Thursday, April 16, 2009

Follow smart people

While reviewing Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development, I skimmed over a realisation I've had about using RSS as a Personal Learning Environment. I've come back to this point a couple of times in my conversations with people at school and at Uni, so I'll try to get a complete story down to reference back to...

When RSS first arrived on the scene I had looked at it and more or less rejected the technology as it required a change from all websites to expose the content in the way the reader likes. There were (and still are) a number of reasons why a websites wouldn't want to have their content taken away from their method of delivery from an advertising point of view or even just a data silo point of view. Without the majority of sites on board, RSS for the user was more potential than practical. I did dabble quite a lot with RSS though, as a back end method of integrating websites together at a corporate level.

Fast forward 5 years to the present and RSS is now more or less ubiquitous throughout the net wherever data is stored. I'd highlight Web2.0 companies as the main proponent for driving the technologgy forward as RSS enabled the mashup mentality. Maybe it was the the other way round? Maybe Web2.0 exists because of RSS? Regardless, RSS is definitely here to stay.

During the GDLT I'd been following more and more blogs to do with education, and the more I followed the more sense an RSS reader made. Combined with a need to access these from more than one computer and from more than one location (Uni, home, school), I looked into Google reader as my catchall.

It so happened that I came across a web post summarizing many thousands of votes as to what the most influential web2.0 technology was for personal learning environments. Google reader was in the top 3, along with Delicious (another web2.0 tool I'd started up with due to multiple locations). An RSS reader? What are they doing with an RSS reader as an educating tool? I could immediately see the benifits in Delicious being up so high if you had a network of friends/associates/peers to share links to. In fact I used it as the framework for a collaborative WebQuest. But RSS? Most of the uses I could think of would add to the experience, but not be at the centre of it.

After around 6 months of use, Google reader became more and more part of my daily routine. I'd also search out an RSS feed on a page rather than bookmarking it in delicious. There were so many feeds that I started to metatag, like "_critical" for blogs I really must check every time I open the reader. Google reader was also the starting point on many a journey through the web. I'd read something interesting and kick off into a new search down that rat hole, or followup with a comment, that then led to more conversations and ideas to keep track of.

Looking back one day I noticed that the change in the way I use Google Reader came from the types of people I was subscribing to. Since it stemmed from investigation through the GDLT and had a strong teaching and eLearning bent, I had continued the mentality of subscribing to people that I thought were providing insightful articles that made me think. Even in topics far removed from the GDLT, my immediate reaction to hearing a good point of view would be to dig up the RSS and subscribe. By following people that make you think, most times when I'm starting the day with Google reader I'm confronted with new ideas and challenged to dig deeper or contribute.

So to me the crux of the change can be summed up by: Follow smart people. That's how you take Google Reader and turn it into your very own PLE. Don't just follow the news and weather or your friend's Facebook feed, follow leaders in your field, follow the inspiring rebels, follow people you look up to and respect.

By the time I covered Snowdon's Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development I'd seen the light. David just made it all that much brighter and with amazing clarity. PLEs aren't just a fancy word for our students, it's us too. Personal Development. Lifelong learning. Here. Now.