Should we require school employees to have RSS readers? – Part 2 (more questions)

RSSlistenLast week I posted some questions that have been swirling in my head about RSS readers, including the thought that perhaps school employees should be required to have and use them. There were many thoughtful comments (thank you!), and I now have some additional questions whirling inside my cranium…

  1. Many commenters commented on the undesirability (or futility) of “requiring people to learn.” I understand and probably am in agreement with that idea. And yet we try to do this all the time, in education and other professions. The idea that we should require professionals to stay up-to-date in their field is by no means radical. Teachers, administrators, lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc. – we all are required by law to go back to school, participate in workshops, attend conferences, and so on (interestingly, professors aren’t). If we can require people to learn via face-to-face (or perhaps online course) settings, is requiring educators to use RSS readers any different?
  2. Another thread in the comment stream was that we shouldn’t force educators to do anything. Rather, we should demonstrate the utility of tools like RSS readers and then hope that educators will be drawn into using them. This, of course, is the professional development strategy that we use for most desired changes in P-12 education. How’s that working for us? Do most school organizations achieve whole-scale educator adoption through the use of training that is designed to induce, rather than initiatives that “force,” educators into action? While I’m a big fan of individual choice, I also confess that I’m skeptical of the efficacy of the inducement approach. I think we get a few educators that way - usually the ones that are change-oriented in the first place - and the rest go about their business as usual. For example, Suzie Martin said in her comment that she hopes to get 5 staff members out of 40 to use RSS readers. I don’t think it’s naive to believe that we can do better than that with our professional development.
  3. In a similar vein, we all can think of examples where desirable wide-scale educational and/or social outcomes only were possible through forced action. You know, things like mandatory school attendance, seat belt usage, vaccinations, and desegregation. Is “forcing” people to do things always bad?
  4. Douglas Reeves says that “action drives belief,” not the other way around. He contends that it’s usually difficult to see the benefits of something before we do it because it’s too abstract. We have to start doing it - and thus turn the conceptual into something more concrete - before we actually see the benefits and buy in. This is why, for example, many school districts require educators to be in professional learning communities (PLCs). At the beginning, most educators aren’t clear what the benefits of PLCs will be to them. Over time, however, if the initiative is done well (and, unfortunately, in education that’s a big if), the idea is that educators will start seeing - through their ongoing PLC activities - the benefits of belonging to such a group. Does action drive belief or does belief drive action?
  5. Stephen Downes has been hammering at us edubloggers for years to get out of the echo chamber and expose ourselves to a diversity of voices. Similarly, Tim Kastelle notes in his commentary on Ethan Zuckerman’s TED talk that “Connecting ideas to each other is the core creative act in innovation. And it is well-documented that we make more creative connections between ideas when we are exposed to a greater diversity of ideas.” Do we believe that exposing educators to a diverse set of high-quality peer voices is beneficial? If so, how do we go about making that happen? In the past we’ve relied on conferences, workshops, book clubs, and the like. Can’t we take advantage of digital technologies’ efficiencies to help us accomplish this goal?
  6. Daura said in her comment that “Not everyone is on the technology train, and I don’t think anyone should be forced to jump on board.” Kalyn replied in her comment, why not? I agree with Kalyn, not Daura. I realize that I’m mostly preaching to the choir here, but technology really isn’t an “edufad,” is it?
  7. Gerald Aungst said in his comment that “if admin says we must do it, it’s probably not good for us.” Really? Have dialogue and trust levels between administrators and teachers degraded so much that a blanket statement of that sort is true? I know that’s a fair statement for some districts but I hope that’s not true at a large scale because, if so, we’ve got much bigger problems than whether educators are effectively integrating technology into their work.

These are some of the main thoughts that I’m mulling right now on this topic. I’m still sold on the idea that exposure to a (perhaps pre-curated) diverse set of high-quality voices of professional peers who are doing interesting things with instruction and/or technology would be beneficial for all educators. For me, the questions are not around the benefits but instead around the scalability of such a change.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Thanks, everyone, for the great conversation!

Image credit: Modified podcast logo with my headphones Photoshopped on

21 Responses to “Should we require school employees to have RSS readers? – Part 2 (more questions)”

  1. I couldn’t disagree more with Daura. We are in the age of technology and it should be required of all teachers to use it.

    I love the idea of having teachers use readers, as long as some time is provided for them to read blogs. There is some amzaing, free PD on the web, provided by tremendous teachers, who are using technology daily. Why not take advantage of it.

