Blog Pile

What’s the Fuss about RSS?

a blog/wiki paper for the July 11, 2003 LOVCOP teleconference

Learning Objects Virtual Community of Practice

Alan Levine, Maricopa Community Colleges

Brian Lamb, University of British Columbia

D’Arcy Norman, University of Calgary

Casting aside stuffy academic papers and endless PowerPoint bullets, we will present our ideas on RSS and learning objects via a collection of connected blog entries assembled in a wiki. Use the medium to communicate about the medium.


Customized collections of learning objects from multiple repositories are achieved with simple, existing RSS protocols, creating access to a wider range of objects than a single source. This provides discipline-specific windows into collections, contextual wrappers via blogging tools, and a system for connecting objects and implementations via TrackBack.

Visit TheFuss wiki for the relevant sources covered in the talk (and then some) plus our own blog entries for what has been a loosely coordinated and quickly moving idea since February 2003. [see a static snapshot of TheFuss wiki]

Look for this presentation also at the coveted last time slot of the Aug 5-8, 2003 MERLOT conference.

The guts of the presentation are at


Learning objects repositories are growing in number with no end to arguments about definitions, meta-data, granularity, etc. The discovery process is ultimately limited to what one can search within a single collection. We propose that, with very little technical effort, the content of these repositories could be easily “syndicated” in numerous formats with existing RSS standard formats.

RSS, whether you believe it stands for “Really Simple Syndication”, “Rich Site Summary”, or “RDF Site Summaries”, is a simple XML construct for describing web-based content. Its most pervasive application is in the syndicating of news headlines where the RSS file provides a headline, URL, and short description. Any news web site can “publicize” the summaries of their content via RSS, and other web sites or desktop aggregator applications can “subscribe” to a customized collection of these “news feeds.”

The explosion of web-based commentary via weblogs is being fueled by the addition of RSS publishing features in blogging applications such as Radio Userland and MovableType. RSS allows blog sites to be constantly updated with “feeds” from related blog sites, building a vast interconnected network, a social construct of connected commentary.

This same approach can be easily applied to collections of learning objects as a vehicle for expanding the practice of discovery beyond the blast of a web search. RSS provides a dynamic publishing of say the newest 10 objects added to Repostory X. Any repository that houses its content or meta-data in a database can, in a matter of hours, generate properly formed RSS feeds for describing every object in that collection. In addition, our repositories have enabled a customized feed that provides an RSS route to the results of any search on that site. For example, a feed of all objects from Repository X in the subject area of “Psychology” may contain objects with reference to “reinforcement” in the description field.

We will demonstrate how to create RSS views into the collections from different organizations. These views may be aggregated into user defined collections via desktop applications such as Amphetadesk and NetNewsWire, and even allow collections defined by academic subject.

Finally, blogs connected to the RSS feeds might provide a component of object contextuality that is beyond the meta-data. Faculty content developers find objects via RSS feeds coming into their blog site, and use “auto-discovery” tools to provide commentary on how the object might be or is used in an instructional context. “TrackBack” allows objects to record which external sites have blogged on these objects

Each presenter will describe how little effort it took to generate the RSS feeds into existing repositories and demonstrate ease of use of readily available tools for expanding the network of “blogged” objects.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Awesome, really awesome. Minor tidbits…

    The Fuss Wiki:

    – I thought my talk at IMS (No, Really, This is what We Want) was a motivator… at least, that’s what I was told

    – No mention of Edu_RSS on the wiki (but it is listed in the presentation)


    – the link returns 404


    – It hasn’t really come into play yet, but mention of RSS-LOM might be relevant

    These are all very minor points (and I might be the only person in the would who would care). This really is an outstanding presentation – I wish I could be there for it (get someone to video it).

  2. Stephen,

    Too bad we missed you on the phone line. I was told by the organizers that the whole session was audio recorded and would be made available somehow. We will be doing some version of this at MERLOT Aug 8.

    re: About the wiki..

    “I thought my talk at IMS (No, Really, This is what We Want) was a motivator…”

    — it might have been, I recall downloading it, but I think we were already on the way with RSS. I could have gone back to many of your papers, like the NAWEB one.

    “No mention of Edu_RSS on the wiki (but it is listed in the presentation)”

    — it is there under “Finding RSS Feeds:” (under the array of RSS icons)

    And of course, the beauty of the wiki is that you can add the ones we missed. It was interesting and very powerful for the three of us yo group-write in a wiki.

    re: “Snapshot”

    ” the link returns 404″

    — yup, I am a lousy typist. It should (and his been fixed) to:

    We did this because we did not know how many people might try to hit the wiki at the same time.

    re: Misc.

    “It hasn’t really come into play yet, but mention of RSS-LOM might be relevant”

    — I will have to ramp up on that one.

    Thanks for the sharp eyes.

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