Friday, December 04, 2009

Aggregation, not aggravation

Went for some IT course on campus, not knowing who the instructor was going to be. I was under the impression that it was some vendor making a quick buck running courses for teachers on vacation. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the com lab a little bit tardy and met the Shambles guru himself, Chris Smith, face-to-face. Wow. If I had known earlier, I might have signed up for one or two other modules. This one, as it turned out, I was somewhat familiar with already.

The course was about using Internet apps "to save time", and most of the stuff he was showing us were things I am currently using, like subscribing to RSS via a reader or aggregator. From the the number of blogs I'm following, I always get to read the latest entries on a single page in my Google Reader. I get my fill of the most up-to-date web comics on PageFlakes. Yes, I suppose it would be more convenient to stick with one aggregator, but I find text works better on the former, while graphics stand out more via the more visually impactful layout of the latter. Of course, I didn't know what Chris was up to when he got us to sign up for a Netvibes account, so now I have another PageFlakes-like app with pretty much the same functions to play with.

What that all boils down to is that I don't have to go trawling laboriously through every single blog or other content provider looking for new and interesting stuff every day. All I do is subscribe to each site's RSS feed, and anytime the site gets updated I'll be notified via my Reader. So because stuff comes to me now, I need hunt and gather no longer. I have evolved.

Turning my personal fun and games into something useful for the classroom, RSS is also a great shortcut for monitoring each student's subject blog. Say I have about 70 kids to supervise, I'd go crazy clicking 70 blogs daily looking to see if they have done their homework. Instead, I open my Google Reader and only the blogs that have been updated show up automatically -- while the rest is silence. That's just one small example of what I can do with RSS to make my life easier.

What we are ultimately doing is managing information overload. I'm in the midst of learning how to do exactly that using the tools and the skills that allow me to access all the stuff I like to immerse myself with on the 'net -- that will hopefully aid me on my journey to become a better, smarter person. I'll have to figure it out fast, 'cos that'll be what we'll be teaching our kids from now on, and there's no better subject than GP to do it in.

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