Today I rely on RSS feeds to provide me with the information I want when I want. I can’t believe that a year ago I didn’t really know what the point of an RSS feed was. RSS is an acronym for really simple syndication, it provides automatically updated feeds from websites, blogs and news sites which can be imported and read using a range of applications on the internet or on your PC. To use RSS feeds on your VLE is pretty simple.

On Moodle there are a couple of different RSS features. You can add RSS blocks to bring in external RSS feeds and you can add RSS funtionality to your site forums to allow others to subscribe to your feeds. It is the former that I use mostly because I’m still to work out how the second works especially with regard to privacy and security in schools (maybe a kind reader will explain the functionality to me).

So a few RSS examples from Rickypedia

1. The Frontpage
I’ve added three RSS feeds to our frontpage. A quote of the day, news from CBBC Newsround (child friendly news headlines) and a “This Day in History” feed. Each provides a little bit of wisdom or knowledge in one hyperlinked line. You can set how many items appear in each feed and how much information you want displayed, just the headlines or more. (the picture below has been edited). I may well remove some in the future to avoid the homepage becoming too cluttered.

Rickypedia RSS feeds
2. Subject Specific Feeds

You can also add RSS feeds in a block on a course page. For my A-level computing students I added links to Wired and Computing magazine newsfeeds to present a mix of internet and business ICT news.

A colleague who teaches Chemistry added links to New Scientist and Chemistry World feeds and picked specific feeds related to energy. She then took it a step further by setting students a homework using the feeds to research a topical news item. A great use of RSS feeds and a great way to get students to read literature relating to the course and gain a wider understanding of the issues.

Problems: One specific problem I have had is with graphics and in particular advertising on a particular feed. On Moodle you can choose to allow your feed to pull in graphics or not – graphics can sometimes mess up the layout of your site by stretching boxes and moving things around on a page. With one feed even when I turned graphics off it would sometimes pull in adverts from feedburner who provided the RSS subscription. Normally I would ditch a feed that put unsolicited adverts on a site but I really wanted this particular one so I found a rather elaborate way around it using yahoo pipes (ask if you want to know more – I don’t want to bore you with the details).

Let me know how you use RSS feeds in your classroom and I’d also love to hear from anyone who has experience turning on the extra RSS functionality in Moodle.

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There are three things that I ask students to do when they first log onto our VLE at Rickypedia.

1. Change their password
2. Fill in the profile information (see previous post on customising profile feeds)
3. Create an avatar (an online picture representing them)

The instructions I use for students are publicly available here. Feel free to borrow them and if you improve on them (not hard to do) then let me know so I can borrow yours!

I got some of the ideas for creating avatars from Ian Usher’s blog post on the same subject – it’s well worth reading and discusses online identity forming and whether to allow students to post their pictures as avatars. I told students not to use pictures but a few didn’t follow instructions and I’m still undecided what to do about it!

There are hundreds of websites available for creating avatars, just search and you’ll find plenty on the web. You’ll also find that your students know plenty of places already that they have already used for their Myspace and Bebo profiles.

If you’re a moodle user and an admin on your site you can see a great display of user profile pictures by visiting http://www.yourmoodlesite.org/userpix/ Click the picture below to see what my students look like.

student avatars

One neat and simple feature that Moodle has is a glossary. (I’m sure you could replicate this functionality easily enough using other features of other VLEs).

The glossary lets the teacher or students put definitions of words, hence the name glossary. As it’s such a simple and easy to understand tool it’s one I have started classes using early. It also makes for a great homework and it’s easy to explain to other teachers how to use. As with all pupil generated content I’ve found the results mixed and surprising but very positive. Below are a few examples of glossary entries (not all from my classes). As you can see they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I think the silly entries are just as valid as the serious entries. If my students log on to see the funny entry their friend wrote they are more than likely to take a browse through all of the other definitions and maybe learn something new.

I’ve not put up the inevitable glossary entries with mistakes in. These too are valuable, I can both edit and comment on posts. By leaving a comment with feedback students can learn from their mistakes and improve their entries. Assessment for learning in action!

AS English Frankenstein Glossary Entries – these two are rather impressive

Gothic: A story of terror or suspense which includes reference to the supernatural

Romanticism: Romanticism is a movement that typically refers to the late 18th and 19th century. The period was marked by a rejection of the ideals and rules of the time and new emphasis was placed on freedom of expression and thought.

Romantics were against the monarchy and against the industrial revolution. They thought that the industrial revolution would destroy and pollute nature, and that people would move away from the countryside and nature.
Romantic ideas: nature; the relationship between human and natural moods; experimentation; journeying; power of the female; genius and the power of imagination, spontaneity; and individualism.

Quotes:

  • “Vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes and illuminated the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire.” (p56)
  • “black and comfortless sky” (p40)

Year 9 ICT Entries:

Keyboard :QWERTY or otherwise, it is used to type letters and numbers – wholly useful for general computing.

Hands: the things you find on the end of your arm. They usually have 5 fingers on each

useful for:
1] typing
2] hitting your computer when its being stupid and purposly annoying you
3] throwing things at annoying siblings
4] stealing peoples shoes to put in high places

Year 12 Chemistry:

OILRIG:
OILRIG is the ingenious way to remember that:
Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons)
Reduction Is Gain (of electrons)

Redox is both (Reduction and oxidation squashed together to make one word)

Setting up custom fields on users’ personal profile is really easy. The standard fields in a moodle install are things like skype, msn, icq, e-mail, website. I felt a bit uneasy about encouraging students to put in all of those personal details which I or the school could have no control over, particularly personal websites which may contain personal pictures. So I hid all of those fields (apart from e-mail as an e-mail address is very important for teacher student communication and students can choose for it to be private). Instead I included fields for “favourite music”, “hobbies”, “favourite tv shows”, “favourite movies”, “favourite books” and a more general “about me”. I don’t believe a school VLE will become a replacement for myspace, facebook or other social networking sites (and I’m not sure I’d want it to be) but having these fields does add a much more personal and social dynamic to the site. There’s a little bit of competition from students to see who can have the best profile. It’s also great from a teacher’s perspective to see what students are interested in. Some students have also made great efforts to customise the top part of the profile with photos and animations.

I’ve included some screenshots below of a couple of profiles (one is mine, can you guess which one?) Moodle 1.9 has a new social tagging system but it’s not quite as organised as my solution with just one box for students to write all their interests in, the new features it brings will certainly be interesting to explore.

Nb: Even if standard fields are hidden students can override this or put any information they wish in the top “description” part of their profile – there may be a way to turn this off but it’s probably easier having a set of rules that students need to follow.

profile fields

student profile