RSS Feeds & Syndicated Content

An RSS “feed” is a special link that is designed to separate the content of a website from it’s graphical design, which allows the “meat” of a website to be easily used by other sites and programs.

RSS feeds are everywhere, and most organizations now offer them as part of their online presence – just visit your favorite sites and look for the following icon:

RSS Feed Logo

Your blog also automatically comes with an RSS feed – anything you using the “Posts” menu in your dashboard is automatically added to your feed, letting people from all over the world subscribe to you blog.

How can you use a feed?

Once you have found a feed you need to a program called an “aggregator” which has the ability to read and analyze RSS feeds. There are many different aggregators available, and two are readily accessible to TCNJ faculty members (Zimbra & SOCS). Here are some general directions on how to use a feed in either one of these systems:

Step 1: Obtain a feed

Let’s say that you’d like to get the top news stories from CNN and have them delivered to you.

  1. Visit the CNN homepage and looking for the RSS Feed icon. Click on this icon.
  2. Next you will be presented with a listing of different feeds or “channels.” Find the “top stories” channel and copy the feed (right click and choose “copy link”)

Step 2: Paste the feed into an Aggregator

Next you need to tell your aggregator program that you’d like to “subscribe” to a feed. There are tons of aggregators out there – here’s a short listing of ones we talked about in class.

  1. Google Reader (http://www.google.com/reader/): One of my favorite web-based RSS aggregators, Google Reader comes as part of the free Google account. Google Reader gives you the ability to not only subscribe to feeds but also share them with your friends, take notes of items of particular interest, access statistcs about the sites you visit most often as well as browse for new feeds that may be of interest to you.
  2. iGoogle (http://www.google.com/ig): More of a “portal” than an aggregator, iGoogle gives you the ability to create a customized “home page” that you can use to organize Internet content that you visit most often. Included in this tool is the ability to import RSS feeds for easy viewing.
  3. Mac’s built in Mail program has an RSS feed aggregator – just click on File -> Add RSS Feed to add a new feed.
  4. On a PC you can install a program called Feed Reader for free.
  5. Your blog can also act as an aggregator – you can add an RSS feed by logging into your Dashboard, clicking on Appearance -> Widgets and then adding an ‘RSS Widget’ to your sidebar.

Creating your own feeds

  1. Google News (http://news.google.com/): Google News allows you to access news from around the world in a variety of formats, including RSS feeds. The site even allows you to create your own customized news feed based on your own search terms. Say you were interested in “TCNJ” and “Science” – you could use Google News to create a feed that would search popular news sources, blogs, etc. for these search terms and return to you an up to the minute RSS feed of related stories.
  2. National Public Radio (NPR) (http://www.npr.org/): NPR maintains an enormous number of RSS news feeds along with podcast versions of most of their syndicated shows. Recently they added a new feature to their site which allows visitors to “mix” their own podcasts using their custom keywords.
  3. Yahoo! Pipes (http://pipes.yahoo.com/): Yahoo! Pipes is a tool that allows you to “rewire” the Internet. Using drag and drop “blocks,” visitors can create their own informaiton “machines” that sift through content from multiple sources and “mash” them up into a final product. For example, you could use Pipes to gather information from 3 RSS feeds, extract only stories that match a certain keyword and then output these results to a Google Map to visually see where the stories are taking place. Pipes is a powerful tool and is more geared towards the intermediate to advanced skill set.

Digital Camera Resources

Here are some resources to go along with our discussion of digital cameras – enjoy!
  • Digital Cameras in Education offers an impressive set of digital camera resources, including basic use, maintenance and a large number of sample lesson plans.
  • This article on Education World offers 24 unique ways to use digital cameras as a supplement to instruction.
  • 1,001 uses for a digital camera offers far less than 1,001 lessons, but the lesson plans that are available are broken down by discipline.

Some nice tips on basic digital photography principles:

An example of how a digital camera can create a “stop motion” movie to illustrate slow-moving processes:

 

What to look for when purchasing a digital camera

The following items are, in my opinion, the most important characteristics to consider when purchasing a digital camera for personal use or use in your classroom.

Megapixel Rating

In a nutshell, Megapixels = quality. Megapixels are rated in numbers from 1.0 and up, and this value represents the maximum size of the image that the camera can produce. Megapixel ratings around 10.0 are commonplace these days, though most people don’t need nearly that level of quality. Quality is generally important if you are planning on printing your images out – web delivery of images generally requires a much lower level of quality. The actual number is derived by taking the resolution of the maximum size of an image produced and multiplying the two numbers together. For example, if a camera can produce an image that is rated at 640 x 480 pixels, it would have a megapixel rating of 0.3. An image size of 1440 x 960 would have a megapixel rating of 1.3.