    Nice follow-up post.

  2. Great discussion!
    I think everyone should be made to try it out, to set up a reader account of some type. It’s something that you really can’t grasp until you test drive it. Is it spoon fed? Not really, as you have to input the reading you are interested in but that is not too difficult once you’ve done it a couple of times. Once folks see the tool in action, and have checked out a variety of the learning ops available, it will be up to them to continue.
    Imagine loosening the constraints on the plan:
    “You can create a reading list of your own special interest, be that comedy, Irish music, arts & crafts, etc.
    “You don’t need to check it daily.
    “You can share interesting reading with others or not.”
    Having time to play around with it will be an important part of finding its use – just like with students.

  3. Be careful with the required part. Before requiring teachers to use RSS, there needs to be a framework in place to justify the requirement. Will there be collaborative meetings where the knowledge gleaned from RSS feeds will be discussed? Will there be something in place for teachers to share great feeds they have found? “Required” is a strong word. Require someone to do something they don’t want to do, or don’t see as necessary, and they sabotage or ignore the requirement to the detriment of the good that could derive from the idea behind the requirement. I’ve seen it happen.

  4. it’s in every teachers job description to be “up to date”. Should the use of a tool be the expectation or the end results?

    Do we grade our students that they have their notebook–or that they learn something?

    Then again…do we really evaluate teacher learning anyway? I bet the percentage of districts that effectively evaluate teacher learning is pretty darn low (under 5%??)

  5. First off, my apologies for posting this on both posts, however right after I posted to the first article I saw this one appear, and figured I’d move to the more current discussion.

    I agree that RSS feeds are one of the most valuable and effective tools for teachers who want to engage themselves in professional learning. I also agree that it is hardly ideal to demand teachers read and stay current on RSS feeds. However, in my school board, the homepage on the browsers at school (that can’t be changed) is directed to a generic start page which most students and teachers just ignore and proceed to Google, their email, etc.

    What if the start page was more similar to an iGoogle home page with an RSS feed generated by teacher leaders and administrators, a link to instructions on how to add RSS feeds or use tools like google reader, and links to their board email, school website etc. The benefits are great, exposing teachers to a variety of new ideas, strategies and discussions, introducing some to a new tool to improve their professional learning, and having fresh content on a regular basis (how stifling is it to see a web page that hasn’t changed all year). iGoogle is not the only tool that could accomplish this, there are many sidebars and ways to change the desktop on board owned technology that would allow teachers to at least be exposed to this information. With regard to mandating teachers to read the content, you’ve led the horse to water, if the horse clicks his way over to Google, you haven’t lost anything, but if the horse sees something that captures it’s attention and they follow up by clicking one time – maybe you’ve started something.

    I’m actually doing a little research project on this for my Integration Of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction Specialist course and have set up a little survey in Google Docs to see how teachers prefer to develop their professional learning networks (http://tinyurl.com/ictaq3survey). The actual spreadsheet results are at http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AgCu-GSTLv5TdGljdWxpeXNOeDQtSC1ZSVVoWW1uZ2c&authkey=CMCl6YsE&hl=en_GB#gid=0) Although it’s certainly not scientific, it seems that a lot of teachers would prefer to develop their Professional Learning Networks through Twitter. My argument against that is that there isn’t enough depth to the Twitter conversations, but I could see using Twitter to cast out links to important blog posts for those who are interested and with the right hash tag, adding that Twitter feed to the teachers’ desktop or homepage.

  6. I shared a short RSS lesson with my staff this past year at the end of a staff meeting.I chose to show them how Blue Skunk Blog can be RSS’d into my Outlook and just one comes in every few days (I know..yes Doug..I somehow greatly appreciate all the humor that comes with his posts!). I then showed them what happens when you RSS the NYT or WSJ….wow….fills up your mailbox. I then worked with a small number of staff one-on-one to find one they wanted to add to their Outlook that wouldn’t overload them. They’d come in before or after school or during their prep or whenever and we’d go to work at it. I think it went well.

