This week I created edufeeds.keeganslw.com, which uses a simple web app as an educational blog aggregator. It’s built in WordPress with plugins, and it’s a tool I’m planning to use in order to save time, energy, and stay updated with blogs I follow. In fact, I’m hoping to beat out Google in terms of tailored searches by playing to the strengths of a network of awesome educators. Rather than being ultra specific in search queries within Google.com, I want curated content to make general searching more useful (and easier and faster). In other words, I want to arrive at the educational materials I need without being hindered by Google’s indexing algorithm (and advertisements).
For example, yesterday I met with a faculty member who was looking at digital flashcard solutions because she wanted to create learning materials for her students to practice Hebrew vocabulary on the go—this led us to Quizlet. But I wanted to learn more about this tool, so I searched for it in edufeeds and arrived at one post by Audrey Waters that linked to this EdSurge article about Quizlet “seeking to monetize by allowing other education companies access to its large user base.” This is the type of information I wanted prior to conversations about classroom use, because it allowed me to quickly gain a better background of the tool and the motivations of the company behind it.
This is where I want to lean on a community of educators I trust more than a search engine algorithm. Sometimes it’s difficult to always know what to search for when you’re investigating various technologies, especially when you’re limited by the specificity of your search queries and results (and time deciphering valuable/invaluable finds). Luckily, this world is full of phenomenal folks (like Audrey Waters, Mike Caufield, Maha Bali, etc.) who deeply care about human issues facing education and openly publish their experiences and findings. I want to piggyback off of their investigations to be a better educational technologist and better serve instructors at my university.
Before I dive into the technical and human aspects of the edufeeds web app, know that this tool is not perfect and is still being developed and improved. Plus, being the sole curator of this content, it is subject to my own biases. (Look mom, I’ve become my own search algorithm!)
Technical Setup & Being Considerate
edufeeds.keeganslw.com is in my own domain (of one’s own) space, running on WordPress with the Cover theme. I’m using FeedWordPress to syndicate blog posts to the website from peoples’ personal websites. Those are the basics, and you can view Alan Levine’s guide to FeedWordPress if you want to dive into the setup specifics.
The reason that I’m using this WordPress based solution over RSS readers like Feedly or Inoreader is because the search systems in those softwares are either behind paywalls or return insufficient results in comparison to my web app. Edufeeds works better because, using FeedWordPress, it stores local copies of the content from everyone’s blog posts. This makes the searching functionality awesome because it takes advantage of the tags, database, and organizational features of WordPress. However, this also means that I’m a custodian of content from others and I want to be respectful of the authors I’m aggregating.
First, all posts within edufeeds link to their original sources. In this data and popularity driven world I don’t want to take away views from individuals. Instead, I hope edufeeds can help drive traffic to people’s writing by showcasing it. Second, if an author chooses to update or remove content from their website, edufeeds will respect those decisions and will not retain any of that data. Finally, I’m keeping the categories/tags originally assigned to the posts so they can be identified within edufeeds as tags. This meta data is a valuable aspect of every post and edufeeds can use it to sort content from multiple authors. For instance, #digciz yields content from seven different authors.
At the end of the day, as a steward of data, I want to be respectful of the people behind the posts.
Now, as I mentioned edufeeds is in no way perfect and is a work in progress. It only returns results from the few dozen individuals currently syndicated to the site. Which means its biases can be significant. However, I’m planning on taking a proactive role in curating the content because I want a diversity of voices in edufeeds. I want many perspectives represented in the site’s “index” so that search results aren’t exclusively from one group of people. Also, I recognize that edufeeds favors folks that write often and in their own space versus those that publish work in many places. So, take edufeeds results with a grain of salt, especially in it’s early days.
Technically speaking, edufeeds is also limited by RSS and FeedWordPress which will only syndicate the ~10 most recent posts from a site (some sites sync more). This will limit how far in the past posts will be aggregated, going forward edufeeds will collect additional posts over time and grow since it won’t automatically remove old posts. Currently, I’m not sure if I want to remove content after a certain age but I’m thinking about it as I consider every aspect of this web app.
I Am An Algorithm
You’re welcome to use edufeeds if you think it would benefit you. Just know you’d be relying on the handpicked “Keegan algorithm” versus Google’s indexing algorithm. Personally, I’m looking at this as a way to search for educational content prior to turning to Google (but then, I trust my handpicked algorithm). I hope edufeeds, at the very least, serves as a miniature example of how search engines are not the end-all-be-all of web content. All that to say, be conscientious and don’t trust all the results from search engines.