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#44-Integrating RSS Feeds Into Your Course Management System

February 02, 2005

LTA Overview

Course Management Systems (CMS) have become a very prominent tool on college and university campuses. These tools (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT, eCollege) provide faculty with a ready-to-use platform for creating online and hybrid courses. Faculty can post and collect assignments, conduct online synchronous and asynchronous discussions, and conduct online assessments. These features are all available from one location (one URL), anytime, and anywhere Internet access is available.

LTA Credits

Kristopher Wiemer
Instructional Technology Specialist
Philadelphia University


RSS (Real Simple Syndication) allows web sites and blogs to be “broadcast” across the Internet using XML, a descendant of HTML (for a lay person’s explanation of RSS, see RSS For Non-techie Librarians. These “broadcast signals” are picked up by programs called aggregators where you can read a collection of RSS Feeds to which you have subscribed. RSS Feeds are set up to transmit new postings or information on a specified cycle, typically at least once per day, providing the feed subscribers with an up-to-date news/information source. (See also LTA #36– Using an “Aggregator” to Capture RSS Feeds: A Technology for Keeping Up-to-Date)

At present no CMS offers the ability to aggregate RSS Feeds, but one can see how a constant stream of up-to-date information would be beneficial to many courses. Until the CMS manufacturers adds aggregator functionality, we can use programs like those described in this LTA to convert an RSS Feed into a format that can be used by our CMS.

LTA Outcomes

At the conclusion of this LTA, the user will be able to add an RSS Feed to any content section of their CMS site.

Skills Required to Complete This LTA

Users should be familiar with adding content to their CMS site as well as be able to copy and paste from one window to another.

Software and Hardware Required to Complete This LTA

In order to complete this LTA, the user should have a course accessible on a CMS and access to the Internet.

What is in This LTA?

This LTA will look at two web tools that convert an RSS Feed into Javascript allowing you to display the Feed in your CMS.

For the purposes of this LTA, we will be using Blackboard Learning System – Basic Edition 6.2 as our CMS. While the resulting code for the RSS Feed will work in almost every CMS, the actual insertion process will vary. If you have issues inserting the RSS Feed’s code, I recommend contacting your CMS System Administrator for further assistance.

Before we look at the RSS Feed converters, there are two steps that you must complete first.

If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer on a Microsoft Windows-based computer to access Blackboard, you must turn off the WYSIWYG Text Box Editor. Otherwise, you can skip to Step 2.

  1. To turn off the Text Editor, login to Blackboard. When the Welcome screen appears click on Personal Information, located in the Tools module on the left side of the screen. Select Set Text Box Editor Options. Click on Unavailable and then Submit. Click OK until your return to the Welcome screen.
  2. From the Welcome screen go to the Blackboard course to which you will be adding the RSS Feed. Go to the course’s Control Panel and go to one of the Content Areas or to Announcements. Click to Add a New Item
  3. You must have the URL for the RSS Feed you wish to include in your Blackboard site. On most web sites and blogs you can find this by clicking on an icon that says XML and then copy the URL of the resulting page. In some instances, you may need to click on a link that says RSS which will lead you to a web page with information on multiple RSS Feeds available from the site. For this LTA we will be working with the RSS Feed for The Chronicle of Higher Education which is an example of the latter.After clicking on the RSS link on the Chronicle’s home page, I am presented with a list of available RSS Feeds.

    When I click on the XML icon next to Daily News, I find that the RSS Feed URL is http://chronicle.com/news/rss.xml. Copy this URL to your clipboard, or write it down, for the next steps.

Before we begin looking at the RSS Feed Converters, you should have the following windows open on your computer: one containing Blackboard opened to the Add Item screen; and one new window that you can use to access the RSS Feed Converters. You may also have a third window open that contains the RSS Feed you will be using.

The two RSS Feed Converters we will look at are Feed2JS created by Alan Levine at Maricopa Community Colleges and FeedBurner. Each has its pros and cons and you should look at both to determine which will provide the results for which you are looking.

