Should we require school employees to have RSS readers?

RSSlistenLast summer many of you helped create our wonderful lists of grade-level and subject-specific blogs that other educators could load into their RSS readers. I’m bouncing around a few thoughts in my head about those lists:

  • Should we require school employees to have loaded RSS readers (with a concurrent expectation that they spend time checking them and reading in them)?
  • How would the lives of the educators in your school organization be different if they regularly spent time with their loaded RSS readers?
  • How would the lives of preservice educators (i.e., student teachers) be different if they regularly spent time with their loaded RSS readers?
  • Can we figure out how to give educators professional development / licensure renewal credit for time spent with RSS readers, interacting with other educators in social media channels, etc.? We seem to be able to do so for face-to-face training, discussion groups, school book clubs, and so on…

Thoughts on any of this? Got your own questions you’d like to add to my list?

Image credit: Modified podcast logo with my headphones Photoshopped on

42 Responses to “Should we require school employees to have RSS readers?”

  1. I’ll go you one further. School Websites should have RSS feeds. As a parent, I would love to subscribe to a school calendar, class assignments, etc. As a former educator, I would have loved a way to keep parents actively engaged without sending papers home that only get lost.

    • I agree! As a teacher of kindergarten students who finds one important paper on the floor, knowing it never made it home but not knowing which home it never made it to, I would LOVE that option. We have advanced our communication so far in so many areas yet not here.

    • Some school districts do have RSS feeds. It is a wonderful feature. You get notified of all school district issues, but you pay attwntion to the half that you care about. Thi sis certainly better than me having to constantly check to see if a particular page has been changed.

    • Nikki, I’m with you! As an educator, parent and very involved community member, I’d love an RSS feed to local information that is important to me. Paper weighs me down and doesn’t allow for me to pull the information when I need it. I think that’s one reason why Twitter gets so much attention. Some school websites on content management systems allow for RSS feeds now. Hope you get yours soon!

  2. Sounds great in theory. I think most people who improve their practice if they read blogs and tried to learn from others. It’s hard to force teachers to do anything though. The only way to get it to work is to reward the behavior so getting credit for it for certification learning may be the only way to have a hope of making it work.

    • It is hard to force ANYONE to do anything, not just teachers. I just find it difficult to comprehend that some teachers are reluctant to learning (is this a problem when we want this from our students?). This sets a bad example for our students. Paying someone to learn does not work with kids and it will not work with adults. It’s sad when you have to get paid to become more learned or more productive.

  3. At our school we use RSS widgets embedded into a Google Sites page as the home for our intranet. The feed is populated from items I have shared from my Google Reader account so I can “prime the pump” so to speak for them.

    The objective is as they grow with use additional topic oriented feeds as well as internally generated ones will be added to the mix.

    • I encourage the use of RSS Feeds when I work with teachers and placing them in a Google Site is so easy. Populating them using your Google Reader account is a great idea! Thanks!

  4. I’m unsure that “forced” anything works – including RSS use. But… I do believe that a strong importance needs to be put on “networked learning” as part of B.Ed. I also think we can encourage its use by requiring that educators remain relevant. I’m not sure it can be done effectively without (I certainly couldn’t)- and if it can – then who are we insist on a specific tool?

    Agree – all school and board websites should use RSS feeds.

    • Excellent point! Teachers should be required to remain relevant. Subscribing to smart, functional RSS feeds from top education bloggers and organizations is a step in the right direction

      • Let’s step back a moment. I realize that I happen to be in an area where it’s possible for most parents and students to have access to technology, and that is giving me a slight bias. However, the mere fact that so many of us are on the web and looking at education-based blogs means that more and more teachers are using these resources. Not all, granted, but more and more of us.

        Not everyone is on the technology train, and I don’t think anyone should be forced to jump on board.

        I also think that, since many parents, students, and other interested parties have access to technology, there is a sort of peer pressure to stay abreast of edufads. We don’t face the same pressures as, say, doctors do to keep up with the latest advancements, but parents and students and districts and peers do exert pressure to do things with technology that were unheard of a decade ago – online grades, teacher homepages, etc.

        Districts do not have money to shell out to force (or really, encourage) people to follow a predetermined number of blogs – even if they did, there are hundreds and thousands out there and that number is growing – how would it be monitored? No one is forcing me to do this, no one forces me to read the NEA publications, either. I do so because I feel it’s worth my time and effort. I also like to know about what my colleagues are discussing, and we always have something to share from our educational based publications (and our fav tv shows). I would love to have the option and the time (and possibly compensation) for doing something I consider so meaningful to my professional well being – but I don’t want a district forcing my hand (or more likely choosing the fad of the week).

