Experience API and RSS News/Podcast Aggregators in Education

fireworks exploding from a woman's smartphone

I am a big believer in RSS News Aggregators as a core technology for lifelong learning. By allowing each individual person to curate their own interests and get in the habit of consuming a steady stream of news relevant to their interests, RSS lets people build their own personalized diet of valuable information. My own Feedly news subscriptions and PlayerFM podcast subscriptions help me stay abreast of new developments in the fields of tech, education, design, and current events. This post discusses how podcasts and RSS news readers could be used in education via the xAPI (Experience API).

How can this enhance teaching and learning?

Since podcasts and RSS feeds provide me so much value, I’m always thinking of ways these valuable resources can be brought to bear in formal education.

Rather than giving students a one-and-done reading assignment about an issue in your subject matter field, why not get them hooked on some reliable news sources that they could stay subscribed to long after they’ve passed your course?

Instead of sending your students a PDF to read, why not send them an OPML file of the top 10 blogs and professional organizations in your field so they can start to follow the ongoing conversations in that field? Or maybe offer them a podcast feed they can drop into their podcatcher of choice, listening to someone cover a concept in the appealing format of a radio show?

Communicating our RSS consumption habits

I would like to see the major RSS aggregators and podcatching apps start to interface with the Experience API so students and teachers could publish a feed of their listening and reading habits back in to the learning platforms they use. This way, a teacher may assign students to listen to a five-episode podcast, and the students’ podcast app could let them LMS know when they’ve finished listening to each one.

As you may know, the Experience API creates a feed of learning activities that a student can perform using any web app. It has a syntax that goes something like this:

[user] [performed action] in [application].

So you might have a feed that reads something like

[Ted] [read article "RSS is Awesome"] in [Feedly].
[Ted] [listened to "Privacy Paradox"] in [PlayerFM].
[Ted] [read article "TedCurran.net/about"] in [Feedly].

Students could also just maintain a personal “History” page that shows them a history of all the articles they’ve read in their Inoreader, similar to the browsing history in their web browser. They could choose to share this history selectively with other students, teachers, or friends on social media, and generate conversation around relevant articles.

Of course, xAPI shouldn’t just be an indiscriminate paper trail of what students have/haven’t read and listened to, viewable to anyone. I can see how, used without the proper care, it could be used to penalize students for not reading and listening to things when they’re expected to. It would be best if students retained the agency to share this data trail when it suits their needs and enhances their learning.

Your thoughts?

Sometimes I feel like I’m shouting down a hole when I talk about RSS, blogs, and podcasts. I think they’re such valuable and underutilized tools, but I fear the world is passing them by in favor of social media tools like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook. I see those tools as more disempowering to individual users because they are proprietary (not open), centralized (not decentralized), and profit-driven (not free).

I’d love it if interested readers would post comments or shout out on Twitter where we could talk about ways to promote the use of RSS in education. I think there’s a lot of potential in this approach and I feel like the only one talking about this right now!

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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5 Responses

  1. Dave Lee says:

    Ted – This is a tremendous idea. I’m involved in the workplace learning domain and I can see this being a huge benefit in the “content curation” movement. I know in my own learning, I love my feedly feed to aggregate content from blogs. But then to get it over to Diigo, which I use for social bookmarking, I have to go through a manual step to create the bookmark. Your xAPI idea would automate this step in the process. And yes, RSS feeds are still incredibly valuable. Feedly, Degreed, Anders Pink, and all the aggregators depend upon RSS. I’ll be pushing this idea! This post is being added to my xAPI Resource Center (http;//neweelearning.com/xapi-resource-center) – Dave

    • Ted Curran says:

      Thanks so much Dave! Yes there’s value in both approaches. I bet your Diigo followers would thank you for filtering the best links from the not-so-great ones. The act of choosing to make that bookmark is an active step of curating information for other users with your interests, and that’s such an essential internet skill.
      But yes, I think there is room for a passive process by which we could have a complete record of everything we’ve read or listened to in our RSS aggregators — much like a browser history. Of course, you might not want everyone to see it all the time — you might even be embarrassed to share some of the things that are on it — but at least you would have a complete record that you could review and choose which ones you want to publish to your followers.

  2. adamcroom says:

    Your answer is probably one of the first where I’ve agreed with the value of this type of data. Yes, anything that can equip the instructor to understand the learner’s needs sounds mighty fine to me.

  3. Ted Curran says:

    Thanks Adam, and nice to hear from you! Yes, I’ve had the same worry about xAPI — when I hear about people wanting to measure what students have read or listened to (“the consumption side”), I have to question their motivations. These tools can be used for good or evil, and often that line is not discussed.

    In my experience teaching high school students, there was always a question of DID students read the reading? At some point we’d find out that they weren’t comprehending the material, and then we’d have to trace back to troubleshoot WHY that was happening. Usually after a failed assessment we’d find out that, no, the student hadn’t read the material, and then our remediation strategy would focus on figuring out how they could best access the content. Did they need help with the reading level? Did they need a quiet place to work? Did they need special accommodations? Or did they just need some accountability? Consumption-side data can be used by a caring and responsible remediation team to make informed decisions about how best to reach kids.

    Now I go to edtech conferences, and I’m always worried that computer science nerds are getting together with out-of-touch adminstrators to “sort” or “predict” students into groups by performance — ignoring the transformation-through-remediation part and just weeding out low performers with data. Same tools, very different intentions and outcomes.

    And, as you rightly state, consuming does not equal learning. Just because Student A played a podcast episode or read a PDF doesn’t mean she’s comprehended it, retained it, metacognitized it, and is ready to apply it. I like the potential of xAPI to serve as a record of a student’s “digital exhaust”, but I agree that the trail of what they consumed and produced is merely metadata — the data itself, the work produced, is what needs to be evaluated critically for evidence of mastery.

  4. adamcroom says:

    Hey Ted! I don’t have too much to say but I did want to just let you know you aren’t shouting into a hole talking about blogs, rss, and podcasts. 🙂

    I am definitely becoming interested more and more by the day by how we allow the LMS to be a catcher of activity that happens outside the LMS via API. I’m more interested though on the production end and not the consumption end of web activity, so something like “Has my student listened to this podcast?” isn’t a question I found myself asking a lot. As an example, we have Lynda.com on campus and I assign a modest set of videos for them to watch. Now I do have access to the data on if they’ve watched the videos or not, but I rarely find myself digging into that data because it isn’t incredibly useful in telling me if they’ve learned the material. Instead I have perform some type of other activity to so a learning outcome: perform a task using the skills learned, write a blog post, curate similar materials, etc.

    Hope that’s helpful info as you continue to think about LMSs and APIs. I definitely see that approach as the right step forward and, frankly, wish more people were thinking about this type of integration.


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