The joys of teaching students about RSS

google reader
google reader

As part of our HEA Centre for Bioscience departmental project, we are introducing a web 2.0 theme to the first year IT and numeracy skills module. I fully subscribe to the aims of this project : that we should be providing a first class experience of education and that does not include teaching them how to use Microsoft word but should include information handling skills, like using RSS.

So, after complaining that email was too easy, and bibliographic databases were too hard, we embarked today on RSS. Alan Cann bravely wrote some online notes, and today the students started signing up for Google reader. It was clear from the start that there were some problems:

  1. Asking them to sign up to peer reviewed journal feeds: students were unaware of what a peer reviewed journal was and it is fairly early in their career to be considering this. Finding reliable sources of feeds for journals is a nightmare – why can’t publishers get their act together?! Zetoc at least has some Table of Content feeds. Thank goodness for the british library
  2. Assessing this exercise: unless anyone as any bright ideas (and please please day you have) giving weekly feedback on this is not easy (for 200 students). The options we have are commenting in the blackboard gradebook (not simple) or emailing individual students.
  3. Integration with our other courses: I think we need a concerted effort to encourage other convenors to encourage the use of web 2 technologies by bringing tagging and RSS into other modules, or by adding relevant RSS feeds to their own Blackboard sites. We will probably need to work on this over the next academic year during the process of introducing staff to RSS themselves…

A steep learning curve for this year, but I still think it is worth the effort!

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3 thoughts on “The joys of teaching students about RSS”

  1. Assessment ideas

    1. Peer assessment, altogether in a computer lab. Each person must assess the Google Reader page of x others with marks and comments.

    2. In small group tutorials – each person demos and talks about their Google Reader page for 2-3 minutes + questions. Marked by the tutor (+/- peers). Could get through 10 in a session?

    In either case there would be lots of possibilities for cross fertilisation of ideas, though they would be in the students’ heads rather than in their browsers.

  2. Thanks Moira – yes, we are looking at peer review (using either Bb 8 or turnitin) for next year. I like the idea and agree that showing them each others feeds and shared items is a great way to build community. We have got them to add their shared GR URLs to a wiki on Bb, so they can look at each other’s already. We wanted to make the sharing a continuous exercise over 7 weeks, to try and embed some habits of reading, tagging and sharing information regularly. Perhaps the peer assessment should happen at the end of the period?

    Unfortunately our biggest computing room holds 80 students, so we would have to have three sessions just to cover this….

  3. Timetable limitations and student numbers prevent f2f peer-assessment for this exercise. I’m in the process of radical simplification (e.g. removing references to peer-review), but my biggest concern is now how to give them feedback. The Bb gradebook makes this as difficult as possible, but is also the wrong solution. I’m in favour of separating feedback from assessment (which we do in this assessment by delaying the marks until the end of term), but feedback needs to be located inline with the assessment tool – we already have lots of data showing that students will not visit an alternative destination (e.g. the Bb gradebook) and so will never see the feedback. This is a limitation of the Google reader shared items architecture – there’s not way to add a comment to a shared item. Solution?

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