Geology News via Google Reader

Since I began teaching during my final years as a graduate student in the late nineties I’ve been using a webpage to supplement my teaching. One of the things I’ve always striven to do is to include a “Geology in the News” box on my class webpages, to make the subject more tangible for those not accustomed to thinking about the role of geology in our daily lives.

Early on, that news box was just one more part of an entirely hand coded website, and I would post a new item every week or two, on average. Within a few semesters I was using phpBB on my homegrown websites in order to add a discussion component to the class. “Geology in the News” blurbs were, of course, excellent discussion board fodder.

Since coming to Fort Hays State University, I’ve modified my class websites to fit into the Blackboard template that the campus supports. By using Blackboard I was able to offer a password protected gradebook and automated quizzes (good); Blackboard’s Discussion Board feature replaced phpBB for discussions (good and bad); and Blackboard’s frames-based navigation system replaced my own PHP template-based system (ugly). The core webpages, including all of my lecture notes, syllabus, schedule, homework pages, etc. were all still my own HTML based external pages.

Starting in Fall 2005 I began using a WordPress blog to generate an RSS feed for lecture podcasts. At the same time I used the blog as a new avenue to post “Geology in the News” stories. I sensed that what I really wanted to do was to incorporate an RSS feed directly into my course homepage, but I couldn’t figure out any elegant hack to do this. (I’d still love to do this, if anyone knows a good method.)

The solution that I’ve been hoping for manifested itself at the end of the Fall 2006 semester. Sometime late last year I switched from Bloglines to Google Reader as my primary RSS aggregator. While I miss the ability to share my feeds publicly, Google Reader added one particular feature that was absolutely perfect for embedding a “Geology in the News” style box into my class webpage: the embeddable Shared Items “linkblog”. Just a little snip of Javascript allows me to embed this selected list of shared items (mine are all geology related) on my current Intro Geology webpage (a version stripped of its Blackboard shell). Now it’s a simple matter of clicking “Share” on any RSS item that comes through my feeds and “Poof!” it automatically shows up on my “Geology Picks” news box (also available as a webpage and an RSS feed). It takes practically no effort at all and I’ve now got ten to twenty new geology related items per day cycling through a box on my class webpage. And the best thing is that it’s spurred a good deal more discussion on a wider range of geologic topics on the Discussion Board for that class (which Blackboard won’t let me share – grrrrrr!).

If you’re interested in using my feed in your own page don’t hesitate to do so! If you need assistance in getting it set up, just ask and I’ll see what I can do. If you want to set up your own I’d also be glad to help. And if you’ve got an RSS feed or Google Reader Shared Items feed of your own that covers geology I’d love to hear about it!

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