Setting up RSS feeds in Google Reader has been a fantastic way to stay up to date on what is happening in the industry. I have subscribed to dozens of blogs and web sites related to medical education, web 2.0, graphic design and educational technology. (I also subscribe to a few just-for-fun sites such as PostSecret, Indexed and TED, which keeps my inbox interesting.)
The great thing about an RSS aggregator is that it eliminates the need to establish a routine of visiting favorite web sites. You find a good web site, add it to your favorites, and then what? Do you really go back and check it regularly to stay up to date? Most likely not often enough to catch the majority of posts and updates.
What an RSS aggregator, or feed reader, does is pull in all new content from those blogs and web sites and arranges them in a nice neat way so you can scroll through and read the headlines. If something catches your eye, click on it to read more. Click again to go right to the actual web site it came from (good to know if there is a blog post you'd like to comment on). The reader I use allows me to add a star to an item to mark it for later review, and I can also add a 'share' tag which means friends and colleagues with my GMail address can view the items I have marked as 'share'. Another thing you can do with an RSS aggregator is add the feed as a widget to a web site. For example, you have a library web site and you would like to have a news feed on the front page so there is always something new and different for your visitors to see. An easy option is to add an RSS widget with your reader content. Its an easy way to add a news feed to your web site and also share the great resources you are gathering in your RSS aggregator.
Another way I stay in tune with what is happening in instructional technology is to attend conferences. Conferences are great for meeting people who do what you do at a different school or organization. Time for casual chatting is often limited, in between seminars and at break-out sessions, so it almost forces you to focus your Q&A and also exchange business cards for later Q&A. Many people have blogs or web sites now so it is good to ask for a web site address and share your if you have one.
I love it when a key note speaker or seminar presenter provides their web site URL, email address and Twitter name at the end of their lecture. I add the info to my PDA and am good to go. I'll still go up and introduce myself and thank them and exchange business cards, but I love the ability to plug into what they are doing without HAVING to do that. Sometimes it is just not possible to meet them if it is overly hectic after their speech.
Conferences are a great way to find people to collaborate with. If you have an idea for a project, talk to people. Listen to other people's conversations and jump in. Sit with people you don't know during coffee and lunch breaks. Ask questions. Share your thoughts, ask for feedback.
Technology is just technology. It is the people who use it and the ways they use it that matter. Pulling in industry professionals' blog posts and web site updates via RSS feed makes accessing their expertise simple. Meeting people at conferences is a great opportunity to find out first hand what is happening at other schools and libraries and build collaborative relationships.