Saturday, March 6, 2010

Three Areas Technology Can Help 21st Century Administrators: Using Google Reader Effectively to Maintain Professional Reading Library

IMPORTANT NOTE: While I speak mainly about using Google Reader as an RSS feed aggregator in this post, I know there are others out there. I chose focusing on just Google Reader for simplicity sake and because of its accessibility. It requires no additional download, and it can be set up rather easily. There are many administrators out there who are put off from trying these technologies because they become too complicated. Google Reader seems to me to be the easiest RSS reader out there, though some of you might disagree. The old rule “Keep It Simple” I think applies as we try to encourage more of our administrators to use technology.

My previous post pointed out that there were three challenging issues I have faced as a 21st Century school administrator. These three areas are: 1) Developing and Maintaining a Professional (Personal) Learning Network, 2) Managing all the tasks and dates that come across my desk, and 3) Maintaining effective communication with stakeholders. With this post, I would like to continue the exploration of technological tools and how they can address some of these issues.

As I posted earlier, Twitter is a center piece in my Professional Learning Network. I use it daily. It provides a more or less instantaneous connection to a group of like-minded professionals. Another component of my Professional (Personal) Learning Network is Google Reader. I have always been an avid reader, typically reading four or five books at a time. As a professional, trying to remain current in the educational dialogue can be a daunting task. By using an RSS reader, I am able to follow hundreds of sources, and focus on just those of interest. Trying to do this with ordinary journal and periodical subscriptions would be costly and a great deal more time-consuming.

There are several advantages to using RSS feeds to create a professional learning RSS feed library to enhance your professional learning network.

1. As a Google Reader user, you are your own librarian. You control the content flowing in. In the typical traditional library, the person purchasing the journals, periodicals, and books can be said to control the flow of information in. Using an RSS reader like Google Reader gives you that power. As a user I decide which feeds I will follow. For example, as a school administrator, this means I can include the RSS feed for US Department of Education so that when they make announcements, I can follow these without waiting for a copy from secondhand media outlets, or hearing it from someone else. I can subscribe to as many feeds as I wish and to whom I wish. If I subscribe to a feed that offers information that is no longer useful, I simply unsubscribe. That information will no longer be included. The RSS reader places the user in control of the information flow.

2. Using Google Reader allows me to scan hundreds of items (articles, blog posts, etc.) quickly and efficiently. RSS feed readers like Google Reader gives users the advantage of being able to collect a large number of articles, blog posts, and other items and pull them into one place so that a reader can quickly scan for interesting and relevant items. Because of this, Google Reader places you in charge of the information flow. You can simply star items that you would like to explore further, or even email them to yourself for deeper scrutiny.

3. Using Google Reader allows me to get the latest updates from the sources I choose.  For example, I subscribe to several news outlets which provides me with headline updates throughout the day. By subscribing to several news outlets I am able to get a broad overview of the most current news items available. The same applies for those sites I subscribe to in other areas of interest. Let’s face it, the information coming out on the web is the most current available.

4. Using Google Reader is more secure than using email to receive updates and newsletters from sites. When you give a web site your email address, there is the potential of that site providing your email address to an advertiser so that you start getting unsolicited advertisements. This is not an issue with using Google Reader.

5. Using Google Reader allows you to sort the RSS feed sources into categories. Using these categories allows the user to sort the incoming information. For example, if there are favorite RSS feeds (or web sites) you can place them in certain folders so that you know where they are. I currently have a “News” folder that contains feeds from major news outlets. I consult this folder often when I want to know what is the most current news.

I realize that this article assumes some level of understanding regarding RSS feeds and RSS feed readers called aggregators. It is simply difficult for me to write a blog post that addresses a broad audience on this topic. However, there are some great introductory materials out there regarding RSS feeds and using RSS readers. I would suggest someone wanting to understand more visit the sites below.

Google Reader Help: Its section on “Getting Started with Google Reader” begins by providing an overview of RSS feeds and setting up the different features found in Google Reader. It is a very useful tool.

Getting Started with Google Reader

CNET’s RSS News You Choose: CNET provides a slightly more technical overview of RSS feeds and how they work. They also include their own favorite RSS feeds and links to some other feed aggregators or readers users may wish to try.

CNET's RSS News You Choose

There has been a great deal published on the web about using RSS feeds and feed readers in the classroom. There is a bit less that discusses how administrators can take advantage of this tool as well. Maintaining our Professional Learning Network means being able to stay as current as we can regarding the educational dialogue.  RSS feeds and feed readers like Google Reader gives administrators a tool be both active consumers of the most current information, and by default, that means we can be a part of the professional conversation.

This is part two of a series of posts I am using to explore technological tools that can assist school administrators in developing and maintaining professional learning networks, managing the many tasks and events an administrator faces, and maintaining and fostering effective communication with stakeholders.

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