Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taking it all in

Our discussions about the news in class leads down a number of paths. I rarely watch a conventional newscast anymore. Aggregation, the ability to bring data to you rather than search for it page by page, is the direction I take and work with students to do as well.

Sadly the use of aggregation tools is not commonplace in many education circles. Many tools to aggregate data on the web are blocked in too many schools. Proposals in the Lab have moved a good bit forward here on our campus and we're headed for some more discussions throughout this school year I'm sure.

I get asked a lot out and about how I keep up on things, how to manage loads of information, what we work on with students in the Lab, etc. The logos in the pic above are a few of the major information tools we work with in the Lab. At the center of the activity is iGoogle. If you're not familiar with it, iGoogle pulls in feeds you subscribe to from all over the web into a 'newspaper sytle' format. Each site below appears in a small window or 'widget' on the page. Here's a link to a picture of my blog tab/page in iGoogle that may help if you've never seen it.

The advantage to using iGoogle? If it didn't make sense above, here's another way to dish it up: All this information appears in one page. Rather than visiting each site individually the stories all come to me. Again, it's a bit like creating my own newspaper really. See something I'm interested in on my page, I just click on a head line and it brings me to the site to read the article.

Here are a few I subscribe to: In the main tab (or window) I pull in my personal email, calendar and the following news sources: NY Times, AP Newswire, CNN, BBC, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Digg and the Huffington Post. I grab more tech centric news sites as well in: Slashdot, Wired, Gizmodo, Google blog, Google Docs blog, Google Operating system blog and I add in ESPN for some sports headlines.

I also have a TwitterFeed which pulls messages from my personal Twitter account. With Twitter, once you get past the "why would I do this" question, subscribe to a few folks and try out a few posts it's easier to see why Twitter can be very useful. Dedicating some time searching out folks who will inspire you and subscribing to them, then things take off. I pull the TED website posts into iGoogle as well for updates on what's been posted along with a TED Fellows blog. We use a number of TED speeches as conversations starters here in the Lab. If you haven't checked out do yourself a favor and give it a try.

All the headlines from the sites above, all visible on one page.

On another tab/page in iGoogle I subscribe to a number of blogs: Guy Kawasaki (he has a few), Will Richardson, Seth Godin, David Warlik, Chris Lehmann, Liz Davis, Carl Fisch, Samba blog, ReadWriteWeb, PresentationZen and a handful of others. These blogs offer up insights on education, business, technology, collaboration, some good common sense and the like.

Three other tabs I have open in the web browser itself are Alltop, HootSuite and Delicious. AllTop gives me a snapshot of loads of things cooking on on the web, top stories or groupings of things by interest. We've used it quite a bit on research projects in the Lab and the more I use it the more I like it.

HootSuite is a web based Twitter client that has proven quite useful. Subscribe to a large number of folks in Twitter and it can get pretty unruly to keep track of. That's the point though with Twitter... you don't need to see and read everything! Seeing who responds to you directly, what you send and what you receive in separate columns has proven very valuable. HootSuite offers a bunch of other functionality as well but I won't go into it now.

I use Delicious to tag and search web articles all the time. The real strength of Delicious though I think is to see who else 'tagged' the same article you did. Finding people with like interests aka researching similar subjects, well, it's a bit like having a research assistant... without paying for one.

That's a snapshot of what I use personally and what we work on with students here to branch out in their projects. I've been at this since iGoogle first came out. I've tried others. I use Google Reader frequently as well.

Why do this? I feel like I get an incredible snapshot of the world, my interests and my functional tools in a few pages. I feel more connected and informed. It's promoted me to read more... the list could go on and on. Helping people become more informed, to find inspiration, to become better researchers, to promote reading... that's what we aspire to do isn't it? At one point we felt like libraries were inventive.

I can't say I feel this is innovative by any means at this point. Many individuals and schools are doing this in some fashion. The danger I think is that too few students are using these tools in education. We've made some great strides here at BBA changing perspectives on the value of these aggregation tools and keep having discussions on how folks can use them. I've always said we'll get a lot further by promoting sophisticated use rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

Thanks for tuning in, AP

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