From Aggregation to Curation

Over the past month or so, we have taken our students in GRAD 602 on a carefully scaffolded journey through web technology to support teaching and learning.  With Jeff Nugent and our graduate fellow, David McLeod, we have laid out how the web is impacting the landscape of learning, suggested the use of Chickering and Gamson’s 7  Principles as a lens for determining the use of technology for learning, and then introduced students to blogging (public reflective practice), Twitter (networked communication), and Diigo (tagging and social bookmarking).  We complete our review of digital technology tonight by discussing the notion that – through RSS – you can rewire the web to customize the information flow one receives, as we are doing with Netvibes.

Yet, as we have prepared for tonight’s lesson, I am beginning to wonder about RSS as a topic.  It seems that the orange icon is disappearing off many websites, as is the functionality.  I noticed this week that Inside Higher Ed still has RSS feeds from its top level news, but that the feeds for subcategories like Teaching and Learning have disappeared.  Feed for the tag “grad602” in Diigo pulls up links tagged last spring semester, but nothing from this January or February (and there has been no response to questions posted in the Diigo Help Blog for this issue).  Another prof at VCU who also has his journalism students using a class tag in Diigo had the same problem, and has shifted back to Delicious for class tagging.

It is not that the concept of pulling rather than pushing information has died.  Lee Lefever’s RSS in Plain English still resonates with me…but this video was done five years ago, and five years in the web is a lifetime.  Feed still seems to be an underlying concept to sites like Facebook and the new social and participatory site – Pinterest.  But aggregation?  My “old school” but go to aggregator – Google Reader – is still part of my daily professional life…but it seems to be getting harder to build my own personal one-stop portal.  Perhaps, as David suggested, this is simply a reality of the web becoming more monetized.  If I am pulling to my reader, I am not seeing the ads back on the pages from which I pull.

So Jeff suggested that we might need to shift our focus from aggregation to curation.  Which raises the question (and it is not really a new question): What is our role as faculty in curating content for our students…and what is their role?  How do you see this playing out in your classes?  Is aggregation an outdated concept?  How do you see your role changing?  Is this role different for K12 teachers versus undergraduate versus graduate faculty?

Let me know your thoughts…

{Photo Credit: Oleg Sh}

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Aggregation Three Ways

I have posted several times about the power of using RSS feeds to make sense of the vast array of information in the World Wide Web. It appears to me that few faculty recognize (yet) just how transformational it is to move from a “surfer” of the web to one where the web comes to you…from push to pull. As I noted earlier this week in “A Bookmarking Fiend“, I use feeds from my delicious account, my news feeds of interest, and the blogs I follow – all feeding into my Google Reader account, to make sense of the world…a world that changes every day.

Synchronicity struck once again! Guy Kawsaki commented back to me in the above post that I should check out his new Alltop aggregator. On the same day, I saw a feed from my friend Eduardo Peirano down in Uruguay which highlighted a customized aggregator that he had set up. There is power in each of our processes, so I thought I would compare and contrast.

GR logo

Guy called me a “power Google Reader user” – though I feel at times more like a power Google Reader stumbler. The plus side for Google Reader is that it is easy to set up and use. To me, it is my daily newspaper. Like newspapers, I can quickly scan the “headlines” and only read the articles that actually interest me. Most RSS feeds from journals, news organizations, or blogs can be established with one click, which is nice. It has become part of my daily routine, but as Lee Lefever notes in his excellent summary video on YouTube, it can be addictive. I find that it does focus me to just the sites in which I am interested, acting in ways as a filter from the unwanted distractions out on the net.

Alltop logo

However, I see the power of Guy’s Alltop. If Google Reader is my newspaper, Alltop is the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble! With a glance and a roll of the mouse, you can quickly scan the top feeds in education…or forty other categories. As Guy and his colleagues point out in their FAQ, one could build their own aggregator but, as they note”…knock yourself out. While you’re at it, you could backup your hard disk, bake your own bread, iron your own shirts, floss daily, tune your own car, and bike to work.”  I love it!  In other words, they have taken the work out of this process for you, and done a credible job. Alltop provides one place to quickly scan the pulse of the field and also spot the feeds you may not be following at the time.

Eduardo is an example of someone who did knock himself out and develop his own customized aggregator. Using Feedraider, Eduardo has built pages of feeds from his daily news (his delicious account, his Twitter account, news feeds, etc), feeds from the College 2.0 Ning site that he coordinates, feeds from Higher Ed, eLearning and Open Learning blogs and news services, and feeds from his friends. Like Alltop, his set up allows you to quickly scan the feeds and focus in on the ones of interest.

Eduardo is out on the bleeding edge of aggregation, but I think his model gives us a glimpse of what is possible. I recommend that you check out both his set-up and Guy’s Alltop…but be careful. As Alan Levine might note, these are both great timesucker sites….you can get lost in the rich information that you find there!