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RSS icon by Jurgen Appelo ( on Flickr - CC-BY 2.0

Renewable Assessments Through Blog Syndication

By Sarah Wendorf, Instructional Designer, Cambrian College

RSS icon by Jurgen Appelo ( on Flickr - CC-BY 2.0
RSS icon by Jurgen Appelo ( on Flickr - CC-BY 2.0

Why Have Students Create Blogs?

Imagine an assignment where your students spend many hours creating something, they hand it in to you, you mark it, hand it back, student looks at the mark, and then trashes it.

Likely this is the majority of assignments that your students see in their post-secondary lives; like a private conversation between you and your student. You get material to assess, they get a mark, transaction complete. How much effort and time will your students put into this assignment? Probably a considerable amount depending on the nature of the assignment. Beyond the value of receiving a number for a grade, what other value does the assignment deliver? Likely very little if ending up in the trash.

Now imagine an assignment that doesn’t end when a student receives their mark. An assignment that could live on beyond just that course or program. One that actually may impact other people, whether at the same institution or elsewhere around the world. One that lives on the open web for all to see. Think about the possibilities and what value this could bring. Now think about how a student may view this and, framed in a way that explains how the assignment may benefit someone else, the level of motivation and effort a student may bring to that type of assignment.

Renewable Assessments

This is the argument that some are making in favour of renewable assessments. I learned about this concept from an article that Jessica O’Reilly shared on Twitter written by David Wiley of Lumen Learning. David is also a champion for open education and is a source of inspiration for me as an Instructional Designer.

Wiley states: “In many ways, I think the most powerful part of renewable assignments is the idea that everyone wants their work to matter. No one wants to struggle for hours or days on something they know will be thrown away almost as soon as it is finished. Given the opportunity, people want to contribute something, to give something back, to pay it forward, to make the world a better place, to make a difference.”

Based on this concept of renewable assessments, a great example of this came from one of our faculty members, Lynn Kabaroff, who approached me with her idea. In her Physical Fitness Management program, she teaches students how to promote physical fitness and training programs as well as promoting themselves as physical fitness professionals.

The plan was to have one main blog (Lynn’s) where all of the students’ blog posts would feed into. In order to have student blogs feed onto Lynn’s blog, we set up what’s called RSS Syndication. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”, and, as the name suggests, it really is simple! Let’s explore how to do this:

How to Syndicate Student Blogs

Lynn began the whole project by creating her own free WordPress blog. It may sound complicated, but it’s actually quite a simple five-step process. For more info on this you can check out our Hub Studio post on how to set up a WordPress blog.

After creating her own WordPress blog, Lynn involved her students by announcing to the class that they were to create their own personal blogs on WordPress (also for free) representing their personal training “business”. She gave them the link above to our Hub Studio article so they could read how to do this. Students then went about setting up their blogs and getting to work posting articles and videos on weight training exercises and research.

Once students were happy with their blogs and were all set up, Lynn grabbed the RSS feeds from each of her students’ blog sites and added these feeds to her own site. Once these feeds are set up, they continue to be automatically updated on Lynn’s blog as students post on their own individual sites. Basically, it’s a few steps to get set up, but once set up, it’s a self-running process.

Students now have the opportunity to share their work with the world. By sharing examples of fitness exercises and current research in the field, so many other people could benefit from their insights, articles and videos. Essentially, this assignment will now live on beyond this one course. Students could also continue building their blogs and use that as a starting point for their own businesses in the future as they’ll already have a blog created with experience writing and creating videos.

I just LOVE this example of an open, renewable assessment. Interestingly, I was already halfway through setting this project up with Lynn when I came across David Wiley’s article and learned that “renewable assessments” were a thing. This was one of my “aha” moments as an Instructional Designer where I recognized how much of an impact this assessment could have on students beyond the immediate future.

Step-by-Step Video Instructions

In working with Lynn, I created a series of three videos that would help her to set this up on her own site. I explain how to find the RSS feed URLs and how to syndicate these feeds on both the sidebar and via the menu of Lynn’s site. I demonstrate, hopefully, an easy process that anyone could do in their own courses with their own students. Please enjoy these resources and feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter if you try this in your own teaching practice 🙂

Find the RSS Feed URL of a Students' Blog

Syndicating RSS Feeds onto Sidebar Menu

Syndicating RSS Feeds via Categories on Main Site Menu

Special thanks to Lynn Kabaroff for your inspiration, hard work and for encouraging renewable assessments with your students.

  • Jessica OReilly October 27, 2018 2:32 pm

    Thank you for these step-by-step videos. WordPress is new to me, and though I can figure out the basics (or spend hours on YouTube figuring out the more advanced stuff), it’s really nice to know that a succinct resource is right here waiting for me, designed by someone I know and trust!

    I’m going to request that my SSC 1002 students create blogs next semester. I want to cultivate social-constructivist opportunities in my online and blended courses, but current Learning Managemeny Systems aren’t really designed with this type of learning in mind. It’s not a Moodle issue,. it’s an LMS issue indicative of a certain way of viewing the teaching and learning process. A transmission-based, authoritarian model IMO. While the forums do allow student-to-student interaction, these types of interactions tend to be superficial at best. I want to encourage students to dig deeper… we’ll see if blogging helps the process.

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