The Reflective Educator

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Starting Research on a Topic

Here’s how I would start research on a topic, if I was really interested in finding out what is happening RIGHT NOW on that topic.

First, I would make sure I had a Twitter account. Twitter is an excellent way to to keep track of what is currently going on, from the perspectives of some of the people actually involved in the activity. Not everyone is on Twitter, so you will miss some perspectives if this is your only research technique, but it is a good starting place.

Let’s suppose we want to find out some information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’d start by researching a bunch of sources of Palestine ideas and news, and then do the same for the Israeli news sources so that I get a balanced opinion of what is going on.

To do this, sign into that Twitter account you have, then go to Google.com. Type in "site:twitter.com Palestine" into the search box and check out the search results. The top results will all have the word "Palestine" in their URL, which means you’ll be looking at Twitter accounts which have deliberately chosen to include the word "Palestine" in their name. Follow everyone you find, then repeat the search for "site:twitter.com Israel" and do the same for the Israeli’s.

I would then scan through the people that your new sources of information are following, and follow the ones that seem to have a lot of influence measured in the form of number of followers. In other words, whomever the accounts you just followed are following are probably also good sources of information. 

Each of these people you follow has a Feed associated with their tweets. This is useful, because we’d like to be able to sort the Tweets into ones biased toward Palestine, and ones biased toward Israel. For each person you’ve followed, hopefully keeping track of which camp they are in, click on their feed. Subscribe on the feed using an RSS reader like Google Reader, and put the feeds into two folders, one for the Israeli feeds, and another for the Palestinian feeds.

Next step, go to http://technorati.com and do a search for "Palestine" and find some Palestinian blogs to follow. Find the feeds for these blogs and subscribe to them in your RSS reader, and do the same for some Israeli blogs. You may want to put these blogs in their own folders as well, or put them into the Palestinian and Israel folders you created before.

Now, find some major media sources like the BBC, CNN, Al Jeezera, and others. I’d recommend media sources which are geared for an International audience. You’ll probably find that something like Fox News has few stories that are relevant since they tend to focus on US news.  Each of these news sites has a search box which you can use to find your Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, but none of them offers RSS for their searches (oops!). However you can still copy the URL from the search results and paste it into the box for Google Reader’s subscription box and Google Reader can create an RSS feed for changes to that website (I don’t know if other RSS readers have this functionality).

You can also create a Google Alert feed, by navigating to http://google.com/alerts and entering your search terms and then selecting "Feed" instead of "Email" when choosing the "Deliver to" option. Subscribe to these feeds in your RSS reader as well.

This information is now all pouring into your reader instead of you having to go out and search for it. I’d also recommend reading about the history of the conflict, again from multiple perspectives, but in terms of online searching and finding news stories about the region, you have probably got all of the information you could want coming right to you.

OPML file for the 2009 Edublog awards

A few weeks ago the final results of the 2009 Edublog awards were announced.  I looked around for an OPML file, which is basically a way to import and export RSS feeds from your feed reader.  Long story short, much searching, no file found.

So I took the page that Edublogs published with all of the nominations, wrote a script in PHP to parse the page and find the links to the individually nominated blogs, and then extracted the RSS feed for each page.  Finally I used an online service to generate the OPML file, since I didn’t want to manually add each feed.  I tested the import in Google reader, and over 340 blog feeds were successfully added.  Pretty cool.  During the process a few blogs were lost, and I removed the Twitter feeds.

Anyway, here is the OPML file (I’ll get a better version up soon, the last one had a few wikis and Ning activity feeds, not as useful), which you can download and import into your reader.  I recommend not attempting to actually follow ALL of these blogs, but you could spend an afternoon and filter the list to what you actually find useful.  Caution: You will end up with THOUSANDS of unread posts so be prepared for some sifting afterwards.  I’m currently in the middle of going through each of my subscriptions and scanning the blog posts to make sure they are interesting/useful.  I’ve noticed a fair number of feeds of Wikis, which to me is pretty useless if you aren’t involved in creating the wiki.  Stay tuned, and I’ll export my final OPML file and share it here.

Perhaps someone could export definitions for each of the categories of blogs created by Edublogs?

Update: The trimmed version of the OPML file, suitable for an ed tech junkie with an interest in Math or Science education. Just save it to your computer, then import it into your feed reader.  Be warned, I follow A LOT of blogs.