Tag Archives: rss

21st Century Newspapers

rolled up newspapers

A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper.  We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages.  We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed.  Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé.  Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page.  (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in).  And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.

It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche.  The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper.  Today.  Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper.  RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.).  As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.

The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website.  For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable.  Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode.  I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me.  How flattering!  Of course, I had to take a look.

Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper?  It might.  If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location.  Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well.  (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.)  The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves.  You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.

To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website.  (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.)  You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible.  A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers.  Take a look.  You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.

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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Professional Development 2.0

A network is all about making connections.

A network is all about making connections.

I’ve had a presentation called Professional Development 2.0 accepted to Ohio TESOL 2009.

The goal of my presentation is going to be highlight Web 2.0 technologies that can expose teachers to new resources and other people in the field.  I’ve posted before about the networked student, so why not the networked professional?

I’m going to focus on Twitter, because following the right people can set you up with a constant stream of great ideas and resources, blogs, which do the same but in long form, and RSS feed readers and other applications that can help organize all of these streams.  I’d also like to include Facebook, Linked In, Nings, and other social media, but I don’t have as much experience using them in the same way.

Among my own favorites are @LarryFerlazzo (and his blog), @TeachPaperless, @McLeod (and his blog), as well as blogs such as Six Things, Abject Learning, DigitaLang, and the others I have listed in my Blog Roll at right.

The purpose of this post, however, is to solicit other suggestions from you, the reader.  Is there someone you find especially useful to follow on Twitter?  Do you read any blogs that always inspire you?  Do you have a Facebook group that other ESL professionals should join?  Leave a comment below and share it with the world.

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Visualizing Words with Wordle

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word cloud of my blog feed.

Word clouds and tag clouds are a popular way to visualize words.  The larger the word, the more frequently they appear in a given text.  Wordle makes creating a word cloud simple: Just paste some text into the Wordle interface (or link an RSS feed) and the cloud is generated.  You can even tweak the color palette, font, and orientation of the words.

How can this be used by an ESL / EFL teacher?  I’m still working that out, but it seems like a word cloud must appeal to visual learners.  After pasting in a student’s writing passage, what can we learn?  If some words are very big, maybe she needs to expand the range of vocabulary used.  If very simple words are big, maybe her writing is too simple.  Did any words from the academic word list make it into the cloud?

Of course, other texts can also be analyzed this way.  Take a look at @iVenus‘s wordle based on program for the 2009 CALICO conference.  Gives you a pretty good snapshot of the conference, doesn’t it?

By stepping back and viewing this information visually, we can get an interesting snapshot of the overall text.  Why not turn your students loose and see how they use Wordle?

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How Simple Is Really Simple Syndication?

Really simple syndication is simple.  Really!

Really Simple Syndication is simple. Really!

In a word, really.  Really Simple Syndication (or RSS) is a way of publishing online information that is frequently updated.  Think Podcasts and BBC News.  Or, more recently, Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve been experimenting with RSS on my blog recently, as you can see in the sidebar at right.  (Though if you’re reading this post in archived form far in the future, I may have moved, deleted, or in some other way changed them.)

Currently, I have my Twitter feed, my Facebook status, and my Del.icio.us links.  In addition to my tweets, my Twitter feed is updated every time I add a blog post.  So, in some ways, my blog feeds Twitter, which feeds my blog.

This process has me thinking a lot about my personal and professional presence online.  How much is too much?  How much do my students expect?  How narcissistic is it to post your Facebook status to your blog?  In general, I only use technologies like Facebook for professional purposes, but it can be hard to draw the line.

Perhaps the biggest question is, how can we, and why should we, use these technologies for language teaching?  In the business world, I think it is easy to see applications.  I read about a Silicon Valley tech firm that has a flatscreen next to the elevator door that lists employees’ Twitter feeds.  Seeing who’s doing what, can promote interaction in new ways.

Within the context of education, using these technologies is a way of meeting students in the digital world that they already inhabit.  I interact with more students via Facebook than email.  Being able to tie all of these resources together via RSS feeds can give students one place to look for everything (listening homework .mp3s, links to supplemental reading articles, information about extracurricular activities, etc.), which eliminates the excuse of having looked for an assignment in email, when it was posted to the Moodle, or vice versa.

Will these technologies change the way we teach our students?  Not all at once, but the process has already begun.

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