Now that you have created one RSS Feed and inserted it into Blackboard, you can repeat this process for as many RSS Feeds as you may need. Feeds can be added to any Content Area or to the Announcements screen.

Using Feed2JS

  1. In your non-Blackboard browser window, go to Feed2JS at http://jade.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/feed.
  2. Select Build from the menu at the top of the page.
    F2Js 1
  3. Enter the RSS Feed URL (http://chronicle.com/news/rss.xml).
    F2Js 2
  4. The remainder of this web page allows you to set various options for your RSS Feed display. Options include:
    • Show Channel
      Yes display title and author information
    • Number of Items
      0 show all items; any other number displays that number of items
    • Item Descriptions
      0 shows no description; any other number displays that many character (I use 100)
    • Full HTML
      Yes will display all items in full HTML format but will also display full descriptions
    • Item Posting Date
      Yes displays the date the item was posted
    • Open Links in New Window
      y displays selected items in a new browser window

    You must decide which options to use to best suit the needs of your course. The screen shot below includes the options that I typically use when adding RSS Feeds to a Blackboard site.

    F2Js 3
  5. When you have finished setting your options, you can click on Preview the Feed to see what it will look like (see the example live from the Feed2JS site). If you are unhappy with the display, you can re-edit your options.
  6. When you feel that your RSS Feed is in its final form, click on Generate JavaScript.
  7. Copy the displayed code.
    F2Js 4
  8. Paste the code into the Text Box of your Blackboard page. Click on the HTML button below the Text Box.
    F2Js 5
  9. Before you click Submit to post your RSS Feed, you may wish to add some text that describes the feed and about how to use it.
  10. When you return to section of your course where your posted the RSS Feed, it should display like this:
    F2Js 6

Using FeedBurner

  1. In your non-Blackboard browser window, go to FeedBurner at http://www.feedburner.com.In order to use the FeedBurner service, you must register. At present there is no registration or subscription fee. To register, click on the Register link at the top of the screen.
    Fbrn 1

    Enter a UserName and Password; e-mail and password reminder are optional. Then click on Create Your FeedBurner Account to proceed.

    Fbrn 2

    In the future when you come back to FeedBurner, click on the Sign In link and enter your UserName and Password to create more RSS Feeds.

  2. Once your have registered/signed in, your personalized FeedBurner Home Page will appear. Directly below a list of your existing RSS Feeds you will find a dialog box asking you to enter the feed your would like to create.Enter the RSS Feed URL (http://chronicle.com/news/rss.xml).
    Fbrn 3

    Click Next to continue.

  3. A new screen will appear listing optional services that you can add to your RSS Feed. For the purposes of our Feed creation, you can skip all of these options. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.At the bottom of the page you will see the RSS Feed’s title and FeedBurner-defined URL. Examine the title and make any necessary changes. Leave the FeedBurner-defined URL unchanged.
    Fbrn 4

    Click Next to continue.

  4. When the FeedBurner Confirmation screen appears, click on Activate My Feed.
    Fbrn 5
  5. A new screen will appear indicating that your Feed has been created. The next step is to generate the code to copy and paste into Blackboard. To do this click on Launch Your Publicity Tools.
    Fbrn 6
  6. A pop-up window will appear with a collection of publicity tools. Select Headline Animator.
    Fbrn 7

    The title that you created earlier will appear providing you with a new opportunity to change it before the Headline Animator code is generated. If you are satisfied with the title, click on Generate Animator.

    Fbrn 8
  7. Copy the displayed code.
    Fbrn 9

    Click on Close Window.

  8. Paste the code into the Text Box of your Blackboard page. Click on the HTML button below the Text Box
    Fbrn 10
  9. Before you click Submit to post your RSS Feed, you may wish to add some text that describes the feed and about how to use it.
  10. When you return to section of your course where your posted the RSS Feed, it should display like this:
    Fbrn 11

    FeedBurner displays one headline at a time, but scrolls through the five most recently added posts.

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