The RSS Challenge
:: With the announcement of Engineering Village 2's new RSS feature, the responsibility for getting the word out falls to the practitioners, namely us - the librarians in the trenches. Having confirmed that the EV2 RSS feature is working in Bloglines when off campus, but on a proxy-authenticated computer, I decided to mention it in a class I taught this afternoon to 45 fourth-year chemical engineering design students. When I asked them who knew what RSS is, none of them raised her or his hand. When I asked how many knew about blogs, one student raised his hand, although after the class, it became evident that a few more of them knew of blogs.
Since the fall of 2004, I've mentioned blogs briefly in the presentations I give to students in design engineering classes in mechanical, materials, and chemical engineering. Last fall, seven student groups from Mechanical and Chemical classes approached me for assistance setting up a blog for their design projects. In the chemical engineering class in which I taught this afternoon, I mentioned blogs again, in the context of using them as a project management tool, just as the class was ending (I had run out of time). Afterwards, two groups approached me, each to discuss setting up a blog, and a number of other students took a handout I had cribbed together from notes made in the fall on setting up a Blogger.com blog on the U of Alberta server. The students who spoke with me were keen on trying blogs, and one student remarked that she thought using blogs for design project coordination was a brilliant idea. True, and it would be much easier to spread the blog gospel if our university offered weblogs to its users.
RSS is another issue. That none of the chemical engineering students knew about RSS was to me, not surprising. They are focused on other things. But if we are to begin to make use of RSS in an instructional, research setting such as this class, the question becomes, what might we need to do to establish the awareness of RSS to the undergraduate student in the first place? In tandem with that question, we may also need to consider this: how important is it for librarians to help the undergrad become aware of RSS?
(Instructing in this class, which I've done a number of times before, also served to remind me of the increasing number of resources available to researchers in chemical engineering, and by extension, all other disciplines. The number of resources available seems to be growing at a geometric rate. I'll save my rant on that for another time.)