A web feed, sometimes called news feed or a syndicated feed, is data that is used to collect frequently updated content. A popular web feed is RSS, which means Really Simple Syndication. (Atom is another web feed.) Web feeds, or RSS, works like this. Content distributors, like blogs, wikis, magazines, news sources, podcasts, etc. syndicate a web feed, thereby allowing users to subscribe to it. Web feeds that are of interest to the end user are collected in one spot, using an aggregator, sometimes called an RSS reader or feed reader. The reader can be web-based, mail based, desktop based, or mobile based. A popular aggregator is Google Reader, although there are many others. Aggregator typed in a search engine will reveal many choices of readers.
The user subscribes to a feed by entering into the reader the feed’s URI or by clicking a feed icon, (which is usually an orange box with sound waves) in a web browser. This action initiates the subscription process, the user need only follow the directions. After the user has subscribed to the feed, the RSS reader will check the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new feeds and will download any updates. The reader also provides an interface in which the user can monitor and read the feeds.
The advantages to a RSS feeds are many. A RSS feed allows users subscribe to websites that the user has an interest, thereby avoiding the manual process of logging into each site and finding out if there is something of interest to read. The RSS feed allows more content from more sources to be read in a shorter period of time, thereby streamlining research and learning. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), literacy in the 21st Century states that a literate student must be able to “manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.” (NCTE, 2008) RSS helps with this skill.
Another advantage of the RSS feed is that RSS is not sent via e-mail (unless sent to an e-mail aggregrator, of course.) This means that it is free of email problems such as spam, viruses, and phishing. Also should the user decide not to continue with the feed, the user simply unsubscribes to the feed and does not have the problems associated with trying to unsubscribe to e-mail lists. (Mason & Rennie, 2008).
The educational learning theory, connectivism, theorizes central learning is accomplished through ideas that are supported by social and personal networks and is interconnected through engagement in experiential tasks. Connectivism synthesizes salient features and elements of several educational, social and technological theories and concepts. Connectivism views the teacher as having the role of a mediator and learning is the process of creating connections between nodes to form a network. “A key idea is that learning starts with the connections that students make with one another, as opposed to with a fixed body of content. RSS, and more broadly, the concept of content syndication, have the potential to support complex, many-to-many connections in line with this philosophy.” (Lee, Miler, & Newnham, 2008, p. 316).
Possible uses of RSS include personal learning environments in which students manage their own learning. Instead of using learning management systems which are controlled by the institutions, students select content based on their needs. Rather than being packaged for them, content is created and distributed, remixed and reused by syndication or RSS feeds. This allows more student control whereas the learner aggregates a diverse range of content for their own learning and encourages the student to follow new trends and developments, a skill students will need in their professional lives. This key benefit fosters learning from sources other than the university, encouraging learning from a wider range of experts. (Lee et. al).
Other possible uses of RSS is for cooperative and social learning. RSS helps build social networks and communities. (Learners also may reduce the complexity of materials by using the aggregators to organize the content.) RSS affords students the technology to move and mix information, encouraging learners to view information from a new perspective, fostering critical thinking skills.
Lee, M. J. W., Miller, C. & Newnham, L. (2008) RSS and content syndication in higher education: Subscribing to a new model of teaching and learning. Educational Media International, 45(4). doi: 10.1080/09523980802573255
Mason, R. & Rennie, F. (2008). E-learning and Social networking handbook: Resources for higher education. New York: Routledge.
NCTE Position Statement (2008) 21st century curriculum and assessment framework.
Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentframework