E-Learning 3.0 Task 1 completed!

In the E-learning 3.0 MOOC being run by Stephen Downes, we have been given two tasks to choose from for this week. I might tackle both tasks, but for now, I will write about how I completed Task1, which was:

Subscribe to the course feeds – using the feed reader of your choice (here’s a selection) use the course OPML file (here it is) to subscribe to the course feeds. To get a badge you’ll need to show you’ve done this, maybe by writing a blog post).

Here, in this blog post, I will provide evidence of completion, describe what I did, where I nearly came unstuck and share the questions I still have about this task/topic.

I read the task in the newsletter which came through into my email inbox on October 30th. At this point I had not read the previous day’s newsletter, so I had not seen the files which would help with this task.

My initial reaction was of extreme frustration. What on earth is an OPML file? Clicking on the link revealed a page of densely typed text, which is a complete motivation killer for someone like me. My second reaction was to offload onto a long-suffering friend, by sending a long moan/rant by email. My very patient friend explained what an OPML file is (basically a file format that can be used as the import/export format for RSS feed reader programs – and there we go again – what is RSS ? I did know this, but I don’t think it is necessarily common knowledge). My friend persuaded me that the task might not be as bad as I thought. I persuaded myself that I shouldn’t give up too easily.

I then realised that Stephen has created a short video ‘Using OPML’ which made it look quite straight-forward, given that I already have a Feedly account.

Quick (13 minutes) description of how to use the E-Learning 3.0 OPML feed (at https://el30.mooc.ca/course_feeds.xml ) to collect the list of feeds being shared by course participants and read all their new posts in your feed reader – I demonstrate how to import OPML for both Feedly and for gRSShopper.

I set Stephen’s video going on my second large monitor (I find a second monitor essential for pretty much everything I do these days) and opened Feedly on my laptop. Following Stephen’s instructions I imported the OPLM file into Feedly in a matter of minutes. Here is the evidence!

At this point, my screen did not look like the image above, because …

  • The heading of the category (which is now EL30) was initially ‘Uncategorised’. I wanted to change this. I tried using the ‘Rename’ facility provided by Feedly (see image below), but that didn’t work however many times I tried.

  • I wondered if I could/should change the OPML file, so opened it in TextEdit on my Mac, but that didn’t help (I had to use Google to find out how to do this!) Ultimately I created a new feed with the title EL30.
  • I then tried to drag and drop all the feeds into the new category. According to Feedly, it should be possible to reorganise your feeds in this way, but again I couldn’t get this to work. There must be a way to bulk move feeds, but I couldn’t find it. Ultimately I moved them one by one, using the ‘Move to’ button (see image below) found by clicking on the ‘more options’ button, which becomes visible when you click on a feed. Just as well there were not too many feeds. I then deleted the Uncategorised title.

  • But I was still not happy. In the first week of the course I used the recommended blog feed finder to submit my blog to the course site. In the event I found that my blog was already there. I think Stephen must have pulled in some of the early blog posts manually to get it all going. I realised on seeing my feed, both on the course site and on my Feedly, that the posts being displayed were not specific to the course. I’m sure my other interests are of no interest to members of this course and you don’t want to talk about dying on this course. So I changed this in Feedly by editing the OPML file in TextEdit, so that the feed url was the category url on my blog followed by /feed (Thanks again to my patient friend for telling me what to do). I also submitted this feed (as being the more accurate one) to the course site, so we’ll see if the old one gets deleted. I hope so.
  • Finally I added the E-Learning 3.0 newsletter feed, using the course RSS feed provided by Stephen, by first clicking on Add Content at the bottom of the sidebar in Feedly. Believe it or not it took me a while to find Add Content. I was expecting it to be at the top of the sidebar.

For anyone very familiar with OPML files, source codes, RSS feeds or even Feedly (I have not used it much recently), then this blog post will probably seem bizarre. How could such an apparently simple task, lead to all these complications? Well if you are a ‘techie’ or a ‘geek’, then I would say to you that I am probably the norm rather than the exception and for me, this is quite an achievement 🙂

And more seriously I would like to ask you to convince me that I have spent my time well, when the feeds have already been aggregated on the course site. What is the difference between me going to my Feedly account and going to the course site. I know I can now pull into my Feedly EL30 category any feed that I want. I have control over this. But realistically, would I want to do this? So I need an answer to the question of why this is important.

And a final question that has been puzzling me. To do this I am still reliant on someone like Stephen providing the OPML file. Surely for it to be of real benefit I would need to create my own OPML file.

And a final message for my very patient friend – despite the long moaning email, this has turned out to be an enjoyable task, but whilst I am now happy that I have managed to complete it, and overcome some problems myself (although not on the scale of Laura Ritchie installing gRSShopper), I’m still not sure of the purpose or what I stand to gain.

5 thoughts on “E-Learning 3.0 Task 1 completed!

  1. Laura Ritchie November 4, 2018 / 9:54 am

    Dear Jenny, I enjoyed reading this. It was a challenge for me too and I’m still figuring out how to sort these feeds that I’ve imported. (I’m working on them within gRSShopper) I think there are two points to the ‘why’. The obvious one is to be able to bring all the things to you – to your environment, instead of having to go out looking to find them. The second one is more esoteric. For me, learning to understand the how and why, and going through the processes, allows me to then build more.

    After my first concert recital my cello teacher made me play open strings (no tunes, just plain notes, not even any fingers – like a beginner). I was so frustrated and crushed. He explained that we were listening to new things, working on new skills, and to build a bigger house, a taller building, we needed a stronger foundation. -This learning of deconstructing, reconstructing, having to reach out for help, failing, being a beginner, and sometimes succeeding (yay us!) teaches me about learning, motivation, and hopefully gives insight into how to use skills and tools in a new and better way.