Optical Zoom

Digital cameras boast two types of zoom – optical and digital. Optical zoom describes the mechanical act of the lens zooming in on a subject. It produces a very high quality image and is completely dependent of the hardware in your camera. Digital zoom is handled by software and is created by the onboard computer in your camera – it uses complicated algorithms to “guess” what the zoomed in region should look like. It produces a lower quality image than its optical zoom counterpart.

Storage

Cameras are generally dependent on external storage as most cameras don’t come equipped with much onboard memory. Most cameras these days use a standard sized SD chip which is rated in gigabytes, though some older cameras use other chip variations such as XD.

EyeFi has produced a SD chip that has integrated wireless capabilities. This means that your pictures can automatically upload themselves to your blog, website, flickr account or home computer as soon as your camera comes in range of a public wi-fi network.

EyeFi Wireless SD Card

For more information about all of these items, check out this great article from PC World that discusses each of these items in greater detail.

And just for fun, here’s a demo of the new Nikon Coolpix SJ1000pj camera that offers an integrated LCD projector!

Photosynth

Photosynth is a website that lets you create your own 3D “walkthroughs” of a space by uploading any number of “flat” digital images. For example, here is a walkthrough that lets you experience what it’s like to be on the roof of Bellver International College in Mallorca, Spain (we created this during the summer 2010 version of this course):

It’s easy to get started with Photosynth – just visit http://photosynth.net/ and sign up for a free Microsoft account. From there you will need to download a free Photosynth plugin which only works on PCs (sorry Mac users :( ). You can then upload your photos to the site and watch as your own 3D walkthrough comes to life! Once finished, Photosynths can be embedded on your website or blog.

Photosynth also has a mobile application – just search for Pyhotosynth on the iTunes app store or on Google Play.  The mobile app is incredibly useful for creating panorama images of a space.  Here’s an example panorama that I took back in Pennsylvania before I left for Mallorca.  Click on the picture to expand it!

Timelines

Timelines are great tools to help present information using a sequential layout.  The example we discussed in class is “TimeRime” which can be found here: http://www.timerime.com

TimeRime is designed to make it easy to create web-based timelines using your own images and content. Timelines can easily be embedded into your site or blog, and can be placed into ‘comparison’ mode to let you compare events between multiple timelines.

Example timeline: Music and History Timeline (note that this timeline won’t load on an iPad)

 

Wikis

“A Wiki is a Web site developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content” (dictionary.com).  It’s relatively easy to set up a wiki for personal or profession use through a number of cloud-based tools.  Here are a few sites to help you get started:

  1. Wikispaces allows teachers and administrators to create an unlimited number of free and password protected wikis that can be used for collaboration, document sharing and discussion.  Wikispaces also lets you easily embed a wide variety of “widgets” to help make your sites more dynamic.
  2. PBWorks is a professional wiki hosting solution that lets you create free public and private wikis.  PBWorks also allows you to create usernames and passwords for your students which do not require you to provide any sensitive information, such as an e-mail address.
  3. MediaWiki is an open source software package that lets you create professional wikis that can be hosted at your own servers.  Installing MediaWiki requires a little bit of technical knowledge, but once installed the package can be used to run your own wikis that can be fully controlled and administered by your local IT staff.

Google Docs

Google Documents is a web based productivity suite that offers services similar to those you could get by using Microsoft Office. The suite currently supports word processing documents, slide-based presentations and a spreadsheets. Once you have a free Google account you can log into Google Documents by visiting http://docs.google.com or by clicking the ‘Documents’ link at the top of the screen on any Google page. We explored a few different ways in which you can use Google Documents:

  1. You an create a new text document (similiar to a Word document) by clicking on the “New” button and then selecting “Document”. You can also upload Word documents from your desktop into Google Documents by using the “Upload” button.
  2. Documents in Google have most of the features that you have come to expect from a standard word processing program, but with a collaborative twist thrown in for good measure. You can “Share” any documents with anyone else in the world by clicking on the “Share” button and then on “Share with others.” A form will appear and you can type in the e-mail addresses of anyone with whom you would like to collaborate. They will be sent a message and will be able to subsequently view and make changes to your document. You can access the revision history for a document via the “Tools” menu when a document is open – this log will show when the document was changed, who authorized the change and the content that was added or subtracted during that revision.  You can also download your document as in Microsoft Word or PDF format from the File menu.
  3. You can also create presentations a la Power Point via the “New” button on the first page of the Google Documents site. Remember that you can always get back to the first page by clicking on the Google Documents logo at the top left side of the screen.
  4. You can “embed” a presentation into your blog by opening it up and selecting the “Publish” button at the top right side of the screen. Click “Publish Document” to make the presentation public, and then copy the HTML code in the text box using the “Edit” -> “Copy” command. Open up a post or page in your blog and switch to HTML mode (as opposed to “visual” mode). Then paste in the code and voila – instant web-based presentation!
  5. We also played around with the Spreadsheet tool which is available via the “New” button on the main page. Spreadsheets work a lot like Excel Worksheets and Google has implemented a pretty extensive formula system to support custom calculations. You can “Share” spreadsheets just like documents (see above) and collaborate with others, but the coolest feature of the spreadsheet by far is it’s ability to create a “form” that you can use to collect responses. Here’s a step by step guide on how to get started:
    1. Click on the Create button and then select the Form option
    2. Build your form by constructing a series of questions in a variety of formats (multiple choice, true / false, open ended, etc)
    3. Save your form
    4. You can send your form via e-mail using the links above the form – the “More Options” button contains some embed code that you can use to place the form onto your blog.
  6. Once you have created a form you can view its results and edit the form using these directions:
    1. Open your Form from Google Docs
    2. Click on the “Forms” tab
    3. Click on “Edit Form”
    4. Make any changes to your form
    5. Click Save

Google Maps

Google Maps is a great way to get driving directions, but did you know that you can also use the system to create your own maps and “overlays?” Here’s an example of an overlay that some of you may find useful:


View Larger Map

Here’s how you can create your own Google Map mashup:

  • Log into your Google account
  • Click on the ‘Maps’ link or visit http://maps.google.com
  • Click ‘My Maps’
  • Click ‘Create new map
  • Use the pushpins and map markup tools at the top left side of the map to create our own layer. You can also search for places using the Google search bar at the top of the screen to help you locate places of interest.
  • If you lose your pushpins at any time you can click on the ‘My Maps’ link – from there just click on the map that you were working on to return to ‘edit mode’.
  • When you are finished click ‘Save’
  • To embed your map click the ‘Link’ button at the top right side of the screen. Click ‘customize and preview embedded map’ to get your map to look just right. Then copy the embed code and paste it into your blog, site or course management system.
  • Note: for WordPress, make sure that you paste your code into HTML mode. Don’t switch over to Visual mode after you have pasted it over. Switching modes will cause WordPress to remove certain necessary portions of the embed code and will cause your map to display incorrectly.

Google Translate

Google Translate (http://translate.google.com) is designed to help you easily translate text from one language to another. You can embed a translation “tool” onto your own site to allow your visitors to select the language in which they would like to read your content. Note that you will need a Google Account in order to do this.  Here’s how to set this up on your wordpress blog:

  1. Open up the dashboard of your blog
  2. Click on Appearance
  3. Click on Widgets
  4. Add a new Text widget to your site
  5. Visit https://translate.google.com/manager/suggestions and copy the embed code. Paste it into your new text widget.
  6. Save the widget – you should now have a google translate tool on the sidebar of your site.

Google Custom Search Engines

A customized Google search engine allows you to create a focused version of the main Google search page that can be used to help steer your students towards specific web-accessible resources. For example, say you wanted your students to research “Animals of Africa.” If you were to use the main Google search engine (http://www.google.com) to begin the research process you would get a vast number of “hits” from sites all across the world – using a customized Google search engine will allow you to narrow down these hits and focus the results of your search on a few, pre-selected sites that you have deemed to be authoritative and reputable.

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Visit http://www.google.com/cse/
  2. Click on “Create a Custom Google Search Engine”
  3. Provide the information requested, including a title for your new search engine (“Animals of Africa”) and a description.
  4. Provide a listing of websites that you would like your new search engine to use. For example, you can specify that your search engine should only use the African Wildlife Foundation (“http://www.awf.org/”) and National Geographic (“http://www.nationalgeographic.com/”). You can specify multiple sites by placing them on their own lines.
  5. When you are finished, agree to the terms of service and click the Next button.
  6. Click Done. You’ll now be given a link to your search engine. You can provide this link to your students via your blog or website. Here’s a link to the “Animals of Africa” search engine that I described in this post.
  7. You can also embed your search into your blog using the standard embedding techniques we have covered so far.  Here’s an example:

  8. You can always go back to the main custom search engine page (http://www.google.com/cse/) to update your engine to include additional resources at a later date.