3 ways I use Google Reader to do things other than read

The ultimate Swiss Army Knife for sale in Interlaken

A post by George Veletseanos got me thinking about one of the key tools in my PLE – Google Reader – and how I use GReader for things other than reading the myriad of sites and blogs I subscribe to. Here are three things I do with GReader beyond reading.

1) Archive my tweets.

I subscribe to the RSS feed of my Twitter account. I started doing this back in the day when Twitter capped access to old tweets at “about a month” or around 3000, or some other ridiculous number. Now, with Twitter tightening developer access to their api’s, we may begin to see services that allow you access old tweets slowly dwindle.

If you have some server skills, you might want to use a tool called ThinkUp to archive tweets (which not only archives, but also gives you some Twitter stats on your own network activity).

But not everyone has access to their own server or the chops to install and configure their own web service, so a relatively quick and dirty way to archive your tweets is to subscribe to the RSS feed of your Twitter account.

Now, your Twitter accounts RSS feed is even tougher to find than the RSS feed for a Delicious tag. To subscribe to the RSS feed of a Twitter account, you need to know your Twitter user id number. You can do this using a service like MyTwitterID or IDFromUser and then plunking that number into the following url:


Replacing the xxxxx with your Twitter ID number. Pop that RSS feed in GReader and you are archiving your own tweets.

This is also handy if I want to archive the tweets of key members of my PLN and take advantage of the second thing I like to do in GReader…

2) Search my trusted network for resources.

In GReader, you’ve got the power of Google search,  and I  often use that as a place to start my search about a group of topics. After all, I only add sites that I trust and have vetted as being a valuable resource to me, so who go to the crazy wild web first when I can go directly to the sources I have curated?

3) Track my own comments.

If I add a comment to a blog post, I will subscribe to that comment feed so I can follow up with what gets posted as comments and take part in the conversation. I have tried a number of comment tracking services over the years, but still find this the most reliable and user friendly way to track conversation on blogs. In Greader I have a folder called Comments, and when I subscribe to the Comments feed for a blog post, I add the feed there. That way I can take track the convo and take part in the conversation.

So those are 3 ways that I use Google Reader beyond reading. How about you? Any hacks or ways you use Google Reader that is a bit unusual?

Photo: The Ultimate Swiss Army Knife by redjar used under Creative Commons license.


Getting a RSS feed for a Delicious tag

I keep having to refer back to how I have done this in the past because it is not obvious within Delicious how to do this, unless you start to dig around the developers documentation. So, I am posting this here in case anyone else needs to get the RSS feed for a Delicious tag.

I’ll get to why you may want to do this in a minute, but first the meat of the post.

To pull an RSS feed for a tag, the url pattern is:

http://feeds.delicious.com/v2/rss/tag/<insert tag here>?count=10

So, for example, to pull an RSS feed of the last 10 resources tagged moodle, the url would look like:


That will pull an RSS feeds of the latest 10 resources tagged with the keyword “moodle”. If you want more or less resources, you simply change the number 10 to whatever number you want in your feed.

If you want to track a different tag, simply replace the word moodle with whatever tag you want to follow. So, if you want to track the last 20 resources tagged “pln”, for example, the feed would look like this:


Now, why would you want to do this? Well, one of the things I like to do is monitor Delicious for new items that are tagged by the community, but I don’t want to have to go to Delicious to see what is newly tagged for whatever topic I am tracking. What I like to do is pull an RSS feed into a site I already check everyday (actually multiple times a day) – my Netvibes page, which is my personal dashboard.

Here is what the Moodle example above looks like on my Netvibes Moodle tab:

The widget is in the top left corner of my Moodle tab, which is in context with all the other Moodle resources I am tracking on the web. Now whenever someone tags a resources with the keyword “moodle” in Delicious, it will appear in this widget, in context with all the other Moodle resources I am gathering.



Twitter, PLEs and PLNs

Thought I would share some bits of my thesis on Twitter, PLN’s and PLE’s  as others might find it useful.

What is a PLN?

For all of the conversation occurring among educators about PLNs, there has been surprisingly little academic research on PLNs (Couros, 2010, p. 123). With many educators using this term to describe their own informal learning habits, it is important for educational researchers to investigate exactly what this concept means to those who are using it as a term to describe a learning activity

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning (Tobin, 1998). These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions (Tobin, 1998).

Digenti (1999) defines a PLN as:

relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning which is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other (1999, p. 53).

Couros (2010) echoes Digentis notion that a PLN is defined by the relationships among the individuals when he states that:

“a PLN is the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment” (2010, p. 125).

