Exploring Google Reader in the Classroom

This morning I tried Google Reader in the classroom for the first time. This was a particularly exciting moment for me in many ways. Personally, I regard RSS feeding as the most significant development in the web 2.0 world and one that has major repercussions for teachers. RSS feeds have enabled me to become a literate, empowered user of the web, able to make informed choices about the information I access, no longer a slave to the randomness of a search engine at the last minute. I feel that it’s important for me to take my students on this journey and the results I’ve already started to see have been quite amazing.

For this lesson, I chose my year 8 English class as the guineapigs. We’ve been working on a unit entitled ‘Contemporary Australia,’ and I’ve been making more than ample use of the web, drawing on current texts like this one about the Sea Shepherd caption allegedly being shot at by Japanese whalers; texts rich in multi-modal literacy components – text, video, audio, comments, tags and so on. My students have been participating in online discussions around these kinds of texts, and we’ve also made particularly good use of web 2.0 scaffold tools like Visuwords and Gliffy for unpacking key concepts and understanding issues more contextually.

My task this morning was quite simple:

  1. Students set up their own Google Reader account
  2. Students locate five general news feeds with content relevant to Australia (eg. ‘Sydney Morning Herald – National headlines’)
  3. Students explore ABC online for five specific feeds based on tags of interest to them (eg. ‘ABC News – Tag: sexual offences‘ or ‘ABC News – Tag: Glenmore Park – 2745‘), locating the RSS code and copying it into their Google Reader account.
  4. Students skim read twenty interesting articles, creating their own tags based on these.
  5. Students ‘star’ five articles which are particularly interesting to their chosen interests.

Despite a few hiccups with account set-up confirmation emails not arriving quickly enough, students easily navigated through the process of setting up their accounts and subscribing to feeds. Because ABC Online has done such a brilliant job of comprehensively listing their tags, students can really focus on news which interests them at the same time as exploring more general news from multiple sources. How fascinating it was to see which kinds of articles students had discovered at the end of the lesson!

Have you used Google Reader in your classes? Drop me a line in the comments and let me know your ideas or links to your blog!

For anyone interested in understanding the basics of RSS news feeding, you can’t go past this brilliant video by the people Common Craft:

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About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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