    On another note, thinking along that line, we pay for resources, for instance, everyone in a building gets a copy of the Mpls StarTribune for their classroom. Hmmm…wonder if we could save the cost of that, make the teachers RSS the Trib and use the dollars for other resources for kids for which we can’t find the money. And then, help the kids RSS these resources on their own personal learning network and we are modeling a mode of accessing information using technology…and maybe having a discussion about free versus subscription of resources….etc., etc.
    Kathy Niebuhr
    Albert Lea, MN

  7. My 2 cents on some of Scott’s points (referencing his numbering):
    1. Channel (face-to-face, RSS, online course) can/should be divorced from content. “Learn what you need to know the best way for you to know it” seems a reasonable way to go. When the district says “You must know X” then it’s incumbent on the district to provide the various channels employees need to learn.
    3. Forced outcomes are not bad and should be used. However, your examples all came about after multiple decades and diffused themselves through the populations affected rather than through a single nationwide mandate. So having a district/state start the diffusion makes sense. Which district/state will be first?
    4. Simple text-based announcements should be RSS’d and be required reading for all employees. This is an efficient way to communicate and allows the employee to chose the channel (iGoogle, iPhone, etc). The employee can make an accommodation request for another channel (paper?) and include a justification for the accommodation. Of course this would require all employee’s to have an RSS reader easily accessible. I suggest each employee be given an iPod Touch or similar device. The coalition of the willing will quickly find other uses for the tool.
    6. For those educators who are not willing to be on the technology train, I suggest they practice that stance throughout their daily lives. Begin the next time you seek medical attention. Tell the people caring for you to not use any technology created after 1970.
    7. My work around the country assisting employees at all levels to use a mandated technology (an SIS) gives the lie to this statement. Everywhere my company does business (currently 42 states), we see professionals from teachers to principals to superintendents to secretaries working together to learn new systems and especially try out the new ways of working the systems make possible.

  8. I agree with Chad’s comment from the first article:

    “The bigger question is how do we change the culture of education to a situation such that any self-respecting educational professional would be horrified to admit to his or her peers that he or she lacked a personal learning network outside of what the district provides.”

    All 180+ teachers at our school are in the field, not the classroom. They meet their Independent Study and/or Home School students at the home, in a coffee shop, at one of our learning centers, etc. Every teacher has a laptop. I used to send out email tips aimed at helping the teachers be more productive with their laptops and the online web-based systems we use. Productivity tips, shortcuts, hidden features, answers to frequently asked questions, etc. About a year ago I decided to start a blog (with an RSS feed) instead. I put together a short training piece on RSS feeds and readers, why they’re helpful, and how that would be the mode of delivery for all of my technology tips and other articles going forward. I encouraged everyone to subscribe, and gave them very simple instructions how to do so. I currently have 78 readers. Ten of those readers are my teachers, the other 68 are some of my Twitter followers. 10 out of 180+ teachers. It’s sad, really.

    • Tony, you make a tremendous point about getting teachers to want a PLN on their own. There is still a learning curve for most teachers — 80-plus percent who don’t use technology (according to a recent study).

      So, it still falls to us and our administrators to set the bar. We need to talk about it a lot. I find that if I’m in the faculty lounge with 5 or 6 colleagues and I mention my blog or Twitter feed or classroom wiki, interest stirs.

      It’s an uphill battle for sure.

      Thanks to all here for thoughtful comments and to our host for getting this going.

  9. I whole-heartedly agree that a tech-free classroom is not an option. The issue involved with requiring RSS feeds isn’t necessarily about technology or required learning or required anything. I think the issue is more about what district and building leaders need to make the many voices more readily accessable to teachers.

    District and building leaders say they don’t have time to observe classrooms and talk with teachers. The issue from that premise, then, is more about school leaders’ priorities. If school leaders’ time is gobbled up with non-instructional issues, teachers are left on their own.

    As a teacher, I’m very aware that I have never gotten much attention from administrators unless I seek it out or there’s a problem. That’s totally backward. Every teacher should have at least 2 quality conversations with a district leader every week.

    Teachers need to change. Most of us want to change because we know we will be better teachers if we do. Building and district leaders also need to change. They need to get out more.

    In those meaningful conversatins with teachers, school leaders can move any obstacle any teacher may have that keeps him or her from doing what needs to be done–whether that’s having and reading an RSS feed, blogging, setting up class websites, or whatever.

  10. I think there’s a delicate balance. Stepping into my new role in a new building, I’m going to be very cautious for this first year before “making” anyone do anything.

    On the other hand, there will surely be some non-negotiables. For instance, I will be asking team leaders to update a weekly blog (in lieu of sending home a weekly email which they’ve been doing for a while).

    On some level, it’s all about the marketing…

    As the very wise commenter above me points out, it’s a matter of priorities. The leader with 10 priorities has no priorities.

