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CI 5410: Research and RSS

Blog post: describe the search methods and databases you employ to collect information for use in your writing; how do you determine the validity and credibility of the information you acquire and how you categorized and organize that information for use in writing; how might you use RSS feeds to Bloglines or Google Reader to enhance your students how could you improve your students’ search strategies (see the Teachers Teaching Teachers site) Work on your vlog
This week we are being asked to consider two very different topics, so I'm going to split my response accordingly. However, I'm also going to take a detour, which isn't that unusual for me. I like detours.

Knowing a blog is for a course, especially a course on teaching writing/composition using online technologies, leads to blog posts that are anything but "bloggy" in nature. Instead of a wry wit or wandering observations, the writing feels controlled — mediated by the context to the point it is an anti-blog. Sure, these are my opinions and experiences, but carefully couched and positioned so I sound "academic" in the posts. Blech. That's not how I write for magazines, for theatre, or even in technical manuals, which definitely scream out for humor now and then.

Searching the Web

Searching for information online always concerns me. I don't trust information online unless it comes from a source I would trust in the physical world (and I wouldn't trust an encyclopedia for serious work). Depending on what I am researching, I tend to follow the following pattern:
  • Is there a primary source Web site?
    • For an author, scientist, or other individual, is there a "personal" page?
    • For a company, organization, or government agency, is there an official site?
  • Can I locate an online version of a "secondary" journal I trust?
    • I subscribe to Scientific American, MIND, and others I trust.
    • I use standard secondary databases, like PubMed (, ERIC, and the SilverPlatter set
  • I e-mail writers, scientists, and others directly
    • Most university researchers have a public e-mail
    • Many authors and others will respond to a polite e-mail
I tell people not to trust what I write... which probably says something about how deep my skepticism runs. If someone visits one of the Web sites I maintain (the Tameri Guide for Writers or the Existential Primer, for example), they will find lists of original sources to consult and even a warning that our sites are not substitutes for reading the primary works.

Reading about The Stranger is not the same as reading Camus' work. Students have always tried to get around assignments, but the Internet makes the temptation to short-circuit a meaningful assignment all the stronger.

We all know that 90 percent of the Web "commentary" is fluff, authored by people without expertise or training. The ten percent of great content isn't always obvious. You have to find out about the content authors and editors before trusting information.

RSS Gone Wild

As a spoiled Mac user, I have long used RSS feeds as part of Safari. The downside of being a Safari user is that some Blogger and pbWiki features aren't available. Honestly, not having a "Word-like" editor in Blogger doesn't bother me, since I know the security holes such things open. Once you get addicted to built-in RSS feeds, instant dictionary access, and other slick extras, you're a Mac/Safari power-user.
RSS on the Mac means...
  • Never having to see an ad, pop-up, or animation of any kind!
  • Being able to adjust how much of the text from each feed you see.
    • You can set to headlines only, first line, first paragraph, etc.
  • Grouping feeds together in folders
    • You can open all RSS feeds as one page, open in separate tabs, or open in separate windows.
    • You can nest as many folders as you want (News > Tech > InfoWorld > Mac)
  • Complete control over colors and fonts
I absolutely adore RSS feeds. For years I have also used AvantGo, which transfers Web feeds and articles to my Palm device. I'll spend an hour or more a day reading the Palm, and I hate small screens.
Certainly my students would see my feeds — CNN feeds are my screen saver! I change my screen saver RSS to Science Daily, Washington Post, and other sites every few weeks. RSS feeds are a wonderful way to sort through the clutter to "real" content on the Web.

Granted, I'm not normally inclined to subscribe to a blog site... unless it is actually a feed of columns / articles by a writer I trust. I am addicted to Howard Kurtz, for example. It's fun to read about why I shouldn't be reading the Web.

With or without Safari, I'd encourage students to explore RSS feeds. I might object to Bloglines or other services that are really nothing but data mining resources for media conglomerates, but I know of several free readers and alternatives. The downside is that most of these don't allow the sharing of RSS lists. Honestly, it isn't that hard to code RSS URLs into a Web page or blog, so that's an alternative approach.

As for using RSS, I'd teach student to organize feeds, since the real problem with searching for data in any form is organizing the results.

End of wildly rambling post that lacks sufficient humor.


  1. Scott, I really enjoyed your description of lots of uses for feeds--they are central aspect of the whole Web 2.0 enterprise in that they are part of pushing information to subscribers. I also like the idea of collecting and sharing feeds related to specific topics as part of doing research. Certainly, tags can also play a role in all of this.

    I really appreciate your high energy participation in this class--you have been contributing much in terms of ideas and online resources. So, it is great that you are in this class.

    I am wondering if blog posts for academic purposes or contexts necessarily need to be more reserved or "academic"--it may be that given the purpose or audience that they are, but I am wondering if you could not just let loose in these posts as you would in your other non-academic posts?? This would be an interesting research topic--to compare how students perceive blog writing for class blogs versus writing in their own personal blogs. Certainly in the latter they are going to be discussing more personal topics, so that might also make a difference in terms of their style. This is something we may want to ask Krista about.


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