My Digital Reading Practices, Part 2

Yesterday, I began this series of blog posts on digital reading practices with my thoughts about annotating texts, both PDFs and web-based. My colleague and co-author, Kristen Turner, asked me to step back and write about how I find reading material* to begin with:

How do you find texts worthy of annotating? How do you decide that you want to annotate (vs. read and file, read and discard, read and send to your colleague’s inbox – or perhaps send without reading…)

That said, there are two primary ways that I find new material** to read each day, a practice that I engage in for at least an hour over various points of the day, usually more than that, and across the multiple screens that dominate my work life: phone, tablet, and laptop. Thus, it is important to be synchronized, and that will show in the reading practices I describe below.

1. Curating my Own Reading: Narrowing the Flood of Information vis RSS

My Feedly Home Page This Morning
My Feedly Home Page This Morning

We all know that information is coming at us faster than ever, the amount is doubling every two years (or is it every one year now? or every day?), and that we can’t possibly keep up with it all. So, my first strategy is to curate my digital reading life appropriately so that I know what not to read. My main tool for doing so is through RSS. And, although this Common Craft video about RSS is a bit dated (we miss you Google Reader!), the principles are still accurate. So, if you want to learn a bit more about RSS before reading on, take a few moments to watch this.

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In short, RSS is how we get information from the web; it’s what powers updates of news sites and apps. I receive RSS feeds in a few ways, mainly through Feedly and Flipboard, both of which are installed on my phone and tablet. And, Feedly comes up as my first saved tab when my browser starts each morning.

With Feedly, I subscribe to a variety of blogs and new sites, as well as Google News Alerts about writing and educational technology (To do this, visit Google News, then search for a term or phrase. At the bottom of that search page, you will see the familiar RSS button and you can capture the feed from there, like this one I just made for technology and writing). All of these come through in the condensed format, shown above. If I want to read one in more detail, I simply click on it. Feedly helps me scan the headlines quick and get to the actual web source for reading, which is most handy when I am sitting at my computer, so I usually check here first thing in the morning.

A Screenshot from the #engchat Section of My FlipBoard
A Screenshot from the #engchat Section of My FlipBoard

With Flipboard, you can rely on a variety of pre-populated feeds that show up in a magazine style format, and you can also create your own feeds from your Twitter, Facebook, or other searches. You can add RSS feeds right into Flipboard if you have the feed’s URL. Plus, as you click on other links that take you to new content, Flipboard will recognize new RSS feeds and give you the option to click on a subscription button right there. Overall, Flipboard makes for a very tactile, pleasurable reading experience which I find most enjoyable as my evening reading. Then — as Kristen notes above — if I find something useful or interesting, I can read it (yes, read it!) and then send out a link via Twitter or email.

Basically, RSS forms the backbone of my professional reading life. I have even subscribed to feeds for journals so I can see what articles have come out and then, later, access them when I am on my computer so I can download them from a subscription database. Yes, I could do that on my tablet, but I use Zotero for annotated and managing professional texts, a topic for another post this week.

Lastly, a few other resources for using RSS:

2. Trusting Others to Curate for Me: Twitter Chats and Email Updates/Listservs

Of course, there are many, many other smart and dedicated educators out there and, like me, they are constantly trying to find new ideas and resources. Fortunately, most of them share these resources through blogging and Twitter or, in the case of more formalized organizations, via regular email newsletters. Along with setting up Google Alerts that come right to my email (which are different than the news alerts noted above), I use HootSuite to stay on top of multiple, on-going Twitter chats. Hootsuite is the window that I turn to throughout the day when I need a quick mental break as I change from task to task. Rather than getting caught up in my main Twitter feed, I can selectively choose the chats I want to read and, if applicable, links to follow. Additionally, I put the feed for some of these chats into Flipboard, as shown with the #engchat example in the image above. Many people have written about the power of their social network/personal learning network and the ways in which other professionals can inform, entertain, and support them. I am a strong believer in that approach, too.

The other way that educators share their knowledge is through the more formal use of email newsletters and listservs. I subscribe to a few, but the most important ones for me are:

I am sure that other professional organizations have similar types of email newsletters or listservs available, and I would encourage you to search for the links to sign up. And, yes, there are FB and G+ groups with people constantly sending links. But the regular emails from trusted professional sources as well as listservs with members that share useful resources are invaluable.

Of the items I do save and share, whether by email or Twitter, I try to be conscientious. We all have too much to read, and I don’t want to add to the digital detritus. If it is something that I truly think others in my entire PLN will benefit from, then I post it to Twitter and tag it with the appropriate hashtags, such as I did with this new article from The Atlantic.

Sample Tweet
Sample Tweet

Other times, I just send an individual email to the one person who I think might most benefit from reading the article. Either way, I work to be strategic in my own reading and, in turn, in helping friends and colleagues support their reading interests, too.


Yes, this takes awhile to set up and, periodically, to update and maintain. RSS feeds go dead. Alert preferences need to be adjusted. Email lists need to have filters set up in Gmail. And so on.

But, on the whole, I find that this system delivers the news I want, when and where I want it. Most of it I skim, some of it I simply ignore. Coupled with strategic podcast listening via Stitcher, I feel that I am very much “in the know” about what’s happening. I can’t really articulate that process much more metacognitively right now, because I have been writing this post for far too long and need to get on to other work. But, I can ruminate on that more in my next post.

* Caveat 1: A brief clarification here. When I am talking about digital reading practices in this context, I am talking about items that are primarily designed for reading on the web, not e-books. That is, I am constantly on the look out for fresh web-based documents that come to me through a variety of sources. These are ways that I find digital reading materials in addition to what I would call the “normal” ways of finding out about good books to read through NPR stories, friend’s recommendations, and getting updated professional book catalogues.

** Caveat 2: Also of note is the fact that my “pleasure reading” is, indeed, non-fiction and mostly professional. The last novel I read, well, I didn’t even read, I listened to it in the car. So, I have to admit that I am not much of a fan of fiction, although I still do read a few books each year that don’t fall into the broad category of non-fiction/professional. So, yes, I am kind of nerdy that way.

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