Saturday, February 10, 2007

Report from the Field

Well, I've been exploring the suggestions that everyone has given me in regard to my last post, and have this interim report from the field:

Peter suggested something based in Wordpress, but my early experiences with Wordpress and Blogger had already led me to ask the students to work with Blogger. It's maybe not as flexible, but it's really easy to get started with and since that's been my home base I figured I'd be spending less time trying to find the answers to student questions if I had them work in something I knew well. Next, year, who knows. But three weeks into the new semester with a gazillion other things going on, I wanted to try to keep it simple.

Will Richardson replied to my email request and suggested suprglu. I tried Suprglu a couple of weeks ago. Suprglu does exactly what I want it to do, but it always takes forever to load, and often doesn't load at all. I emailed them about it, and many days later got a reply saying that their server is overloaded and they don't know exactly when it will be upgraded. So until they get that fixed, I'm looking for alternatives.

Doug Noon suggested feed2js, which looked like it would work, but when I started trying to use it by typing in the urls I wanted feeds from, I kept getting error messages saying that the feeds were not correctly formatted. They have a validation page that tells you what's wrong with the feed, but the explanations assume a knowledge of html which is way beyond my current, very limited, understanding, and I couldn't figure out what I needed to do differently. I'll check with the tech guys at school, because, as Doug indicated, it looks like what would like to do is doable, but in the meantime that's on the back burner as well. Doug also mentioned b2evolution, which looks again like it would be just what the doctor ordered, but it's not a web-based app; you need to install it own your own server. So that's another discussion I need to have with the tech gurus.

Mr. H (and Will Richardson, in his followup email) suggested either Netvibes or Pageflakes. These two aggregators look very similar on the screen. (Sample at right.) They allow you to arrange small clickable windows that then bring up whatever feed you have selected. What I wanted was a page display of recent posts. Neither of these do that exactly, but they do give you a page display with little windows, one for each feed, that list the titles of the recent posts from those feeds. They also allow you to add tabs and create other pages with news feeds, search windows, notepads, games, and other widgets. I liked both of these, but found that Pageflakes gave me a number of options that were closer to what I wanted to do: for one thing, they allow you to make your site either public, so anyone can view it, or private, so that only the people you invite can view it. As far as I could see, Netvibes only allows you, the owner, to access your page, which meant it wouldn't work for what I wanted to do.

So for now, I've got a pageflakes page set up that is open to the public. It's only got two feeds on it so far, mine and the one student who got his homework assignment done early. The rest should be showing up by Tuesday, which is the next time I meet with that class. (NB: Pageflakes won't run at all on Safari, they suggest Firefox.)

I also sent an email to Mike Hetherington, who by some magic has figured out a way to use Google Reader to do deliver feeds to a separate page. That's about as close as I've seen to what I had in mind. I've been through the Google Reader menus about 20 times and if way to do it is there in front of me, I can't see it. If I hear back from Mike, I'll post what he has to say.

Thanks to all who responded. I'm pretty sure that by next year, I'll have something figured out. In the meantime, I think Pageflakes will hold the fort.


Peter A. Stinson said...

I did a little research... Waldo at the VaPolitical aggregator uses this tool: I don't claim to understand it & you might need a server. Pageflakes is likly a decent compromise. Good luck...

nbosch said...

OK, I may be a simpleton...but if I read your post correctly I have two suggestions. Our student blog, created with Drupel, has RSS feed from sites used to inspire student entries, but it could also be set up to receive feed from student pages.

Also couldn't you easily set up a Bloglines account and include each student page on that? You can see our elementary students’ blog at I tend to scan rather than practice critical reading so I might have missed your point! Just delete me if this doesn't help.

PS. I have a question for an English teacher. I thought I read somewhere that links in citations should not be active. Is that true? My students are working on a big project website and I was curious about the citations. See that project here: Thanks N.

Anonymous said...

Could you please turn on "Show Description" on the RSS flakes? It makes easier to see the summary.

Bruce Schauble said...

Done. Thanks for the suggestion. Still figuring it out.