RSS feeds into course management systems – why?

Last night I was looking for some information about recording audio for powerpoint presentations in order to create a slidecast

Aside: I like Slideshare and I like creating slidecasts. However, synchronising the audio with each slide is a pain, even using the interface provided by Slideshare. I’d much prefer being able to record the audio while giving the presentation and having it automatically synchronised. A while ago I thought we had a process using Powerpoint, but no. Bloody powerpoint keeps cutting off the last few seconds of the audio for each slide. To get it to work you have to pause for 5 seconds at the end of each slide. If you have any insight into how to fix this, please let me know. I can’t even find any mention of this problem via Google.

While searching for some information I came across the TLT Group’s wordpress blog because of the low threshold applications included some stuff on narrations. It also had an LTA on integrating RSS feeds into a course management system.

I sent this around to some folk at the PLEs@CQU project and some others. One of them responded with

I am not sure of the advantages of having RSS feeds go through the CMS. It is an easy thing for individuals to set up in their own, online personal learning environments.

It’s easy to do, not

Some of the other low technology applications included on the TLT site include

Personally, I’d class these tasks as much simpler and more familiar to people than integrating RSS into a CMS.

The definition for an LTA used on the TLT blog is

A Low Threshold Application (LTA) is a teaching/learning application of information technology that is reliable, accessible, easy to learn, non-intimidating and (incrementally) inexpensive.Each LTA has observable positive consequences, and contributes to important long term changes in teaching and/or learning. “… the potential user (teacher or learner) perceives an LTA as NOT challenging, not intimidating, not requiring a lot of additional work or new thinking.LTAs… are also ‘low-threshold’ in the sense of having low INCREMENTAL costs for purchase, training, support, and maintenance.”

Even though they are low threshold, you would be surprised at the number of academics who do not know how to carry out these tasks. Computer literacy amongst academics remains fairly low. I also think the same applies for students. Most of these folk know how to do what they do regularly – email, IM etc. But there are few people who are comfortable with and able to explore applications and think of how they can harness the features of technology to improve education.

Especially if it requires a rethinking of how they teach.

Advantages

The uncertainty held about the advantages of this approach is, potentially, one example of this difficulty people have of applying new features of technology to learning and teaching. Some possible examples follow, but they mostly come down to the following description

Incorporating a newsfeed into your WebCT course is a great way to get dynamic, changing content into the password protected environment of WebCT.Potential uses include creating an up to date ‘breaking information’ news source for your class.

which comes from this page which is pointed to from the LTA RSS page.

The example used on that page is for the academic to maintain a course blog that they use to keep students aware of events. This is similar to what was done on the EDED11448 website for “latest discussion”.

The EDED11448 website also shows a more interesting example of this practice in the portfolio, weblog and resources sections. Each of these pages show an example of aggregating individual RSS feeds from students into a single RSS feed and then including it in the course site.

As was pointed out above it is easy enough for students and staff to make use of these RSS feeds in their own personal RSS readers. They don’t need to go to the course site. However, I can think of two reasons why this is a good thing:

  1. It helps maintain an identity for the course.
    Like it or not, course websites remain an important contributor to the identity of a course offering and/or to the staff member coordinating a course. Many folk like, in part because it has become the accepted practice, to have a course website that can be seen as a product of a course. Having it distributed into everyone’s personal learning environment removes that sense of identity. There has been some work around learning networks that suggests that this is one of the requirements of a learning network. For example, look at this paper and search for the section titled “requirements of a learning network”.
  2. It’s still not easy for everyone to use an RSS reader.
    As I pointed out in the previous section. RSS readers are still not common place. A lot of people don’t know what they are. A lot of students have become indoctrinated into the practices associated with a course website. Having the RSS feed in the course website helps the transition. The advantage of this idea is you can support both the course website and those with RSS readers.

    For example, the EDED11448 website looks like a fairly typical course website, this serves the traditional students. There is also an OPML feed that allows the entire site and all its contents and updates to be tracked via an RSS reader.

    Isn’t a key feature of personal learning environments allowing the students to make their own choice. They choose, course website or RSS reader, or both.

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