Who’s using an RSS feed reader yet?

If you’re like the majority of my friends and family members, you probably haven’t even heard of a feed reader—and I hope you’ll take this digital dive soon primarily because it will save you tons of time and hassle!

Basically, feed readers are free tools designed to help you to keep up with the new content posted on your favorite websites.  In a world where thousands of pages of new content are posted daily and sites are changed almost hourly, feed readers are becoming nothing short of essential for sifting through the “noise” and getting ready access to information of interest.

I use a feed reader to follow daily current events in the parts of the world that we study in class, to follow educational bloggers that I’m interested in and to follow classroom blogs of students from around the world.  My feed reader is the first (and sometimes only) place that I visit online every day because I can quickly find out what new information has been posted on the sites that I’m most interested in.

Here’s a fun tutorial from the Commoncraft guys explaining RSS.

While there are literally dozens of different feed reader programs to choose from (Bloglines and Google Reader are two biggies), Pageflakes is my favorite primarily because it has a visual layout that I find easy to read and interesting to look at.

What’s even better:  Pageflakes has been developing a teacher version of their tool just for us that includes an online grade tracker, a task list and a built in writing tutor.  My thinking is that as Pageflakes works to perfect its teacher product, this might become one of the first kid-friendly feed readers on the market.  I think what I like the best is that Pageflakes users can actually blog and create a discussion forum directly in their feed reader—making an all-in-one digital home for our students.

I just finished doing a quick review of the teacher version of Pageflakes.  Here’s what I found:

1.  Overall, I love the automatic content that Pageflakes provides as “Seed Flakes” for teachers (and possibly students) to select from.  Teachers will find many of the content options listed in the Pageflakes library to be very valuable.  I particularly liked the inclusion of several blogs being kept by teachers primarily because they will open the eyes of many educators to the professional development potential found in blogs.

The vast majority of the “professional reading” that I do today is on blogs because the content is immediate, free and often far more practical than the content I get from journals.  Most teachers haven’t yet made that shift.  By including links to accomplished edubloggers, Pageflakes will open the eyes of teachers to this kind of information.

2.  I also love the visual layout of Pageflakes—both the teacher edition and the “original” edition.  Having played with several different feed readers, I definitely think that Pageflakes will be the most approachable and attractive to teachers—-who will appreciate the visual cues they get in the list of new posts inside each “Flake” as well as the personalized color options that are possible.  While these kind of features  may not be important when serving other professionals, educators tend to be more artistic and expressive—-and the feed readers that will “hook” them need to cater to that reality.

3.  I can share with you that Pageflakes has “hooked” several tech-challenged colleagues that I know!  I’ve been bragging about it for a few months now and caught the interest of two teachers in particular that I work closely with.  In less than five minutes of “instruction” from me, both had their own accounts up and running.  One uses it to keep track of daily current event websites—something that he teaches directly in class—and another uses it to keep up with blogs of favorite children’s authors.

A third mentioned that Pageflakes was his “new crack” the other day—Good for Pageflakes…bad for the guy with “old crack!”

4.  One worry that I have in the content listings offered in the Pageflakes library is that there is not a separate section that is titled “Web 2.0 Tools.”  Most of the teachers that will be drawn to Pageflakes are likely to have an interest in other digital tools that can be used in the classroom with students—-but few will have the time to find those sources themselves.  Sorting through a collection of educational tech bloggers and giving them an entire category in the Pageflake “seed flake” library would be a helpful addition to the teacher version of the site.

5.  I also wonder if some form of “star rating” system on seed flakes is possible.  While the seed flakes that Pageflakes has included seem like a good start, the number of teachers that find each flake valuable will be important if they hope to capture the teacher market.  Most teachers won’t have the time to go exploring very far from the Pageflakes library on their own initially—-so if those items aren’t engaging to the educators that are signing up—-and if they can’t find sites that are valuable quickly—-we’ll start losing users.

6.  I also hope that Pageflakes will start to divide up their list of “seed flakes” by content area.  Users will only be hooked when they know that coming to their feed reader each day is going to result in something valuable for their own teaching setting and content area.

Pageflakes could facilitate that process by providing separate lists of websites for reading, math, science, social studies, technology, the arts…etc.  That way, teachers could quickly access resources that would be immediately useful in their classrooms.  While the generalist sites that they’ve provided may do that once in awhile, a more targeted approach to providing flakes by content area may be more useful to novice feed reader users.

Interested yet?

I hope so—-because Pageflakes may just make your online life more efficient.  Twenty years from now, I doubt that anyone will be able to truly function without a feed reader, so why bother waiting any longer!

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