As I suggested earlier before I carry out any new research into RSS, Creative Commons or Tagging, I will explain what I believe they are and their benefits to online communities.

RSS

RSS – which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is in effect, a live stream of information which is ‘pushed’ from websites around the Internet to an individuals RSS reader account. Users subscribe via their RSS reader to the RSS ‘feed’ from any number of websites on the Internet. A RSS feed is sent or ‘pushed’ from a website every time the website is updated, this prevents users from having to view the websites periodically to see if they have been updated. The use of this push technology is what makes RSS so effective.

Online educational communities can make significant use of RSS feeds, in lots of ways. For example, when carrying out research, educators can link to individual RSS feeds from a number of significant websites or blogs, each related to the research subject. This will enable them to keep updated with any news and information which is published. Similarly, educators who all follow a particular topic, for example, educational technology (edtech), can create a RSS bundle, using participants blogs (which relate to edtech),  in order to create an aggregated feed of realtime information, related to educational technology.

An RSS bundle is also a good way a teacher, delivering a distance learning course, can aggregate information from learners reflective blogs. And for that matter, a way by which learners, within mini groups, can aggregate the realtime information being shared within their group (something this mini group should set up).

A good example of how easy it is to use a RSS reader to subscribe to hundreds of educational blogs, can be found in this blog post http://jeffthomastech.com/blog/?p=8956 .

Here is a Common Craft video explaining what RSS is http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english

Creative Commons

It is my understanding that due problems, particularly within education, related to intellectual property rights and sharing resources, a new form of copyright needed to be introduced to enable resources to be shared legally. The new copyright was creative commons (cc).

Creative Commons has been set up in a similar way to that of open source software, with the intention anyone can use the resource, repurpose it and then make it available again under the Creative Commons licence. The author of a resource needs to use the Creative Commons licence in order to provide copyright permissions to other users so they use the resource or edit it.  Once these permissions are granted other users can use of their websites etc without breaking the law, which under previous copyright they would have been doing.

The ability for users to easily licence under Creative Commons means educational communities are able to share resources legally between members without the risk of breaking the law. Creative Commons licensing has in my opinion facilitated much greater collaboration between online educators, with evidence highlighted daily on educational blogs. It is now common place to see resources being reused by educators in different districts and countries and significantly educators sharing their experiences, so others can learn from their successes or failures.

This video explains Creative Commons:

Tagging

Personally I see tagging or to be more precise Meta-tagging as one of, if not the most important aspect, of the educated web. A tag on source of information be it a blog post, an image or a even a Twitter Tweet, adds Metadata to the asset which enables that source of information to be found more easily and stored by search engines.

I believe the lack of relevant metadata on websites, blogs, images and basically anything posted online has slowed down the progress of the Internet as a learning tool. Yes the Internet is currently an excellent source of information, however, as we all know the first web link following a Google search isn’t always the website we were looking for. In fact, you will notice advertisers have taken the lead in providing relevant information every time you search using Google, as they use appropriate and detailed metadata to ensure you receive the correct result.

Advertisers, courtesy of companies like Google, Amazon and FaceBook actually use even more relevant metadata, which is tied personally to you, metadata which is correlated to your online presence and continuously generated. As an example, when you open up Amazon after making a purchase of a cookery book, you are very likely to be offered other books on cooking. The use of metadata in this way will hopefully lead to the semantic web, where the computer will use metadata to create its own intelligent metadata, providing you with information about things before you have already shown an interest in. It has been muted that the semantic web would already be here, however, it is possibly due to the inadequate tagging on so many existing web resources that the initial databank required isn’t significant enough yet.

The use of tagging within online communities again has many possibilities. There is obviously the tagging of webpages and blogposts, but in order to share information from external sources learners can create tags of their own. This can be achieved in a number of ways, however, I will concentrate on two, Diigo and Twitter.

Diigo is a web2.0, (this means it is available in the cloud,) social bookmarking service. Diigo enables users to bookmark and tag any website they visit, plus it makes this information available as a webpage, so the user can access it from anywhere. What makes this service social, is that anyone can follow a user and see all the bookmarks and tags they make (except the ones marked private). In addition, a user can add their bookmarks to community lists, therefore, for example, sharing an educational technologists blog about Twitter, in a Twitter list rather than a generic education technology list. This has lots of educational benefits and is a regular aspect of many online courses, with learners encouraged to follow a Diigo list and to create a Diigo account in order to share their own research. My Diigo can for example be found here http://www.diigo.com/user/moodlemckean.

Twitter is a microblogging website where users share information with their ‘followers’, via a Tweet which is made up of up to 140 characters long. Users can share any information they like, however, educationalists who use Twitter, tend to share links to websites and blogs that contain interesting and useful information. The information shared by a user is only directly fed to their followers, however, if the Tweet is tagged, using the Twitter tagging protocol, which is a hash tag (#) followed be a word or acronym, it can be found by other users using a search. Searching for particular hash tags is a common way users find new people to follow.

As an advocate of both Twitter and tagging, I will use my personal use as an example. The number of tags that I regularly use within my Tweets, could be seen by many people as over the top. However, I try to ensure the information I am sharing, which I deem useful, is shared with as many people who would benefit from it as possible. As an educationalist, I use several hash tags regularly, these include the following hash tags with their description:

#edchat – an educational chat which takes place at different fixed times, however, it is also used to tag useful information about education.

#ukedchat – the same as #edchat except the live chat takes place at a different time (Thursday 8-9pm) and the tag references UK educational specifically.

#edtech – educational technology.

#tlchat – teacher librarians, however, some people also link this to teaching and learning.

#lrnchat – learning

#elearning – elearning, online learning, ILT

#mlearning – mobile learning

#moodle – Moodle VLE

I may use several of these hash tags in one Tweet to enable people who are not following me, i.e. people who will only see the Tweet via a search, to find it. For example, their may be an article about a new Moodle iPhone app, this would automatically be tagged #Moodle but as it’s a mobile learning application it would also be tagged #mlearning, as well as #iPhone to alert iPhone users that the app is available. At this point, however, there isn’t a tag which will highlight the Tweet to the general education community, who may also have an interest in this information. By adding an additional #edchat or #lrnchat  or both the Tweet becomes much more widely available. This in my opinion is the whole essence of tagging and metadata; bookmarking the information with as many appropriate tags as required so, search engines and therefore people can find it again.

The following link is an article from Read Write Web about the very first hash tag used on Twitter The First Hash Tag on Twitter

The recent move by Google to include references from Twitter and Flickr in search results, adds even more value to tagging on these social media sites, see Google Search Becomes More Sociable.

My Reflections and Linking RSS, Creative Commons and Tagging to Educational Theory

Tagging

I have used tagging personally within my educational role and have written a detailed blog post ‘The World of Twitter’ here .

As the post explains, my intention is to attempt to use Twitter hash tags to enable learners to connect and share their experiences and thus enable the creation of online learning communities for learners studying vocational subjects as described by Lave and Wenger (1991). Using hash tags beginning #edu and ending in the vocational subject e.g. #edumotor, #eduhair etc. I hope to encourage learners from around the world to start to communicate and create their own communities of practice.