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February 14, 2018

Adding RSS feeds in Moodle

As it's currently reading week at Warwick, why not use this opportunity to add some useful reading links to your Moodle page via the power of RSS feeds!

What is an RSS feed?

RSS feeds are a great way to provide your students with links to the latest content from external blogs, news, and other websites that may be of relevance to your module. It provides a constantly up-to-date list of the latest posts and articles from a chosen source, and is a really nice way to keep your page current and relevant without having to manually add new content.

So what does 'RSS' stand for? Well, there's actually some debate about that, but most people believe it stands for 'Really Simple Syndication'. Let's have a look at just how simple it is to set up...

Finding an RSS feed

First, establish the website that you want to draw content from. You'll then need to check that the site has its own RSS feed, so look out for a link or button with words 'RSS' and/or 'Feed', and in particular keep an eye out for the RSS icon, often shown in orange as below.

RSS icon

For this example, I'm going to use the BBC's Politics news feed and show how this can be embedded into Moodle. In this screenshot below, taken from the BBC Politics landing page, you can see the RSS feed icon that I've highlighted in the bottom-right. This one is quite small and not actually shown in orange (which demonstrates they can be a little tricky to spot at first), but nevertheless the feed is there.

BBC Politics website

On clicking that link you will usually be presented with the raw output of the latest posts, but it's not what we see on this page that's important but rather the link to the feed itself.

You'll need to copy the link to the RSS feed, either by right-clicking the link and choosing 'Copy link address' (or similar, depending on your browser), OR you can click on the link and then lift the URL from your browser's address bar, as pictured below. In this case, the URL is 'http://feeds.bbci.co.uk/news/politics/rss.xml', so this is what we need to copy to our clipboard.

BBC politics feed URL

Adding the RSS feed block

Firstly, you will need to 'Turn editing on' for the page via the cog in the far top-right of the module page. This will allow you to add content.

Next, at the bottom of the left-hand navigation menu, choose 'Add a block', as highlighted in red below. If you can't see the left-hand navigation menu, you may need to toggle it on by clicking the menu icon in the top-left of Moodle (also highlighted below).

Open menu and add block

You will then be presented with a list of possible blocks to add to your page. In this list, select 'Remote RSS feeds', as highlighted below.

RSS feed block in list

You will now see the (empty) 'Remote RSS feed' block appearing in the right-hand column of your module page, which you can now move, show/hide, or configure. It's the 'configure' option (via the cog drop-down) that we need to use to set up our feed.

Empty RSS feed block

Configuring an RSS feed

On the configure screen, you will see a number of options. You will also notice that there is a list shown of existing feeds that other colleagues have already added and made 'public' (feel free to make use of these if they look useful!).

To add your own feed (in this case the BBC Politics feed that we grabbed earlier) we need to click on the 'Add/edit feeds' link'.

Configure RSS feeds

Depending on your level of permissions, the next screen might show you some pre-existing feeds, or it might not. Either way, click on the 'Add a new feed' button at the bottom.

This will then take you to the next screen for adding a new feed, as shown below.

Add a new feed

You will need to paste in the RSS link that you copied earlier into the top box (Feed URL), and then you can choose to give it a custom title if you wish.

Naming it is optional, as the feed should generate its own title. In the case of this feed, the BBC actually provides an automatic title of 'BBC News - UK Politics', which is probably good enough. But, for some feeds you may wish to provide your own title for clarification, or perhaps just to shorten it. In the example above, I've decided to rename it 'BBC Politics'.

You also have the option to set it as a 'Shared feed'. This means that other colleagues at the University will be able to see it in the main list of existing feeds, but depending on their permissions they may be able to edit/delete it too! For this reason, I'd advise keeping this set to 'No', unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.

Click 'Add a new feed', which saves the feed and takes you back to the 'Manage all my feeds' page.

You now need to go back to the module landing page - the quickest way to do this is to click your module title in the 'breadcrumb trail' of links along the top. Then (as before) use the cog drop-down on the RSS side block and re-enter the configuration settings. You will then see your feed listed in the 'Choose the feeds...' list, which you can now select!

Select BBC Politics RSS

There are a few other options available on this screen which I will briefly explain:

  • Display each link's description - If the RSS feed supports it, you will get a brief description underneath the title/link to each resource.

  • Max number of entries to show per block - Pretty much what it says, but perhaps this should best be thought of as 'Max number of entries to show per feed' (see next point).

  • Choose the feeds... - As discussed, select your feed here. You can even select multiple feeds (by shift+clicking or ctrl+clicking), and then each feed will display the number of posts selected above - So in theory selecting 2 feeds with a max number of 5 would result in 10 posts in total on your block.

  • Title- If you want to rename the title of the block. If you leave this blank, you will get the title of the feed itself as the name of the block, which may be fine. I would definitely recommend inserting your own title if you are selecting multiple feeds, otherwise the block title will lift it from the first feed (which is a tad confusing).

  • Show a link to the original site - You will get a link saying 'Source site...' at the bottom of the block which will take you to the website of the feed provider (can be useful if you want to encourage students to read more articles, but note that this only works for the first feed if you select multiple feeds.

  • Show channel image if available - You may get an image/logo from the publisher at the top of the block, but not the words 'if available'... Some publishers don't provide them!

Due to the discrepancies discussed above in relation to 'number of entries' and 'title', I would tend to recommend only selecting one feed per block. Using multiple feeds per block can create some confusion, and you will be probably find the interface is cleaner and easier to manage if you simply add another block to your Moodle page and insert the second feed that way (if you actually want multiple feeds).

Hit 'Save changes' and you can then return to your module landing page and see the newly added feed on the right-hand side, as shown below (which may vary in appearance depending on the options you selected above).

BBC Feed added

And that's all you need to do! It may take you a few minutes to add/configure the feed, but once done you won't have to touch it again and you can benefit from a continuously updating list of news stories that will publish as links to your page whenever the publisher adds new content.

It's a great way to help make your module page feel fresh, current, and up-to-date, and also gives students more variety in terms of the range of sources that you direct them to read. We're already seeing some great uses of RSS feeds around the departments of PAIS, Philosophy, and Sociology at Warwick, so next time you're reading a relevant blog or website, do look out for the 'RSS Feed' icon and consider adding it to your Moodle page!

Any questions?

I hope this post will help you with adding RSS feeds to your Moodle page, and is something you may consider providing for students during reading week.

You can also find further support documentation over on moodle.org - Remote RSS feeds block.

If you have any queries or would like further support on your module page, please feel free to contact me.


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