Social Learning Tools: Yahoo Pipes

Posted on by Brooke

It is an inverse proportion: as online collaboration becomes more authentic, it becomes less manageable. If I restrict my students’ collaboration to the “shell” of the Course Management System (for us, Blackboard), then we can all keep track of our activity, but that activity feels constricted, artifical, and forced. But if I were to encourage students to collaborate on our subject matter using tools outside the CMS—third party blog sites, Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, Wetpaint wikis—then everything is going on all over the place, and how in the world can we keep track of each other for collaboration and assessment?

Today, I look at Yahoo Pipes. In a later post, I’ll tack on public aggregation sites like NetVibes.

Yahoo Pipes’ slogan is, “Rewire the Web,” and that is exactly what it allows you to do. I’ll show an example that I think my readers can appreciate, then show its application to my fall courses. (I discovered Yahoo Pipes while persuing Michael Wesch’s website for his Digital Ethnography course).

Many bibliobloggers have been posting sporadically on the upcoming annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I want to be sure that I don’t miss any posts on SBL. So, I have created a Yahoo Pipe that:

  • collects RSS feeds from each of the blogs in my blogroll;

  • filters the posts, permitting only those that use the text string “SBL” in the title or as a category/tag;

  • sorts the results, listing them with the most recent on top;

  • makes that list available. Here, you can see the results of my “SBL Blogging” pipe. (Tip: click the tab “list” instead of “image” for a clearer presentation; I don’t know why the less visually clear “image” mode is the default.)

What about application to my classroom?

Let’s imagine that instead of a couple of dozen bibliobloggers, I have forty M.Div students blogging about everything under the sun. Instead of collecting posts about SBL, I want to collect only their posts that pertain to our course, “Introduction to Old Testament.” No problem: I simply tell the students that, when they write a post for our course, they should tag it with our course number (“gets11500”). I will have created a Yahoo Pipe that collects their RSS feeds and selects for posts tagged with that tag. Presto: all my students’ posts pertaining to our course are collected in one place for collaboration and assessment.

This is just a fraction of what Yahoo Pipes is capable of, but this one application makes a huge difference to what I can offer my students. By folding their course blogging into the rest of the blogging that they may already be doing, they are folding their thinking about the subject matter into the rest of the thinking they are already doing: such integration and synthesis is among my educational goals for the course.

Notice that you can “clone” a Pipe that interests you, creating a copy that you look at “under the hood,” seeing how it’s built and modifying it as you please.

How might you “rewire the web,” and why?