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EdTech Update





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.

Baby generator


A thick skin

The two things you need to make any kind of change are a thick skin and a mission from God. All of us are sensitive to criticism. ... What helps deflect the arrows is faith that what you are doing is in the best interest of others. (Or as the Blues Brothers put it: “We’re on a mission from God.”) Without this faith in yourself and what you do, it won’t take much to turn you back. Machines are the Easy Part; People are the Hard Part
Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. Tom Landry
...the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. Machiavelli

My guess that you have made some changes over the summer in your library, tech department, or classroom for what you believe to be in the best interest of kids, parents or staff. I'd also guess that these changes will not be universally appreciated. And a few of those not liking the changes will be more than happy to let you know what an idiot and incompetent you are.

Never underestimate the importance of being able to deal effectively with criticism if you are to be a true change agent.

The day after tomorrow my district's teachers come back to work and half that first workshop day will be spent training them to use our new student information system, Infinite Campus. The implementation of big systems always include some, ahem, surprises. IC was no exception. Some things took longer. Some things we'd not anticipated needing to do, needed doing. Lots of things are done in a different way and require practice. Some things simply can't be done that were done in the old system. (We have a middle school schedule that I swear depends on the phases of the moon to determine whether 7th graders have health or PE on Thursdays.) In other words, we know the product we will be asking our teachers to learn won't have all the bugs worked out of it. The data is not as clean as we want it. Class lists, student names, and other things won't be perfect or available as soon as they want them. There will be a learning curve for using the system. There will be problems that can't be immediately solved.

I also know that in a few months, nearly everyone will be happy we made the change. (See "Where's the Light Switch?") But for the next few weeks I will need to have a pretty tough hide since I anticipate criticism flowing freely.

In situations like this, I normally I joke that I need to wear my "iron underwear" since everyone wants to take a bite out my ass. But when it comes to criticism, a thick skin is better than armor. Not all criticism ought to be deflected - some should sink in if one is to become a more effective leader, and quite frankly, a better person.

I see the following "flavors" of criticism directed at me fairly regularly:

  • General frustration with life. I am too busy. I already have too much work to do. This means learning something new and I am about to retire. I am frustrated with my finances, my marriage, my own kids, my health (but you are convenient and I don't want to think about the real causes.) OK, this is venting/whining. I tolerate little of it from anyone but the LWW. If I feel another person is whining at me, I will interrupt and simply say, "What exactly are you asking me to do?" If the person can't articulate any solution other than inventing a time machine or changing every other human being's basic nature, I try to kindly say that it's not my job to listen to problems I can't do anything about. End of story.
  • Criticisms about a policy or product. When we switched our web hosting to from regular web server to a content management system, 98% of our staff was happy and empowered. But for a few teachers who had learned HTML programming and had used it to create some extensive, useful and often beautiful webpages, the new system looked like a step backward. Dealing with these criticisms is difficult since even knowing and appreciating the disruptive nature of the change for these few people, I would have made the same choice if it was to be done over. About all one can do is offer a cogent rationale for why the change was made. (That making things easier and more powerful for 790 teachers at the expense of 10 teachers in district was why the decision was made.) Oh, and this is NOT the time to pass the buck and blame others for the choices made.
  • Constructive criticism. I admit that I've done plenty of boneheaded things for which I deserve criticism. The first year we installed lots of IWBs and mounted projectors in the district, I didn't think to include our custodial/maintenance staff in the planning. And these building-proud people let me know just exactly what a stupid oversight that was. It was justifiable criticism and I learned from it. Our custodians have been important players in the project since. The person who can set aside defensiveness and actually use complaints to determine better ways to do things has turned a critic into an asset. But it is harder than it seems - especially for those of us with fragile egos.

This last kind of criticism is why a "thick skin" through which some jabs can absorbed is better than "iron underwear" off which every complaint, valid or not, is simply deflected.

I hope all your changes this year are immediately loved and accepted. But if not, remember you are on a "mission from God" and that, like getting your teeth cleaned, a little painful criticism is good for your overall health.

But I think just for this Monday, I'm digging out the iron underwear.

What techniques have you developed to deal with criticism?