My 3 “Go-To” Aggregators for Professional Reading

Reading on the iPad MiniI love to read. I also love learning, and I’m pretty passionate about teaching. I love to read about teaching and learning. I’m also a little geeky so I spend a fair amount of time reading about teaching and learning online. Some might consider it work, but I find it interesting and fun. I also like to share what I’m reading and learning especially if  it might help a friend or colleague. I read a lot, and I share a lot–particularly on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I will occasionally share things on Google+, too.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me where I find  the articles about teaching and learning that I regularly read and share. In response to her question, I explained that I rely on several aggregators to collect articles and blog posts for me, but she looked confused. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain what I mean and share my “go-to” aggregators for professional reading and learning.

What is an aggregator? Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.”¹ In other words, an aggregator grabs articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos from around the web and puts them in one place for me, and it keeps them there until I’m ready to view them. I don’t have to scour the internet checking all my favorite sites. Aggregators bring them to me, and they don’t fill up my email inbox either.

So what aggregators do I use? Here are My 3 “Go-To Aggregators for Professional Reading:

  1. Google ReaderI know. I know. Google is planning to kill Reader this summer. It’s in its last days, and I’m still trying to decide on a replacement. I’ve tried several including Feedly, Good Noows, and NetNewsWire, but I’m leaning more toward Newsblur² or The Old Reader (TOR). My RSS reader is my first stop for professional reading. Through Google Reader and now Newsblur and TOR, I subscribe to over 220 blogs and websites. Honestly, that’s too many, but they aren’t all updated daily. If you don’t use an RSS reader, I suggest you give it a try. You can subscribe to this blog by adding http://feeds.feedburner.com/PhilipCummings to your feeds. My RSS feeds are my first source for professional reading and learning.
  2. Paper.li – I use this aggregator to pull links shared by my professional learning network on Twitter. (I primarily use Twitter as a professional tool.) Unfortunately, as a full-time classroom teacher and a father of four, I don’t have time to hangout online and read Twitter feeds all day. Paper.li allows me to create a daily newspaper that highlights items posted by my network. I don’t manage to read this aggregator every day, but I do read it when possible. (Note: This is one of the reasons I am particular about who I follow on Twitter. I don’t want too much irrelevant, uninteresting, or inappropriate material finding its way to my reading list–even if I choose to ignore it.) Paper.li also works with Facebook, Google+, RSS , and YouTube feeds. 
  3. Zite – If I’ve managed to read my way through my RSS reader and my Paper.li, my last stop is the Zite app on my iPad. In Zite I’ve identified topics that interest me. Zite identifies the content that matches my selected topics and shares them with me in a magazine-like format. Currently, my topic list includes: teaching, learning, educational technology, critical thinking, creativity, reading, literacy, and mindset. I also read articles in Zite related to running, faith, and Memphis. The more you “like” articles in Zite, the better their algorithm becomes at finding content related to your interests.

There you have it. That’s my 3 go-to aggregators for my professional reading. What about you? Do you use aggregators for professional reading and learning? If so, which ones do you use and why? I’d love to hear what tools you use.

———-

  1. aggregator. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 05, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aggregator
  2. I chose to pay for a 1-year subscription to explore Newsblur.

 

Losing Google Reader

Mourning Google Reader
Photo by fallingwater123. Used with permission via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

This past week Google announced they have decided to kill Google Reader. Ugh. I cannot adequately express how much this frustrates me. I want to kick something. I’m a huge fan and reader of blogs. I subscribe to hundreds of them through RSS and Google Reader. I spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes a day reading online and my first stop has always been Google Reader. I use Zite and Flipboard, too, but they are secondary to Google Reader.

When I began connecting with other educators online, I would wait until I saw them tweet about a new post before reading their blogs. I learned so much from reading and thinking about their posts. I began rethinking what it means to be a teacher and a learner in today’s world., and my philosophy of education began to shift from a perennial viewpoint to one that is progressive (constructivist/connectivist). Unfortunately, I had to wait for people to share their posts on Twitter or I had to keep checking their websites waiting for new posts. Then, someone introduced me to RSS. (I honestly don’t remember who it was, but I am extremely indebted to him.) RSS allowed me to subscribe to feeds from blogs and only have to go to one place to read them all. RSS is like having a personal newspaper of content from writers that I want to read. I mostly subscribe to educational blogs (see my abbreviated educational blogroll), but I also subscribe to content from marketing geniuses, sports pundits, favorite authors, parenting experts, professional geeks, and others. I fell in love with RSS in general and with Google Reader specifically. I have used it almost everyday for the past 4 years. Imagine my irritation at learning Google was abandoning Reader. How can this be?

I wasn’t the only one irritated either. The blogosphere erupted with negative reactions to the news and with suggestions for replacement services, too. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Additionally, you might want to check out this crowdsourced list of alternatives to Google Reader.

For now, I am auditioning three replacement RSS services. I have used Feedly before but never loved it. I tried it on my iPad when I was having tech issues with Mr. Reader (I use Feeddler Pro on my iPhone). It worked fine, but I immediately returned to Google Reader and Mr. Reader as soon as my issues resolved. I’m trying it again to see if it’ll take this time. I have also paid for a one year subscription to Newsblur and have played with it a little. It’s been slow, but I’m guessing the many people moving to it from Google have overwhelmed the servers. I’ll continue to play with it for now. My RSS feeds hold enough value to me that I am willing to pay for a quality service. I’ve already paid for a few quality iPhone and iPad apps to use with it. Finally, I am also trying Good Noos. I started playing with it on Saturday night so we’ll see. For now the verdict is still out on these, but my frustration over the loss of Google Reader is still significant.

What can we do? I doubt anything will change this. Reader was a free service, and we should have known its days were numbered when Google shuttered Adsense for Feeds last October. Feedburner’s life is probably limited, too. Regardless, in trying to feel less powerless I have signed the petition to keep Google Reader running at change.org. I also left a flower for Reader at the Google Graveyard. You can, too.

Do you use RSS to subscribe to blogs or other website content? Are you as irritated by Google’s abandoning RSS as I am? So you know, you can keep your Google data, including your Reader subscriptions, by downloading them through Google Takeout. I recommend it. Reader has been my most prized online learning tool. What is yours? Why?

Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.