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:
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!