        In all honesty, I think the professional digests we choose to read – especially with so many out there – is a very personal matter. Whether we read them electronically or opt for the more traditional paper based is also personal. As much as I love the ease of email, for example, there’s still something neat about a hand written note.

        The suggestion that teachers should subscribe to RSS feeds seems to imply that the old-fashioned modes of sharing information are suddenly not valuable.

        I would agree with Nikki Kauffman – having updates on changes on my own childrens’ school websites would be incredibly helpful and time conserving.

        • RSS is not an edufad, but I do agree that INTERESTED (your word) parties will keep up with what they care about or need; such as students doing what is needed to earn a high grade, parenting parents, teachers that assure learning in their classes, supportive administrators who aid student learning. How they keep up is a matter of personal choice … RSS is one of these means to keep informed. Now who will be providing the content for this feed is critical.

  5. Keishla Ceaser-Jones Reply July 9, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Maybe you should say….should we ENCOURAGE. How can you force teachers to follow RSS feeds?

  6. It’s a great idea but I agree with Keishla’s comment. How can we force teachers to follow RSS feeds?

    I think that most of us who comment here are already “converted”. We realize the benefit of routinely following RSS feeds and of having a PLN, but there are still teachers out there who resist technology and all that that entails.

    I like the idea of rewarding behavior that Alfred commented about. Maybe if they blog about what they read and we rewarded that it would be something that could be seen and shared. I don’t know? You pose an interesting idea for discussion though Scott.

    I especially like your idea of giving teachers credit for professional development for reading and participating in online activities. Great idea. I think that needs to be explored in more detail.

  7. Neither “force” nor “encourage” really capture the heart of the matter.

    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.

  8. A charismatic school administrator or other faculty leader could effectively introduce encourage, and provide feedback on teachers’ the use of readers (via their shared items), but aside from that, I think a “requirement” would be detrimental to the process. I hope to introduce RSS feeds to my faculty sometime this fall. I imagine out of a faculty of 40, five will become engaged in regularly using RSS feeds.

  9. The most effective way I know to kill the professional spirit of a teacher is for an administrator to “require” learning. Using an RSS feed as the vehicle for learning makes the idea a double negative if a teacher has a different preferred source of reading.

    Why not just assume teachers want to learn? We do want to learn. We have our own ways of learning just like any other person does.

    Personally, I really like Twitter. I also like the random bits of information I get from blogs. If the blog-reading becomes mandatory, then the fun of discovery would be extinguished.

    You can’t be an independent learner if you aren’t treated like an independent learner.

    Here’s an alternate suggestion: Have a conversation with those teachers who are actively involved in a PLN. Find out how they got started, what the value is, if they have any suggestions for how to include more teachers in PLN’s.

    Then give teachers the time and opportunity to share what they’ve learned and how they learned it.

    Here’s the rub with supporting students as independent learners–teachers are just as independent as students. Let us do our thing and don’t punish the vast majority of engaged, enthusiastic teachers because a handfull of teachers have become living fossils.

  10. The Professional Learning Community groups at our school were required to submit meeting notes via a blog that was set up for that purpose. The next step would be for teachers (and admins) to use the RSS feature that already exists in Outlook to be able to access what everybody is doing. Start small, show people how easy and time-saving it is to use a Reader, then you won’t have to worry about ‘requiring’ them to use it.

  11. I would be more than willing to comply something like this if it were A) immediately useful to me and B) I was given a tool to read my feed on.

    We had a similar debate at my school with email years ago when we said, “Everyone must respond to email within 24 hours” but only offered 3 computers in the teachers lounge. Didn’t work.

    When we gave teachers laptops the debate stopped! RSS, or any other tool for prof dev, or communication is the same.

    • Hans, I was thinking of the few computer platforms that we generally require in our schools. We typically require teachers to use email and the SIS system, so why not other tools/platforms? Requiring the use of an RSS reader seems sensible to me if the school is trying to build a culture of regular learning and professional growth.

  12. I have to agree with most of these commenters that requiring this is counter-productive. There are two things that have been powerful at our school. One has been that a handful of us began blogging. Many other teachers were interested in reading our blogs and it was a great introduction to this world. The other thing has been some teachers sharing blog posts they found really impressive. Not every teacher at my school reads blogs but a significant number do now.

  13. Some great suggestions here. I especially like the idea of assuming that teachers want to learn and suggesting dialogue about this sort of professional development.

    Perhaps requiring blog reading is a bit much, but offering it instead of force-fed professeional development might be nice.