  11. Rather than post my verbose opinions as a comment, I have written them in my own blog post. Here is the URL:

    http://randomthoughtsofsuzie.blogspot.com

  12. How would requiring teachers to use an RSS reader in anyway affect their behavior? They can set one up, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually start reading blogs. As a school librarian, I promoted blogs as much as possible with teachers and administrators and I provided one-on-one instruction about setting up RSS feeds, but so far as I know, no one changed their behavior. I couldn’t even get them to set up websites when I walked them through every step of it. Most teachers are blind to the advantages. When the tech teacher set up blogs with his students, he asked, “Who will your audience be?” and they named me as the only one they thought would regularly read their blogs.

  13. Your heart’s in the right place, but you CAN’T force people to learn. You can force them to fill a seat, you can’t force them to learn. You can’t force the kind of authentic curiosity that makes YOUR rss feed useful. YOU get something out of it because of what you bring to it, without that, it’s just another pointless chore.

  14. I’m struck by the irony that much of what is on my feed is blocked by my school’s filter … which means that much of my free time in the evenings/weekends is spent on professional development that I cannot accomplish at work.

  15. Marci, LOL, one of the best comments of all. Same in my district. In fact, we often bring in people to demonstrate some cool “new” technology, like Blogger, and it will be blocked.

    This is a seemingly never-ending problem.

    Thanks for making me laugh with your irony comment. Truly classic.

    • Mark — I know, right .. students probably feel the same way. Hard to push forward with soooooo many roadblocks, so much fear … kills motivation to be sure.

  16. I know there are roadblocks – our district falls in the ‘when in doubt, block it’ category. I worry about the one way approach – requiring RSS feeds. Which feeds will be required? Must it be feeds from a predetermined list? What if I find a great feed that isn’t on the list?
    RSS is a tool, but since we all learn in different ways, should we be required to use the same tool?
    I have this funny picture of everyone in my building running to their computers at 3:15 to read their RSS feeds instead of talking to each other.

  17. I’ve always been of the approach with technology (online or other) in education not to enforce a choice on teachers or pupils but to make the technology enticing to let them make the choice themselves.

    To ‘enforce’ teachers to use RSS could have such great potential. Key messages, dates, meetings, notes, useful websites etc could all be linked to.

    However, the real potential comes when teachers go beyond what is given to them to seek for themselves. This past year, I gave a presentation about ICT to new to senior management teachers and, in particular, PLN. Not one mentioned use of rss, but radio / teletext / papers. I guess, in their own way, their own RSS.

  18. I feel that podcasts and blogs are the best way that I can stay right up with the trends and best practices that are needed to be the best I can be and give my customers/faculty/students the best educational experience possible. RSS feeders are great. I do believe teachers should be required to have a feeder, but if that is all that is required, then we might as well just skip it all together. Sure there is a certain percentage of the teachers that would like it and enhance their performance and the students’ experiences; however, there needs to be follow through. My biggest issue with a lot of PD is that it has no follow through. Great, have your staff signup for a reader, but let’s create reader clubs. These clubs would be the teachers/administrator’s venue for telling each other about what they have read, technology integration tools/apps, and implementation ideas for their classroom. Without reporting and discussing, many teachers would not do anything besides check “sign up for a RSS reader” off their back to school list. PD is not about individuals, it is about the entire staff as a whole. Making each other better should be everyone’s goal.

  19. Well, I am a little late discovering this post, but felt compelled to comment anyway. I teach in the College of Education at Kansas State University, in fact, I teach the Technology for Teaching and Learning class that all education majors are required to take. Good or bad, I am the only one who teaches the class. That being said, I “FORCE” my pre-service teachers to listen to one educational podcast and read one blog post each week and reflect on their website blog about what they discovered and learned. You will notice I used the word “FORCE”. If I did not attach an assignment with points, they would not do it. I have to force them into this world. There are so many discoveries for them to make about teaching, education, technology, etc. etc. I hate that I have to require it and attach points, but it does get them started and at least some of them eventually get the point and continue on their own. Sadly, requiring teachers to use RSS would be the same situation. I wish it were not, but it is. Frankly I even do better with my busy schedule by subscribing via email to my favorites. Although, I do subscribe using RSS and Google Reader to many more, but my favorites come via email. I check email multiple times a day and I just get sucked in and read the posts and learn. Clearly, I need to be tricked sometimes too.

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