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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Thoughts about Inoreader and Blog Hubs

There has been a nice chain of Connected Courses blog posts and Twitter convos about the notion of "blog hubs" and the technologies of connection (see Alan Levine's Over Easy to pick up on the chain of posts). That emerging conversation is very good timing for me as I review my use of Inoreader as a connecting tool for my class blog network next semester. I discovered Inoreader in the nick of time last semester to make good use of it this Fall, and now for Spring I hope to do an even better job. Alan's post invokes the idea of "information flow" — It’s not necessarily the “easy” syndicating that compels me, it’s a glimmer of a new. novel way of thinking about the locus of our activity, and how the web mention technology offers a more than singular information flow — which is exactly why Inoreader is important to me. Right now, my students all have their blogs and most of them also have a website-based project... and the key for me is to get all that information flowing from one person to another so that we can all be learning from each other and helping each other by providing good, timely feedback.

FLOW FOR INSTRUCTOR

Overview of student blogs. I need a quick way to look at all the blog posts as they are published to make sure everything is going well, esp. at the beginning of the semester. Some things I keep an eye out for:
- questions or concerns students might express that need a response from me
- problems with images and image citations (that is something new to most students)
- other technical problems that might come up (formatting links, blog post labels)
Best of all, of course, I am looking for students having fun and doing great stuff so that I can chime in with enthusiasm! Inoreader is a fantastic tool for this; I subscribe to all the students' blogs and I check Inoreader periodically all day long for new posts as they come in. I set up Inoreader to label them as "incoming" and I remove that label as I glance through each post. I comment as much as time allows.

Overview of blog comments. Keeping an eye on student comments is important too, and because I can subscribe to the comment feeds at my students' blogs as well as to the post feeds, I am able to use Inoreader in the same way for comments as I do for posts. Last semester, there was never a problem with a comment (as a rule, students are incredibly helpful and supportive in their comments), and I am delighted to report that there was no spam at all. Yet even though I am confident that all is well, it is incredibly important to me that the comments should be a good experience and that spam should be dealt with immediately, so I really do keep an eye on the comments as they come in, just to make 100% sure. Plus, it is fun and very energizing to see all the good comments students are leaving on each other's blogs.

FLOW FOR STUDENTS

This is much more variable as students have different needs and desires. My goal is to create a rich network of sharing that will satisfy that range of needs and desires. I want students to feel part of an ongoing, active, exciting class writing experience all semester long... and Inoreader is a big help with that.

Sharing assignment-specific examples. This is my favorite thing about Inoreader! As student blog posts come in, Inoreader can label them automatically by assignment (assuming students include key word in blog post title which they mostly do, and I can manually add the assignment label when that does not happen automatically). Each Inoreader label is an RSS feed of its own, with an HTML clippings view. That means I can redisplay the student assignments... which is the absolute best way I know to help students who are feeling uncertain or confused about an assignment. Especially for creative writing, seeing other people's creativity is a perfect way to unleash your own creative powers! Here's an example of how that works for a really important assignment, the first storytelling assignment they do in class: Week 1 Storytelling posts.

For each assignment, I am able to use Inoreader to provide an RSS/HTML stream of posts for that specific assignment. Here is a screenshot of the Inoreader tool that configures the HTML clippings view for any given label/folder:


Class "bundles" of blogs. This is something I will be doing in Spring that I did not do last Fall. Inoreader allows you to create blog bundles, so I will make a bundle of the blogs for each class, and that will allow people to see the overall blog flow in much the same way that I do. For example, here is what a bundle looks like for the Indian Epics class: Indian Epics Inoreader Bundle.


That is the "card view," and you can click on the link and see the different "views" in Inoreader even if you are not an Inoreader user. Of course, Inoreader prompts you to log on and subscribe, and since the free version of Inoreader is a powerful tool, I will be encouraging my students to sign up and use it next semester, hoping to get them excited about using Inoreader to subscribe to and manage online content. I'm really not sure how many students will be interested in following the class this way or in broadening their web horizons, but I definitely intend to teach them how to do that if they want to give it a try!