  14. I’ll add my agreement that mandatory RSS reading will just poison the idea for many people: if admin says we must do it, it’s probably not good for us.

    I like the idea of changing the culture and letting people see the value of blog reading. There are two main obstacles I see that have to be dealt with first: filtering and the credit issue.

    Most districts block anything resembling a blog, often simply based on the URL or the site’s technology (e.g. anything based on WordPress is assumed to be a blog). In my district, I regularly send links to important blog posts to my fellow administrators–perhaps when they’re repeatedly frustrated that they can’t read it without explicitly unblocking it that policy will change.

    The idea of giving license renewal credit for blog reading is fascinating to me. In my state (PA), the stumbling block for that is that credit can only be given by an “approved” provider, and there is a complex application process to go through in order to become one. I don’t see individual bloggers bothering, and it’s unlikely the state will change that policy.

    It’s a great conversation, though, and I’m interested to see how other people think we can motivate more teachers to read blogs.

  15. Great idea, Scott.

    I don’t know how we can require it, but perhaps we could use the same encouragement that we used to get employees to use email.

    Just send out the school’s information through an RSS-fed resource and the only way they can get them is through an aggregator.

    Leigh (Dr. Z) Zeitz
    http://drzreflects.com

  16. With the addition of Google Reader to Google Apps coming up (hopefully before the start of the school year) it should be even easier to get students and teachers excited and involved in RSS.

  17. While I’m not sure about requiring RSS readers, I agree with about anything that encourages educators to be more connected. I worked at a school where the superintendent would send out daily emails with links to stories relevant to education. 90% of the teachers deleted those emails without reading them. So whether it’s RSS, emails, Twitter feeds, or something else, it’s the concept of a connected culture that’s key.

  18. Reading the above comments reminds me that teachers don’t want to be told they “have to” do anything even if it is good for them. Personally my RSS feeds have provided the best PD I have had in my 17 years of teaching. I teach summer workshops for teachers and always require a reader for the duration of the class. However, it rarely sticks beyond the class. Sadly, I think a typical (whatever that is) wants to come in, work, then go home and be with their family. They hardly have enough time to grade papers and plan…let alone follow Twitter hashtags or use a reader even though it could yield great results. :(

  19. Hi, my name is Maeghan Whitmire and I am commenting on this as an assignment in my EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I have learned a lot about technology and the internet through this class. I used to get on Facebook and check my EMail and that was about it. Now I have feeds from every website that is important to me, I have a PLN, and I am using a lot of other websites to help me with technology in the classroom. I rely on my RSS feeds to keep me updated. It actually keeps my life pretty sane. I think RSS readers are very important and they should most definitely be on school websites. I was reading comments from above and one was from a mother. I’m not a mother, but i completely agree with her when she says she would like to stay updated with what is going on at the school. I think that is a very reasonable request. Thank you for your thoughts! I will be summarizing all of my comments on your blog on my class blog. Feel free to visit if you’d like.

  20. Inside every cynical person, there is a depressed idealist

    Sent from my iPad 4G

  21. Add me to the not thrilled with “required” list. Making it valuable and useful is the goal. We all prefer to use what we see as beneficial, not what we are told we have to use.

  22. Do we have enough educators blogging? I tend to think not. Is it because not enough educators are reading blogs or is it something else? Several people said something about there needing to be value for teachers to take the time to read blogs. Maybe we need more value out there as much as we need more people reading. Will reading encourage more teachers to write? Perhaps. Maybe even more comments would be a good start. Yes I have more questions than answers.

  23. No to the requirement. I really don’t need for my principal to tell me what to read. What if my blog were required reading instead of this one? Or Theo, or Moonbattery, or Breitbart or Malkin?

    A principal sent out articles and “90% of the teachers deleted those emails without reading them.” So what was really accomplished? Only that other, more important information got tossed out, too. If you overload people with educational trivia during a time when they can’t process it, you will lose much more than you possibly gain. Not to mention the fact that the next class might or might not be coming in the door.

    “even though it could yield great results” – that’s interesting. It sounds a lot like “You don’t know what’s good for you”, and that’s counterproductive from an incentive viewpoint.

    In reality, I expect that a large proportion would simply take that mandatory RSS time and use it to read the redsox feed from the Herald.

    Alfred’s point about the number of bloggers is a good one. The numbers are declining.

    If anything, we should be looking to reduce the number of things to load up and consider – go for quality rather than quantity. I like making all the school’s announcements and notices available from one source, but don’t toss in an hour’s worth.

  24. I have taken up the RSS crusade and have started offering to do PD on the merits of RSS and aggregators and now to set them up. There seems to be more and more interest as the word gets out about the efficiency and usefulness of RSS. Thanks for helping me validate that my crusade is not in vain.