    In short, learning is always worth it. Thank you for posting that it wasn’t all easy for you. In a peer learning environment I find that comforting to know we’re all somewhere on the learning curve.

    With all good wishes,

  2. jennymackness November 5, 2018 / 7:43 pm

    Hi Laura – thanks so much for your comment.

    I have been following your posts with interest, particularly since you are a musician, as it seems to me (influenced by my interest in Iain McGilchrist’s work on the divided brain (http://iainmcgilchrist.com/ ), that we are, at this point in the course, focussing on the notes, rather than the music.

    I hope we won’t lose sight of the music, which to me means understanding all this in a broader sense – why it is important, where it will take us, how it will influence education /learning /teaching as a whole.

    Deconstructing is of course essential, so long as we don’t get stuck on this and forget to reconstruct 🙂 As a musician, I’m sure you’ve had to think a lot about the balance between focussing on the notes and seeing the whole picture.


  3. Lisa M Lane November 6, 2018 / 3:47 am

    I really enjoyed following these steps to remind me about RSS, and I must confess I am also puzzled. But my puzzlement is about why this continues to be so clunky more than a decade on. I was so excited about RSS early on — I was aggregating all over the place, pulling feeds into WordPress as part of courses I was running, pulling feeds into various readers to aggregate what I wanted to read. I even got over the demise of the various readers I was using, and spent hours moving things over. I tinkered with the back end too.

    But it was far too clunky, even in Yahoo Pipes days, to recommend to students, or to use with faculty who didn’t live and breathe the web. At the time I thought, no worries — soon this will be seamless and no one will have to worry about the back end, OPML and Atom and such. But, as with wikis, it never happened. The great idea, the cool technology, never became user friendly to the ordinary web user.

    And now, blogging has changed, news has changed, and over half the feeds I used to follow are gone because they were individual blogs, like mine, and most of the authors just didn’t keep going with their ideas. I don’t have much interest in aggregating the pre-aggregated “news”, so other than an occasional stop at Netvibes, I really have given up on RSS.

  4. jennymackness November 6, 2018 / 11:28 am

    Hi Lisa – thanks for your comment.

    I too had pretty much given up on Feedly before the start of this course. I’m now wondering whether I should spend some time re-organising it, pruning it (Feedly makes it quite easy to do this by identifying blogs that are not being used) and pulling in some new feeds. I realise that it’s not just that many blogs I did follow are no longer active, but also that my own interests have changed, so I have feeds in which I am no longer interested.

    I agree that it is time consuming and as always it’s a question of trying to work out whether it’s worth the time spent. Stephen Downes has responded to some of these issues on his Half an Hour blog – https://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2018/11/designing-e-learning-30-in-grsshopper-9.html. I will copy his comments below.

  5. jennymackness November 6, 2018 / 11:29 am

    Comment on this post from Stephen Downes – copied here from https://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2018/11/designing-e-learning-30-in-grsshopper-9.html

    Interesting summary.

    – the purpose o the exercise is to give you a feed for using a cloud technology (which is what Feedly is), to get some experience using linked data (which is what RSS is), and to enable you to continue to follow the course without having to rely on a central course website. And it was kind o a warm-up for some of the more challenging things ahead.

    – it is worth noting that you followed the model of software people everywhere – first you tried it without instructions, then you asked someone, and finally, as a last resort, you followed the easy-to-follow video. There’s a lesson there (one you probably already knew, but still).

    – the course site isn’t 100% automated yet (I know, after ten years you would think the software would be finished, but…) so I’ve been adding links by hand. Next week I’ll show how I’m using the feed rules to filter your posts for the el30 tag. And that’s all that will be available through the course feed. Your Feedly collection, however, allows you to have a wider conversation with the people in the course – backchannels, sidebars, whatever. And also, once the course stops, the course feed comes to an end. But you should have the option of continuing on with the course community. Having said all that, only you can judge whether you’ve spent your time well.

    – I thought quite a bit about the ordering of content in the sidebar (so often these are created with no thought whatsoever). The stuff at the top is the stuff you will likely click frequently – returning to the course outline, going to the activity centre, reading the daily newsletter. The stuff at the bottom is stuff you will probably use only one or a few times.

    > I’m still not sure of the purpose or what I stand to gain.

    Even more so than in the case of the connectivist courses of 10 years ago, courses of the future (which is what we’re basically describing in this course) will consist mostly of plumbing (and where most of the plumbing is behind the scenes, in the cloud). Through the first two modules, we’ve been looking at the core elements of that plumbing. Next week, Graph, we’ll look at how that plumbing is connected and at some of the uses to which it’s put.

    This is very different from previous models of online education, where a great deal of attention is paid to design. I’ve deliberately kept the design of this course super-simple, to focus on the pices, and the connections between them. What happens in the future is that individual learning systems (including gRSShopper) will access this plumbing on an as-needed basis. There isn’t a ‘course’ per se but a learning environment.

    This model is not being talked about in the course so much as it is being demonstrated via the course. Sure, we talk about the elements as they arise – as you quite correctly point out, people don’t know what RSS and OPML are, and find the idea of working with feeds counterintuitive. In the short 10 weeks that we have, I’m am more than anything trying to give you a _feel_ of it, because it’s otherwise very easy to become overwhelmed in a sea of details.

    (But if you _want_ the details then you can follow my ‘Making of EL 3.0’ series over on Half an Hour. 🙂 )

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