Day 12 - Assessing the Process with RSS Published 2006-12-29 under ,

RSS - sounds technical and at first look, it is not pretty. But for my money, RSS is the biggest advance in the Internet since the graphical browser. That is a pretty big claim, so let's see how RSS can change the way you view the Web - and then let's see how RSS can play an important role in collaboration.

For those scratching your head asking "what is RSS?", you are probably not alone. It has been my experience that many educators are not familiar with this technology, yet its presence is widespread. You have probably seen on Web pages the RSS orange in the form of an icon or chicklet . Simply stated, RSS is the technology that allows you to keep up to date on all of your favorite sites as well as news information - all from a single page. Many sites, and most of the big ones - including this blog :-) have a special URL that lists all of the new content from the site. When you collect these RSS feed URLs into a "reader", you can see what is new from all of your feeds. There are many different types of "readers" including standalone applications, browser plugins/extensions, and websites. (List of RSS Feed Readers)

I use Bloglines - a web-based reader - to view all of my feeds. Since I use several different computers, I want my feeds to be stored remotely. You can view my feeds by clicking here. Notice that you can organize your feeds into a directory folder structure which allows you to either view a feed individually or all feeds in a folder. Thus, with one click, I can see all of my "Ed Tech" articles. No need to browse to each of the individual blogs to see if anything new is available.

I also use Google's personalized homepage which allows me to customize my Google search page with little boxes (channels) that show the headlines from RSS feeds. While not as extensive as my Bloglines list of feeds, Google lets me keep track of those feeds in which I am most interested - e.g. ESPN's News from English Football.

So how can RSS feeds help educators? Save time! Almost all of the tools that I have mentioned in the 12 Days of Collaboration have an RSS feed that lets you as the teacher keep track of changes to your students' projects. So, when Billy adds something to his group's writeboard (see Day 1), you will see a new item in your RSS reader since you "subscribed" to Billy's group's writeboard RSS feed.

By subscribing to the feeds from those collaborative tools your students' are using and organizing them in a reader like Bloglines, you can monitor each group's progress. Actually, you can monitor each student's progress within each group since all of the online collaborative tools mentioned let you know who contributed what. By monitoring your students' contributions to the collaborative process, you can gain a better view into their understanding of the topics of the assignment. RSS provides teachers the opportunity to take an active role in project's lifecycle. You can offer feedback, direction, compliments, and even the gentle nudge forward when the development of the project is made so visible.

For me, RSS enables assessment to move from being dominated by the end product to a focus on the process where the learning is more evident. You can see who is taking risks, how are decisions being made, and who is contributing what. In other words, assessing the collaboration.

Finally

Success with the tools that I have discussed in 12 Days of Collaboration requires that you approach collaboration differently than traditional group work in the past.

  1. When explaining the project, it is important for you as the teacher to clearly define your expectations for "positive interdependence" within the group as well as individual accountability. (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) Discuss the social skills needed for groups to be successful.
  2. Too often, teachers assign group projects and then sit back as the students work. For collaborative projects to work, teachers must "monitor students' learning and intervene within groups to provide task assistance or to increase students' interpersonal and group skills". (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) In other words, we must take an active role in each group's success.
  3. Assess student learning as well as how well the groups functioned. Provide members of the groups a chance to evaluate their group's performance, how well they worked together, and how they can improve next time. (Johnson and Johnson, 1999)
  4. Incorporate regular opportunities for collaborative learning into your curriculum. (Smialek and Boburka, 2006) Occasional group work does not provide students the opportunity to learn how to collaborate. Working in groups on a regular basis allows students to become much more proficient at collaborating, and as a result, they take away much more from the project than they would have if they were not given the opportunity to develop skills in collaborating.

I hope that this series on collaboration will provide you with tools and motivation to develop projects that promote active learning within groups requiring collaborative skills.

RSS Resources
Simple RSS Tutorial
More Extensive (and technical) RSS Tutorial

References
The Effect of Cooperative Listening Exercises on the Critical Listening Skills of College Music-Appreciation Students
Thomas Smialek; Renee Reiter Boburka
Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 54, No. 1. (Spring, 2006), pp. 57-72.
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-4294%28200621%2954%3A1%3C57%3ATEOCLE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-T

Making Cooperative Learning Work
David W. Johnson; Roger T. Johnson
Theory into Practice, Vol. 38, No. 2, Building Community through Cooperative Learning. (Spring, 1999), pp. 67-73.
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0040-5841%28199921%2938%3A2%3C67%3AMCLW%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O

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