Using an RSS feed in a Chemistry class
Harry Pence | 27 September, 2006 10:19
This semester I will be trying various approaches to apply social networking to my chemistry classes. In each case i will try to start from a problem that I perceive, and then propose a social solution to this problem.
I will begin with my senior seminar class for chemistry majors. The problem that I perceive is that they are not accustomed to following the chemical literature. I could require that they visit the library and read journals on a regular basis, but this has not been very successful in the past. The library is "out of their way' and "inconvenient." The solution I decided to attempt was to have each student set up an RSS feed connected to several ACS journals as well as C&E News. Perhaps if an abstract of journal articles appears on their computer, they will be more likely to at least read the abstract, and perhaps even follow up by finding the article in the journal.RSS is a three-letter acronym that has a number of different meanings, the most common of which is Real Simple Syndication. RSS is an XML-based system that will automatically inform a user when a new post is added to his or her favorite website. Any web site that includes the little orange buttom with the letters RSS can be connected, as long as the user has a program that will read the RSS feed. Such an RSS reader is often called an aggregator. Many journals and web sites have this connectivity; establishing an RSS connection usually provides the user with a brief abstract of the original material and also a link to click through to the original site (as long as the user would normally have access to the site).
There are a number of commonly used RSS aggregators, but I decided to use NetVibes, because I already had experience with it, the software included a Del.icio.us (to be discussed in a later post) feed, it worked on both Macs and PCs, and finally (and most important) it was free. The class was relatively small (about seven students) so it was easy to have them all work in a computer lab and set up NetVibes. The installation went very smoothly, and I suspect that if one worte a decent set of directions, students could do this on their own.
Next, i had the students go to the ACS RSS feeds page, which is at the URL
I had each student connect to two journals that seemed to be interesting to them, as well as the normal feed for C&E News. ACS journals connect smoothly to NewVibes, but some other non-ACS journals do not have a button to allow direct connection to NetVibes. In that case is is necessary to obtain the XML address and manually copy it into NetVibes.
i also asked each students to set up an RSS feed from Science magazine, which is at
Science list a variety of types of RSS links, and I had my students choose only one. I suggested Chemistry, Physaics , and Materials Science, but they may have opted for one of the other RSS links.
Now that each student has a basic set of RSS links, it remains to be seen how they will use this information. I plan to do a survey in a week or so, and I will report on these outcomes in a later blog.