Of course, Inoreader is not the only way that information flows in the class. My daily class announcements (a blog) are a key component of the information flow, as is our class Twitter feed along with the class Pinterest Boards (both my Boards and the students' own Boards too). What's great, though, is that because Inoreader can harvest the class announcements and Twitter and Pinterest, that means it can re-distribute that information over again. I'll write some more about that in another post.

So, yes, there is lots to say, and I've got a site going where I will be documenting my Inoreader use in detail for the coming semester (Teaching with Inoreader), but I wanted to get these examples out there as my contribution to the discussion of what is easy/hard about blog hubs.

The technology side of Inoreader is very easy: the students set up their blogs, and I subscribe to their blogs and to the comments, putting them in folders (details). I set up the rules that automatically assign labels to different assignments. Inoreader automatically creates RSS feeds and HTML clippings for all folders and for all labels. None of that takes any real time or effort, so I think that qualifies as easy.

Here's what is not easy: deciding to do all this! Because, yes, it is extra work and extra responsibility to set up a class this way and design the assignments with sharing as both the process and goal. So, the technology is easy... it's the actual teaching that is hard. Or, rather, it can be hard. I wouldn't say this is really hard for me because I love it so much; being able to interact with my students like this is a complete pleasure, allowing me to be the kind of teacher I always wanted to be but could never manage in the traditional classroom. I feel really lucky to have discovered Inoreader since it has given me new ways to pursue those goals with new opportunities for my students to share their work with one another. But I hasten to add: I was taking this same approach back when I first got started with student blogs and websites over ten years ago, using Bloglines as my aggregator. So, as long as we have the open Internet for sharing, I know the class can succeed, but I am also glad that Inoreader is helping me find new ways to keep up with my students while helping my students keep up with each other, seeing all the great stuff that goes on all semester long in the class!

7 comments:

  1. You pretty much have obtained the hub features I've done in wordpress, and you get the nice masonry type display. I was talking to the known developers trying to make a case for some sort of "collection" builder, where anyone can mark anything in their stream, and create a sharable collection/bundle view of that. They were interested.

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    1. Oh, YES, exactly: I am doing that with the labels in Inoreader... I can add "lkgrss" to anything, and out it goes into what I am calling my "omnifeed," which is a kind of sharable collection, just as you say. I display it here as HTML, but since it's also available as RSS it can really go anywhere! Especially if students are doing blogs in multiple classes (which of course they SHOULD be doing; blogs in all the classes!), then having an easy tool to use for creating a kind of "omnifeed" like that would be so great. In Inoreader, the labels make it super easy because the labels are available as RSS/HTML; you just have to click to turn that on for any given label. It's kind of like the way Blogger labels make their own RSS... but this is across blogs, and even across platforms, since Inoreader works with stuff like Twitter too. So much feed fun!

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  2. By the way you ROCK! This is brilliant. Eager to meet at DML (boy are they in trouble if they reject the proposal hee hee)

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    1. Especially after that last Connected Courses video with Ben and Erin, oh, I am REALLY excited. I loved all the stuff Ben was saying at the end about software development (respectful software development) and thinking about how similar that is to course development. Profound stuff. LOTS to talk about. :-)

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  3. Brilliant - absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for detailing this process (not just so I can steal it, but that too...)!

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    1. If this can be helpful for you, Lisa, I am so glad! Discovering Inoreader made this past semester such a great adventure for me. In all the years that my students have been blogging, I never felt as much "in touch" as I did this past semester, and with less time and trouble even than when I was using a group blogging strategy at Ning. For me, it all worked great! :-)

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  4. I use Flowreader from Flowreader.com

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(I have limited this to Google accounts only, but no word verification; meanwhile, if you want to contact me directly, you can do that too! laura-gibbs@ou.edu.)