Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

According to Wikipedia, "RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts." W3schools.com notes that RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and that it provides users the following features:
  • Syndication of website content
  • Easy way to view headlines and other rapidly-changing data
  • Provides files that can be automatically updated
  • Allows personalized views for separate sites
  • Is written in the web programming language XML

Benefits of RSS

Whatisrss.com lays out numerous benefits of using RSS. It allows users to stay informed of the latest news, weather, and sports stories by delivering instant headlines to the Internet-enabled desktop. Additionally, it eliminates browsing time by bringing customized content to the user, rather than requiring him or her to spend minutes or hours surfing for information. Finally, the site says RSS feeds can actually increase privacy. Whereas some users are now compelled to sign-up for newsletters and other data (providing personal information), RSS delivers the same content to them automatically.

Blogs and RSS

RSS technology is used significantly in web logs, or blogs. CNN defines blogs as "web pages comprised of usually short, frequently updated items and web links". The news network utilizes blogs for communication among reporters and with the general public. Users can view updated (almost up-to-the-second) news stories, allowing them to better know what is happening on the ground from CNN personnel. While users can navigate to the blogs through traditional web browser links, RSS provides a simpler way. By subscribing to the RSS feed on a particular blog, the news enthusiast will receive an instant update when the blog has been updated without spending time searching for the same story.

How can RSS be used in Education?

In an online course an RSS feed could be used to apprise students of new content that is added by the instructor or other students. The student would subscribe to the RSS Feed and through it be notified of changes or updates provided by the instructor. If an RSS feed were provided for this Wiki then subscribing to that RSS feed would show the information that is added to the Wiki without the need to constantly visit the page for updates. My understanding of the uses of an RSS feed would be to give you the new information without having to visit a page and sift through the information that you have already read.

With an RSS feed an instructor could be developing the course while the students were taking it and as information is added that new content would be fed to the student. This would allow revisiting previous material or the addition of new material with equal ease. This type of technology would seem to most benefit a constructivist style of learning. The information might not come in a linear step-by-step format, but it would be provided as the instructor added it to the course.

One concern of many K12 administrators is giving students access to the plethora of information on the Internet without exposing them to unwanted material that is also available on the Internet. RSS feeds would make information available from reputable websites without students having to expose themselves while surfing for new information in an area of study. While many might look at this as a gate keeping operation. In a way it is, but many believe that a compromise needs to be reached when dealing with children's access to the Internet. RSS technology allows for a compromise to be reached. Teachers and administrators find sites that they know are safe and have worthy information and the students benefit from the timeliness and abundance of the information available through the Internet.

Recently, the use of RSS feeds coupled with specialized downloading methods (BitTorrent namely), have enabled the instant sharing of video and audio to large audiences without the need for large hosting packages by the providers. This has positive educational uses - imagine distance education videos being created, then initially "seeded". Links to these educational video torrents would be provided through RSS - and students with compatible BitTorrent clients would automatically begin downloading the video, all the while helping to share the information with their fellow students. This reduces cost on the school/educator's side while increasing accesability and learning on the learner's side. Many BitTorrent clients support the use of RSS to initiate downloads.


Wikipedia entry for RSS (file format)
W3schools RSS Introduction
CNN.com: How do I access RSS?