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Don't underestimate the importance of the aggregator

The first things I do each time I turn on my computer (and several times during the day) are to open my email and then GoogleReader in my web browser. Increasingly, I'm opening GoogleReader first.

After reading posts by Miguel and Paul and reflecting on an inservice I did for Houston schools last week on Personal Learning Networks, I've had the epiphany that I've been neglecting the true unsung hero of Web 2.0 - the RSS feed aggregators. Either GoogleReader or Bloglines has become such a routine part of my online experience that I forget it is still an unused resource for a majority of educators. And one, if not mastered, will make it likely other Web 2.0 resources may well go unused.

First, Common Craft has two great introductions to aggregators: RSS in Plain English and the  just released, Google Reader in Plain English. I also have a short guide, "The top 10 things you should know about RSS feed aggregators" here. Those are the basics.

Blog reading was the first, and probably is still the most important, use of an RSS aggregator for most teachers. Given most educators' time constraints, finding updated information from lots of blogs in a single fast and convenient location is essential if blogs are to actually be used as a PLN resource on a regular basis. 'Nuff said.

It is only slowly that I am using GoogleReader (my aggregator of choice) to stay current on other information sources - to have the news find me instead of having to find the news. Yes, I am a slow learner. These are more recent additions:

  • Mainstream media columnists. Whenever NYT's writers Paul Krugman, Maurreen Dowd, David Brooks, or Tom Friedman publish new columns, I now get them immediately. I am sure other columnists are available as well, but these are the ones I've sought out.
  • delicious subscriptions. Whenever new bookmarks are added on selected tags, they appear in my aggregator. Cool.
  • GoogleNews searches. (thanks to David Warlick for this suggestion). Articles on e-books, cyberbullying, and school libraries appear almost daily in my reader, most published in the mainstream press.
  • "Reputation monitoring." I've added Technorati and delicious searches for "Doug Johnson" just to see which of my writings and blog posts are being bookmarked and commented upon. I know I must surprise some bloggers by saying "thanks for the mention" now and then in their own blogs. I also built a Google News search feed for "Mankato Area Public Schools." I need to do this yet in Technorati.
And I feel I am just scratching the surface here. What are some cool uses to which YOU have put your feed reader that other educators can use?


Answer to a follow-up question:

Forgive me for asking, but I looked at the help,etc.  and I  couldn't figure it out.  I have a Google Reader account, and I wanted  to try one of the things you talked about in your blog--setting it up to get  Google news articles about certain topics.  I know I can subscribe to  Google News, but I understood from your post that you could set it up to  retrieve only articles on topics you were interested in.  I want to  show the debate team how to do this on their debate topics, but I wanted to  try it out myself for a couple of days first.  Can you give me some  instruction, please?


  1. Go to GoogleNews and do  the search on your term. 
  2. When the results come  back, look in the left column of the screen. You will find links to RSS and  Atom. 
  3. Click on either (I use  RSS), and a page will appear with a URL link that ends in “=rss” or “=atom”  
  4. Copy and paste that link  into your GoogleReader “Add subscription” box.  
  5. Manage the subscription like you would one to a blog.

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Reader Comments (7)

I'm starting to use the RSS feeds that Moodle generates in my courses in my RSS reader too. I'm not quite sold on it yet, but I like it better than subscribing by email to the posts.

The other thing I really like about Google Reader is sharing and staring posts. There have been many times when I wanted to find a blog post I liked and was able to search my starred items in Google. I feel like I am creating my own little search engine for what I find important!

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBethany Smith

Hi Bethany,

I don't use Moodle, but I can see how that would useful. I did forget that I have the Nings to which I am subscribed in GoogleReader.

And yes, I use the star feature too! Those things for further study that I never get back to!

Thanks again,


August 27, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,
I am really encouraged by your endorsement of Google Reader and have made it my (first and last?) aggregator of choice last week.

Thanks for providing me with other features of Google Reader which will enhance my daily use.

Also thanks for the link. You are now part of my daily read in a very efficient format.

Paul C at Quoteflections

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul C.

Doug, I can't add too much more to what you've said here, but I can try to deepen the meaning by adding a story of my own: Our teachers suffer the tyranny of visiting web sites with no time to do it, much less reflect on the content. With an RSS aggregator, they are free to visit once and the learning opportunities come to them. What a deal!

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin


This was one of your best posts ever - and that's saying something! I have believed in the power of RSS for sometime now and it was one of the top priorities when we switched web site providers for our school district. Our activities department and district office have made great use of the site's RSS feature - sharing breaking news, the Superintendent's column, sports scores, and other items via RSS. As more and more people use aggregators, it will become one, if not the most, efficient way for families to get information about their child's school.

The aggregator can two great things for teachers - become a personalized professional learning site and a great way to distribute information to parents.

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Hillmann

Doug: Don't feel bad about being late to get into this - I have been too. I just really started to get into RSS feeds in the last 6-8 months and I don't know how I ever managed before. I've started doing workshops in my region for teachers on Web 2.0, and I emphasize how they can get the information to come to them, AND RSS feeds are easily shared with their colleagues. I explain how all the Web 2.0 tools have some aspect of productive social networking that they could be using to work with colleagues not only in their own schools, but in other districts and states as well.

If you have any good pointers on using Web 2.0 for Professional or Personal Learning Communities, I'd love it if you would be willing to share your slides or insights. I promise not to steal them without your permission and giving you credit!

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary

We use RSS feed on our student blog as writing prompts. Let me know if you'd like to know what feeds are good for elementary schools students. I think there is a cautionary tale hiding in usiing RSS with young kids. We wanted to avoid mass murderer or Britney Spears news coming in to the kids. Since I'm actually bringing the feed in, I'm responsible for the content.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternancy

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