Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm supposed to check what? Where?

Gone are the days when we could rely on finding a crumpled note at the bottom of our child's backpack --- two weeks after the event.  With the electronic backpack, we will never know what we miss!

Schools have shifted to digital communication, a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice.  However, not all systems are designed to push information to us.  Instead, we must remember to go online regularly to see the news that once came home via paper in our child's backpack.

Wait a minute...  we need to remember to do WHAT??  Among the tasks of homework, lunches, running the carpool, and trying to stay sane, how do we add one more thing to our memory list?

One of my friends suggested setting a reminder on your calendar to check the backpack once a week.  I like this idea, except for the fact that if I'm not sitting at my computer or in a location where I can check immediately on my phone (like when I'm driving to one of the many places on my to-do list), I won't remember the reminder later.

I've solved the problem of missed announcements since my children's school switched to an electronic backpack by setting up an RSS feed.  I use RSS to curate much of my digital reading (e.g. blogs, news), and it's been helpful in remembering to check the electronic backpack too.

There are many RSS feed readers, and I use two.  On my Chrome browser, I've installed RSS Feed Reader, found on the Google Chrome store.


I do an enormous amount of work sitting at my computer everyday, so it's helpful to me to see the notifications in my browser.  Right now, I have 5 unread updates from my children's district.  When I click on the orange "wifi" icon (RSS icon), I see that the lunch menus have been posted for all three schools, the school board has announced three vacancies for the next election, and a reminder that school will be closed for unused snow days.  Clicking on these titles takes me to the school website where the flyers/announcements have been posted.

The site itself needs some work, as it is organized in a way that isn't very intuitive for parents.  Sometimes the link goes directly to a PDF flyer or announcement.  Most of the time, it goes to a page called "Files and Documents."  If I get to this page, I've learned just to click on my child's specific school and then look in the "Parent Information" and/or "Community Activities" folders to find the PDF flyer (unless I want the lunch menu, which is in a folder with that title).  I'm hoping the school designs a better organization system for next year.

This setup has worked for me when I'm on my computer at home, but I also use Feedly to curate blogs, news sites, and the electronic backpack on my phone.  I receive tons of great reading material via Feedly!

Because I get many updates via Feedly, I elected to use RSS Feed Reader to separate out the electronic backpack notifications on my desktop.  Feedly has a Chrome extension that will give the same notifications.  Unfortunately, Feedly does not yet have push notifications on the phone to alert me when I have a new update, so I just keep the app right next to my Facebook on my phone so I remember to open it.  Since I check Facebook daily, it's easy to remember to check Feedly for the electronic backpack (and all that other great reading material that is waiting for me).

 Flipboard is another app that functions like a personal magazine.  I get distracted from doing my work by it easily, so I've moved back to Feedly, which isn't quite as pretty and lets me get to the backpack quickly without getting sucked in by other articles. Feedly is free, which is another reason I like it.  This article has some other apps that might be worth checking out, and you could also search the Chrome Store or App Store for "RSS Readers."

Finally, in order to have the website send your RSS reader an update, you'll need to capture the feed.  Sometimes a site will have an RSS button that you can simply click and add to your browser feed. This button is how I subscribed to the school feed. In other cases, you'll need to cut and paste the site address into your reader.  Youtube is a great resource for finding how-to videos.  Here is one for getting started with Feedly.

As a working mom, I need to find ways to manage all the information the comes to my family.  When the school switched to an electronic backpack, I simply did not remember to check, and I missed things - a lot.  By setting up an RSS feed and using apps that remind me, I'm missing less than when my kids lost notices at the bottom of their packs!