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Monday, February 05, 2007

Class-Based RSS for Reading & Writing

This post begins by recapping Parry (2006) and continues as a virtual dialog digesting and reflecting upon larger chunks of Parry's article (a Blogging for Beginners workshop task-related reading).


Laying the groundwork of an argument for class-based RSS feeding, Parry (2006) points out need for learners to make effective use of two distinct sets of analytical reading skills, especially in online venues: "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" (Parry, 2006, Helping Students to Become Better Readers to Become Better Writers, paragraph 3). He argues that RSS supports the first, and saves time for the second. Rather than provide an RSS tutorial, Parry points out a number of other guides, and concludes by claiming "RSS alters the transmission (reading and writing) of digital knowledge, and thus is critically important to any classroom instruction which requires digital composition, but especially projects which involve blogging" (Parry, 2006, Conclusion).

Three Large Tender Morsels for Digestion

To require students to write papers and then post them to a blog or website misses the point. In fact, this often results in frustrated students, because understandably they fail to see the relevance of such writing. Instead, productive classroom blog projects focus on teaching students how writing for the internet requires a different type of authorship—again, an important lesson in how context shapes meaning.

(Parry, 2006, Why it Matters for Student Writing, paragraph 1)

The point Parry makes about relevance to learners is a point well taken. Simply transferring learners' papers to blogs won't necessarily foster awareness of or engagement with blog audiences. However, if they're first time bloggers, and one of their initial tasks is to introduce themselves, blogging a previously written piece of introductory writing may serve to bootstrap inter-personal communication by almost immediately supporting commentary from group, class or community members. Blogging a prepared piece of writing at course onset also may provide a baseline, or sample, and serve as a proto-portfolio component, indicating learners' initial interests and writing abilities.

... In order to be successful authors in this space, students need to construct content that takes advantage of the iterability and citationality that the web offers.... This type of citation and appending comments to citation is crucial to becoming critically engaged readers and writers.
(Parry, 2006, Why it Matters for Student Writing, paragraph 2)

Granted, there is a lot more opportunity to experiment in writing spaces such as blogs than there is almost anywhere but in wikis - "Weblogs on steroids" (Tomei & Lavin, 2007, cited in Wikis and websites and blogs, oh my! B4B message 319). Nevertheless, starting with a prepared text at first (say something already composed in a notebook or with a word-processor) could provide learners with a ready-made platform for experiments with the kinds of web-based functions that Parry finds advantageous.

... By using RSS, you can syndicate all of the students blogs; every student in the class will get the class “newspaper” with headlines and synopsis of each student's writing, allowing them to scan all of the posts at once, and then decide which ones are most relevant, and select them for close reading. Furthermore, RSS can facilitate commenting, as most blogs will allow you to syndicate the comments to a specific post, so that students can post to a blog and continue to follow up on the comment thread. Again, this will help students to realize how writing for the web is a matter of continuous conversation rather than static paper design.
(Parry, 2006, Why it Matters for Student Writing, paragraph 3)

The third and final bit of Parry that I cite above (Why it matters..., para. 3) seems based on an assumption that learners within a group, class or community have individual blogs - as opposed to simple posting or commenting privileges on a group or class blog, and at least commenting if not also posting privileges on one anothers' blogs. To extend the newspaper analogy, it seems educators then need to assume two inter-related roles: first, as editors and publishers of the learners' stories through RSS newspapers; and second, particularly in case they are teaching learners of English as an additional language, teachers of newspaper reading skills.

Parry, David. (2006). The Technology of Reading and Writing in the Digital Space: Why RSS is crucial for a Blogging Classroom. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from http://blogsforlearning.msu.edu/articles/view.php?id=6

Tomei, J., & Lavin, R. (2006). Autonomy Arising from Community: Experiences with Weblogs and Wikis [Keynote (trademark) presentation]. Kumamoto University: January 14, 2006.

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