I was satisfied with my trial of the open-source RSS reader Rnews. While it is not perfect, it has a very simple interface that was easy enough for my students learn. I installed the program on our school shared server space and set up accounts for them. Thursday, they started populating their account with feeds from their classmate’s blogs.
Rnews has a very simple, clean, no-nonsense user interface. It is not as cool as some might want it and it does not support themes. Changes of appearance can only be done by editing the css file. Students add feeds by clicking the blue plus sign on the upper right side (see below). There are a few other controls that are straight forward and students are unlikely to get themselves into trouble.
One problem with Rnews, is the lack of an administrative interface. To an extent, this program is so simple, there is little need for it. On the other hand, there is no way of monitoring the feeds to which the students have subscribed within the program. This can be worked around by examining the MySQL database through phpMyAdmin–which is fine if you have access. It works for me, although, it would be nice to be able to browse all accounts as an admin. Of course the lack of such features keeps this program nice and lean. Registration requires a secret pass phrase. Student must log in to their individual readers. There is no access without a log-in.
Students thought the RSS reader was very cool because they were able to see all the blog posts at once. After they logged into their readers, I modeled subscribing to feeds. Feed URLs must be typed in. Many students had errors with their first attempts, but soon became much more attentive to details and began typing more carefully. Since each feed required a url for the blog and one for the feed, students got plenty of practice with cutting and pasting shortcuts.
The kids see the utility of the RSS reader. They also like having their own personal account to manage. Between this and their blogs, they feel empowered. Students can publish and control a part of the web plus they can show their friends and parents. Next, I plan to give them some feeds beyond those of our class. I also plan on creating a class RSS reader using a more full featured platform. I hope to demonstrate the benefits of a class RSS reader to other teachers.
Rnews works fine–it gets the job done. I will continue searching for and testing other open source server side RSS aggregators for future applications. I look forward to seeing how this impacts my students.
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