In order to fully understand this definition, a distinction needs to be made between the Personal Learning Network (PLN) and the closely related term, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as the two terms are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they refer to two separate conceptual models.

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) can be thought of as the ecosystem that enables a PLN. A PLE represents

“the tools, artefacts, processes, and physical connections that allow learners to control and manage their learning” (Couros, 2010, p. 125).

Using this distinction, Twitter, along with other ICT’s, are tools of the PLE that enables interactions with a PLN. These other ICTs are significant as the PLN is not limited to interactions on Twitter alone and encompass not only other ICTs, but also face-to-face and non-ICT mediated interactions.

The other ICT’s  that are often used alongside Twitter can be divided into three broad categories; technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data, technologies that are used in conjunction with Twitter, and technologies that are used independent of Twitter.


  1. Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data: Twitter extensions are tools that specifically enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data. This category can further be divided into three subcategories;
    1. technologies which participants use to view and manage the Twitter data stream (Tweetdeck and HootSuite),
    2. technologies that participants use to repurpose or modify Twitter data (such as paper.li, Packrati,The Tweeted Times), and
    3. technologies that are used to search Twitter data.
  2. Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter: Technologies in this category are tools that can be used independent of Twitter, but are often use in conjunction with Twitter, such as  blogs, social bookmarking applications (Delicious and Diigo), and collaborative tools (Google Docs). For example, Twitter itself is not a collaborative platform in that participants do not use it to collaboratively create a tweet. However, Twitter is often used in conjunction with Google Docs, a collaborative document authoring application, to help facilitate the creation of a shared resource among the PLN.
  3. Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities. Other technologies that are used independently of Twitter. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, forums and Ning.

This is not an exhaustive list of ICT’s used within a PLE, but a sample based on interviews with thesis participants. PLE = Personal Learning Environment; PLN = Personal Learning Network; Data = Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data; Conjunctive = Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter; Independent = Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities


Lalonde, C. (2011). The Twitter experience?: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from http://dspace.royalroads.ca/docs/handle/10170/451

Couros, A. (2010). Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 109-127). Edmonton, Canada: AU Press.

Digenti, D. (1999). Collaborative learning: A core capability for organizations in the new economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi:10.1162/152417399570160

Tobin, D. R. (1998). Personal Learning Network. Retrieved October 4, 2009, from http://www.tobincls.com/learningnetwork.htm


The impersonal technology assumption

Given that so much of the college experience involves building relationships with professors and collaborating with other students, how a more technology-centered higher education system will still accomplish that remains to be seen.

Liz Dyer, How Much Will Technology Really Change Higher Education, GOOD

Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms.

Mark Edmundson, The Trouble with Online Education, NY Times

Why is there this continuing belief that technology cannot improve relationships? And why is this issue always presented as such a false dichotomy? More technology = less personal relationships?

It is simply not true (and thank you Nathan for pushing back against Mr. Edmundson with far greater clarity and eloquence than I can muster).

The real argument that Edmundson is making, and it is actually a good one, is that there are pedagocial benefits to interactive and responsive learning environments. Where he fails is wrongly assuming that human interactivity is solely the business of the offline and impossible online. This is plainly false.

Ask any person who has even remotely experienced the social media revolution of the past 5-7 years (and going much farther back if you include the world of forums and other types of online communities) the question, “has online technology brought you closer to people, or has it made you feel more isolated from people?” and I think the answer from most people would be quite clear.

Personally (and despite the protestations from those who argue otherwise), the dichotomy that online is less fulfilling or somehow lacking vs face to face just doesn’t ring true with my own experience, and with the experience of many of the people I know.

Online has not replaced face to face for me – I still go for beers with my buddies with the same regularity that I did before I lived online. But it has augmented it to such an extent that I can hardly keep a straight face when presented with arguments otherwise.

Can’t build relationships? No collaborating with others? No dialogue? Lack of immediacy? Bah. All views of people who still have their feet firmly planted in a world I left behind long ago.


Submitting OERs using the OER Commons bookmarklet

I was checking out some resources on the OER Commons, and noticed that they have created a JavaScript bookmarklet to make it easy for anyone to submit a resource to the Commons (have I ever said how much I love bookmarklets? No? Well, I do. They rock.) So I installed the bookmarklet and took it for a spin, looking for an OER to submit to the Commons (you do need to have an OER Commons account to submit a resource).

While installing and using the bookmarklet is fairly easy, figuring out some of the non-technical bits for submitting an OER is a bit trickier.  The language used by OER Commons implies that you can submit any resource to the Commons.

And I think that is the intent of the bookmarklet. So I began to look for some guidelines for what could be contributed. I was thinking primarily about licensing (could you, for example, submit something that wasn’t explicitly an OER, or tagged with a Creative Commons license?) and how do you give author attribution for a submitted resource?

