Monday, February 16, 2009


New bloggers: this post is for you.

Your blog produces a feed.

Sorry to be the one to break that to you. No, actually this is a good thing. Because blogs are essentially subscription-based (i.e. people who use RSS news-readers like Google Reader can receive updates each time you create a new post), you can also use the subscription feed your blog produces to keep track of your students.

This is going to be a little two-part post/lesson. Part one: How subscriptions work and how to use a news-reader. Part two: How to monitor blog use through a burning service.

Ok. Let's start with the whole idea of new-readers. Basically a news-reader is a portal through which all of your blog subscriptions are managed. Afterall, isn't it kinda time-consuming always having to go to the websites and find the new information you are looking for? Instead, you can use a news-reader (sometimes called an aggregator) to cull through all the new posts on your most-watched blogs and compile them in one place. To do this, you need a news-reader and you need to subscribe to the blog's feed.

If you've been following this blog, you've likely already set up a Google account. And when you did that, you in fact got hooked into the Google Reader service (which is their news-feed aggregator). Just click on the 'reader' tab in Google and you will see how the reader works. It's basically set up to look like an email account, except instead of email you receive current news and posts from blogs you've subscribed to.

So, now let's go and subscribe to some blogs. If you like, you can go ahead and start with TeachPaperless. Click on the orange broadcast icon on the sidebar of this blog. This will take you to a page where you can choose which reader to use (in addition to Google, there are many choices from big names like Yahoo to more boutique readers like Rojo, but they all basically do the same thing [Ed. - Advanced readers, please refrain from flaming me on this issue; instead work off your angst at the fact that I would dare equate Yahoo and Rojo by going off on a quest with a few buddies to take down a clan of level-80 Yetis with your orc warrior... we'll get to advanced issues down the road; this is a post for folks who just want to learn how to subscribe to blogs]. But, I digress.

Ok. So that's how a news-reader works. Now, for each blog you regularly read, you can set a subscription and receive all your news in one place.

Now, in terms of burning a feed, an easy way to go is Feedburner. Just enter your url and let Feedburner do its thing. Once your feed is burned, you can just follow along through the tabs to optimize and publicize your blog.

Now that you've got a service tracking your blog, you'll be able to see how many subscribers and hits you get. In terms of classroom maintenance, I often track my classes to get a sense of how many students are actually following my blog (as they are required to do). If I see my numbers slipping, I throw an unannounced pop-quiz onto the blog and by the time I grade it I see my numbers back up where they should be.

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