Higher Education, 12, 53-59. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2008.10.001

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis and podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. http://weblogg-ed.com/book-info/

Utecht, J. (2009). Netvibes.com in the classroom. http://www.thethinkingstick.com/netvibes-com-in-the-classroom

Warlick, David. (2009). Growing your personal learning network. Leading & Learning with Technology, 12-16. http://www.learningandleading-digital.com/learning_leading/200904#pg14

Created: April 15, 2010
By Lori Andersen (lori.andersen@gmail.com)