For me, one of NHL jerseys my central pedagogical goals is always to teach students to critically engage media. As such, I feel it is important to teach students how to become critical navigators in the digital spaces where a majority of their information will be taken in. And for me, this is one of the reasons that blogging in the classroom can serve an important pedagogical role that writing in paper format alone cannot accomplish. If one simply transfers the "book-way" of writing onto the digital space, students have learned little that they could not have gained from more traditional writing assignments. The situation may even be worse than one of unnecessary reconfiguration, for in the digital medium, writing often produces technological frustrations which, if not offset by other gains, leads to negative experiences for the students. Since the context of writing has shifted in the digital, it is important to demonstrate to student how authorship itself has shifted in the age of the digital.
Writing in the age of the digital is no longer a matter of being the absolute genius creator who gives birth to an idea and writes it all down for the world to see (as if it ever was); managing context on the web for writers has become a significantly different task. To write “well” in this space students need to learn not only how to cite and link, but indeed to package their writings in a different way. RSS helps accomplish this goal.
Helping Students to Become Better Readers to Become Better Writers
The amount of information on the web is overwhelming to say the least. I could spend the rest of my life reading Wikipedia and would probably never finish. While this is also true of a large library (say here at the University at Albany) as well, the tools one uses to navigate the library, a static electronic database easily searchable by author, title, or book, is clearly inadequate for the web. RSS helps to give students control over content on the web, reducing time spent navigating from site to site to see what has changed, and instead allowing them to receive updates about the content they are interested in tracking or material that is relevant to class. For example, if you were teaching a class on the Holocaust you could require that students subscribe to feeds that related to the recent trials of Holocaust deniers in Germany, and to the situation in Darfur. In this way students would get regular updates and could read the most relevant content without getting lost in a quagmire of information.
But more important than staying up to date on information is the ability RSS provides to sort what one wants to read from what is not of interest, not only in terms of selecting to receive only certain feeds, but also as a matter of reading only in detail a few of the feeds you receive: sorting again the information you receive, separating what is not of interest from that which is (an invaluable skill for students who will increasingly rely on digital information). For example, I subscribe to somewhere over 100 feeds that allow me to monitor somewhere close to 200 websites (some of the feeds are just a collection of websites all in one feed), which means that on any given day I can receive over 500 new items in my feed reader. This clearly means that I cannot read them all, or even half of them. What a good feed reader does is allow you to quickly scan the headlines, mark the ones you want to read, toss out the ones you don't, and return either immediately, or at a later more convenient time, to carefully read the ones you have selected.
So here is one of my big pedagogical and theoretical claims: The speed of reading in the age of the digital has changed, and we need to help students navigate this. Being able to “surf” around countless webpages, scanning information, might be a good practice for cursory knowledge acquisition, but it does not lend itself to in-depth reading. In fact, I would argue that these are almost two separate mental practices. And it is important to teach students to distinguish between these two. Reading on the internet requires two separate skills: one, the quick analysis to find what is worth reading, and the second, a switch to slow analysis to carefully consider what has been found. What RSS does is allow students to make this distinction, to receive content as "bits" easy to scan, and then to select what they want to read. In a library, notice how these two operations are separated by the act of walking to the stacks and checking out the books. You first scan the database for book titles, copy down the call numbers, walk to the shelves, scan the book to see if you want to read it, and check it out, taking it home to read slowly. The distinction between scanning and careful reading is reinforced in this model by the change in venue: the process of checking the book out and leaving the library. On the computer, since all of this happens in one place and through one interface, it is all too easy to conflate the two. What I tell students to do is actually make a mental separation between tagging items to be read, and then reading items. I even go as so far as to suggest that they take a break between these two processes. And learning to use RSS (along with tabbed browsing) greatly aids this type of reading practice.
One of the most significant concerns about using blogs in the classroom is that students often feel as if they are doing the same writing, just placing it on the web. Since context determines meaning, the method and message of writing necessarily changes as students compose for the internet; however, many academics fail to convey this information to students. Recently, there has been a significant amount of hype about “Web 2.0,” the idea that the Web has changed from a reading space to a read-write space. Regardless of the intellectually spurious claim to absolutely separate out reading from writing, web content in recent years has changed, most significantly with regard to the increase in wikis, blogs, social sites, and even the speed at which traditional sites now get updated.