Bloglines, I Love You

In a stack of papers called Connections.

  • Mar
  • 09
  • 2006

Finding ways to streamline the amount of work involved in life is a top priority for just about everyone. Teachers are no exception and my ongoing blog project takes up a lot of my streamlining time. With 120 blogs to scan through, 60 each week, I find myself unable to keep up with checking in on everyone.

I have grades on a paper, but I haven’t finished checking everyone’s blogs for the second round, so nothing’s entered. Plus, students create or change things all the time and keeping up with those changes is hard. Since the blog isn’t affecting their grades yet, completing them doesn’t rank very high on most students’ to-do list. Understood. But how do I check 60 blogs every weekend without it taking hours and hours away from other aspects of living? And what do I do about that student who has an annoying pop-up “~~WeLcOmE!!~~” message, accompanied by a music video embedded into the page (I’ve already told her it’s aggravating, but it’s her blog so she gets to do what she wants)? I want to get to the content really quick and the load time alone for all 60 pages is considerable, even with DSL.


Then it hit me to use RSS to manage all this. The idea was with me all along, but I was thinking I’d have to roll my own aggregator and that’s as daunting as the task of entering 120 different RSS feeds into any kind of system.

Looking into ready-made options, at first I was going to use SuprGlu to help manage all those blogs. But you’re limited to 11 feeds on an account. In the middle of composing an email to the SuprGlu people requesting permission to have 120 feeds on a single page, I checked out Bloglines. The light shone down from heaven while a beautiful chorus rang out a perfectly harmonized “Ahhh!” and angels flit about the room as a golden, shinning halo materialized just above the top of my computer screen.

Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?

I love Bloglines. It’s exactly what I need it to be. By subscribing to all student blogs via a “Sub with Bloglines” button that’s easily added to your browser (the site provides a step-by-step for this), I can see all of my students’ entries by visiting my Bloglines page. No more hassle over a font size that’s entirely too small for anyone to read or light grey text on a white background. I don’t have to visit to a bunch of different pages and deal with load time or with Blogger being shut down for scheduled maintenance.

Ducks In A Row

With a bit of editing and shuffling around, I have folders for each period, each blog is titled with the student’s first name, and everyone is in alphabetical order by last name within their period. This matches up perfectly with my roster; keeping track of credit is really easy now.

I visit my Bloglines page and open up whatever folder I need, moving down my grade sheet as I write down points. There’s a convenient “collapse” and “expand” link that moves content out of the way. Once I’ve read Jennifer’s entries, I collapse those so I have more screen space to read Jessica’s. It also helps me keep track of who I’ve read and how many more I have to go. Awesome.

And Bloglines keeps me updated with how many entries are new since my last visit. Once I get caught up in reading through each period’s entries, I can have it set up so I only see the new entries. I can even tell it to email me when new entries are there.

So, Bloglines gives me a single page to visit and read 120 different blogs. With each period in its own folder, I can grade a period at a time. And it’s arranged by last name, so writing down grades is easy. I’m shown a count of how many entries each person has and the last time it was updated, making it really easy to mark down completion of the assignment. The titles of entries are links directly to the student blog, so commenting on entries is as easy as ever. If I make my feeds page available to students, it should make it easier for them to comment on each other’s entries, too, since that will give them as convenient a list to look through as I have.

I don’t know this person, but someone else’s public Bloglines page will give you an idea of what it looks like and how it works.


1. George says:

[8/16/2008 - 6:11 pm]

Nice description of the moment you saw the coming together of RSS and your student blogs.

The light shone down from heaven while a beautiful chorus rang out a perfectly harmonized “Ahhh!”

For all the talk about how to use blogs in the classroom, you don’t hear much about how efficient blogs can be as a format for classroom writing. I don’t know about other teachers, but I can say from my experience that I am much more familiar with my students’ writing because of RSS. Blogs, coupled with RSS, are the ideal way to structure writing instruction. It’s so efficient being able to read all the student posts from one RSS reader page. I become much more familiar with my students’ writing by using these tools than I would using traditional formats.

I used Google Reader last year, and put each period into individual folders like you described above. I also used RSS for all the comments on each student blog. It’s also important to track their comments.

2. Todd says:

[8/16/2008 - 9:25 pm]

Yeah, but I haven’t found a way to get students to comment on each other’s blog in any way that doesn’t seem totally artificial. The years I’ve tried it, making a certain number of comments a part of each semester’s grade, the comments have been meaningless, really akin to spam in terms of the lack of value they add to the blog’s content.

So are you tacking 120 blog feeds AND 120 comment feeds? That’s a lot to set up!

If you’re talking about people other than my students commenting on blogs, it happens incredibly rarely and I hear about it from excited students the very next day. The kids themselves are my very own comment RSS feed. Plus, I tell students to turn on comment moderation anyway, so there’s already a wall in between the public and the submitted comment.

The ability to keep an entry as new along with telling me how many total entries exist in a given feed, along with numerous other little things, makes Bloglines my recommendation for managing blogs in a gradebook. Really, Reader just isn’t set up to do what I need to do to keep track of grades, send out reminders, prompt students when work isn’t done, and the like.

3. George says:

[8/17/2008 - 4:55 am]

Getting students to comment in a meaningful way is a big challenge. What I tried last year was creating other projects with students in other states that had blogs, then trying to get students to comment naturally, or willingly. For example, we started an online literary mag called Space. Students from anywhere and everywhere were invited to submit work. By the 3rd issue of Space, many students were commenting on each others work, and the comments were more meaningful because students were connecting around common interests. I also tried assigning students to comment on each other’s blogs, as well as blogs of students outside our classroom. Most of the time, the results were lame. However, not always.

Are you familiar with Paul Allison? He does a weekly webcast called Teachers Teaching Teachers with Susan Ettenheim. Many of their shows are about this theme, how to go about getting students to connect and comment on each other’s blogs in meaningful ways.

Now I need to check out Bloglines for RSS this year, after reading your post and comment. Last year, I had around 130 blogs, this year I’m only using blogs with two 7th grade classes. By the way, I’m looking for “mentors” for my 7th grade bloggers this year. Looking to pair-up each of my students for the year with a high-school mentor (writing coach) The job would simply be to read and comment once every two weeks.

Hey, thanks for commenting back to me about Bloglines! It’s funny, I didn’t realize I was commenting on a post from 2006 yesterday. I’ve been enjoying going through your blog.