OER Commons does have a wiki that covers submitting materials to OER Commons, but it seems to be written much more for authors who want to submit their own content and not for a third party person who wants to contribute a resource they stumble upon on the web. There is a section entitles Recommend New OER, which got me wondering; if I submit an OER via the bookmarklet, am I actually submitting an OER to the Commons, or am I just submitting for consideration to be added to the Commons?

Mission: DS106

Despite these issues,  I decided to move ahead and submit an OER, the fantastic Mission: DS106 Anthology of New Media Projects. If you are not familiar, this site is the assignment repository for UMW’s open, online ds106: Digital Storytelling course (which, as an aside, will be running again this Fall).

There are a couple of wonderful things about the Mission: DS106 site. First, this collection of digital storytelling assignments has been submitted by…well, by everyone. Anyone who has an idea can submit an assignment into the mix, and students can pick and choose which assignment they want to complete as part of the course (which, as Jim Groom points out, helps with student engagement by allowing students to program and participate in the creation of their own assignments).

Additionally, each assignment has examples attached to it so students can see what the finished assignment will look/sound like (for WP buffs,  Alan Levine touches on how they did this using WordPress tags). And, once a student completes an assignment, they can then rate the difficulty of the assignment on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for the benefit of future students.

So, with OER in hand, I head to the Mission DS106 site and click the Submit OER bookmarklet, which pops open step 1 of a 3 step form for submitting.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

This was a tricky bit. I figured that (knowing a bit about how Alan and Jim operate) that these assignments would at the very least be Creative Commons resources. But I couldn’t actually find the license type on the site. So a quick tweet to Alan and, well… you can read for yourself how he feels about sharing these resources.


Update: since Alan posted a response regarding licensing, I have gone back to the OER Commons site and changed the license type with a link back to Alan’s blog post which should make it abundantly clear to anyone who finds this in the OER Commons that this material is there to be used.

I clicked submit and the resource is now….well, not yet on the OER Commons site. If I log in, I can see the resource. But it doesn’t appear to be live on the site. I am not sure if it now has to be vetted by someone before it appears on the site, or ????? I’ll keep you posted as to where the resource has gone now that it has been submitted.

Well, technically that was pretty easy, but….

As you have probably guessed, submitting an OER right now is not a straightforward process, but not for any technical reason. What would make this process infinitely easier and more transparent is a set of guidelines specifically targeted at third party users who want to submit OER’s from the web that explains the entire process a bit clearer and spells out exactly what the heck happens to that OER when you submit it.  But technically, the bookmarklet does its job and is an easy way to tag and add resources to the OER Commons.


Student views on a Wikipedia project

Wikipedia - T-shirt

Alan Levine (@cogdog) has posted interviews he did with 3 UBC students about their perceptions and experiences participating in a Wikipedia Education Project assigned to them by UBC History professor Tina Loo.

While it is the experience of only 3 students, I think it’s a valuable read for any faculty who may be considering doing a Wikipedia Education Project.

In summary, the students that Alan spoke with noted the following:

  • After spending 4 years writing academic papers, the students found the challenge of writing an article for Wikipedia a refreshing change.
  • Students felt strange deleting existing contents of Wikipedia articles (“the first edit was terrifying”).
  • The students worked in groups, and found it challenging to find a common writing voice within their group while adhering to the Wikipedia standards of neutral point of view, concise length, and precise language that can be understood by a lay person.
  • Students found the Wikipedia community both helpful, and challenging to the point of being rude. In the later case, the Wikipedia Project ambassador intervened and provided support to the students.
  • Students said they were motivated by the fact that their writing was going to be public as they “do not usually get to write for others.” As a result, the students felt extra pressure to make sure the facts were correct.

A key principle in  adult learning theory is that adult learners are relevancy oriented, and judging by some of the quotes from these students, this assignment fit that principle. The students felt that by doing their work in the public on Wikipedia, their education was being used on a project that they see as relevant in world outside of academia.

The reality is that Wikipedia really is becoming a basic source of information, not the thing you are going to write your whole paper with, but people go to it– even my grandmother goes to Wikipedia as a reference.


The more we got involved into it, the more it seemed like we were using our education to actively help the world.

For me the kicker quote in the whole article is:

I look at Wikipedia differently. I have found an article on an author that was blatantly wrong. Now I know to change it

A student that comes away from an assignment feeling different than they did before about something; feeling empowered to change something that they see as wrong in a public forum? That is a transformational learning experience.

Photo: Wikipedia t-shirt by mikeedesign used under Creative Commons. I want this t-shirt :).