  25. Excellent idea, yes every teacher should have a loaded RSS reader. I’m not sure how it could be tracked, but credit or CEU’s could be awarded based on interaction on blogs (comments left). Or perhaps each teacher should additionally have a blog where they can reflect on what they are reading/educational practices and their own classroom?

  26. Forced, required, encouraged…hmmm what would happen if I worked for a ‘for-profit’ company and the boss said ‘it has been decided the company finds RSS feeds are very productive and useful and it is expected that all employees use this technology.
    Would the employee have the option to say ‘no’ or to just refuse to use it and see what happens?

  27. What if we required meditation or “computer-free” days or any number of “good for you” strategies that do not, perhaps, fit exactly with the learning style of those who use RSS feeds, blogs, twitter and so on? I think we sometimes get caught up in our own passions and forget that they aren’t the only ones that work. Indeed, a good deal of current research suggests that the divided attention created by things like RSS feeds and twitter (random bits of disconnected information) is detrimental to deep and reflective thinking – something we surely need if we want to ensure that each child is educated beautifully.

  28. The concept behind creating a PLN is a desire to learn. You can’t force people to do that. That being said, I think creating a recommended list of resources in an RSS feed is a great idea. Google has announced its intention to include Google Reader in the Apps for Education Suite in the “near future.” Now you’ve got the perfect integrated tool to share feeds with staff and students.

  29. I was inspired to respond to a few blog posts left by others and may be going off on a tangent, but here it goes anyway!

    Someone made the statement, “Not everyone is on the technology train, and I don’t think anyone should be forced to jump on board.” I would ask why? Why can’t we force people, even teachers, to jump on the technology train? Our world is vigorously becoming more and more technologically advanced. The “old fashioned” way of doing things will eventually become obsolete. I believe EVERYONE will use technology because it will be our primary way of living. Have you seen any of the Back to the Future films? Though some may laugh basing my evidence on a fictitious 1980s movie series, I envision our world looking similar, if not drastically more complex than the innovations portrayed in the series. If people don’t wake up to this reality, they will be left behind and buried 1,000 feet deep. If we are not utilizing and requiring students to operate technology in our schools, how are we serving justice? If we expect students to explore technology, shouldn’t we be doing the same? Just as a secondary teacher is knowledgeable about his/her subject area, we must be well-versed in what we teach and use to teach.

    On a different matter, I would love receiving updates from my child’s school via RSS feeds on the school website. However, I teach in a VERY poor community and very few families have access to computers at home. This past school year, 5 out of my 25 fifth graders had some kind of computer at home and only 3 of those 5 had internet access. I possess an extremely high concern for my students and community due to the fast progression of technology. I fear we will be one of those buried communities I mentioned earlier. We, as a community and school district, are not forced to engage in the global technology market. We can get by with doing the same old thing. A few reasons contribute to this way of thinking:

    1. Community and school leaders- These people are comfortable with doing things the way they have always done them. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?

    2. Low income families- My community has very few jobs being a rural Iowa community. A local packing plant serves as the employer for over 50% of our students’ parents. When parents are working for very little and have many bills to pay, computers and luxury items are not even on the radar screen. How can we require families to compete with all the technology the school implements and the expectations attached?

    3. Money- The school desires to help families by providing technology to their children. My dream is to become the next Microsoft school. Though the dream is hardly close to a reality, it has manifested itself into more practical ways, like slowing incorporating building-wide computer labs and inviting teachers to sign up for multiple time slots to use the labs. We have a difficult time offering students multiple experiences inside AND outside of a computer lab. There is very little to no funds to take our students on field trips outside of the community walls.

    Overall, our largest dilemma is leveling the playing field for all schools and students. My school district resides in a community that is only 20 miles east of a very affluent, technology savvy district possessing all the latest bells and whistles. The students enrolled in this district certainly have an advantage over the students I serve. When these kids graduate, who will be offered the job—the kid with several enriching experiences from school and life or the kid who never stepped foot over the county line? Though we may not be able to change the way families live around the world, we can strive to provide career and life preparing opportunities for EVERY child in EVERY school. I still struggle with the question: How? How do we ensure every child’s success?

  30. 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.

  31. Scott-
    Great job on the survey. Do you mind if I repurpose it in my district?

    Mark in Cinci

  32. Can anyone recommend a site that collects/writes education news? I was subscribing to educationnews.org, but guh . . . the political bend they have was making me ill and belligerent. Some of their headlines are fairly ridiculous and down-right Drudgeian.

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