Update on New Google Sites: Happy!

This post is to report that things are going really well with the NEW Google Sites, far better than I ever expected. I need a reliable, free web publishing option to recommend to my students, and for the past seven years I’ve been using Google Sites (before that I used Netscape Composer and its successor, Mozilla Seamonkey, until my university abruptly stopped supporting student web spaces in 2010). If students want to use Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Tumblr, etc., that is fine with me, but I choose just one platform where I provide detailed step-by-step tech support, and for seven years that platform was Google Sites.

So, it was with considerable trepidation that I switched to Google Sites this semester… but now that the students’ websites are up and running for the semester, I can say that I am very happy about it! The new Google Sites approach to web design is not something that would appeal to me personally, but it sure does appeal to my students. The sites look like websites are “supposed” to look!

Plus, it has proved far easier to support than the old Google Sites. With the new system, I’ve managed so far just to provide three support pages: Create a Site, Images, and Sections. That’s all! I may or may not need to add a page to help with navigation, but so far that is going well and the students have not had any questions (as opposed to the nightmare that was the old Google Sites navigation system).

I’ll have more to say about this in a few weeks as students add more and more pages to their sites! I’ve got 40 websites going this semester, which is about half of my students; the other half opted to just do their projects inside their existing blogs. That’s about typical, but my guess is that next Fall, when the students see these nice-looking websites from the Spring, more of them will want to try creating their own (the Google Sites of the past did not exactly inspire in that way as you can see in the archive).

It’s all about peer learning: thanks to the brave pioneers of this semester, I will have student-created sites to use as examples with next semester’s students!

And just to provide a glimpse, here are a few screenshots and links to some of the sites so far; as the weeks go on, each student will be adding three or four story pages to go with the current homepage and Introduction page; here’s how it all works: Student Projects.

Site Homepages:

This is a project about the love life of Pegasus the flying horse:

This student is collecting lesson materials to use when she begins teaching school next year:

This is a project about the proverbial nine lives of cats:


Introduction Pages:

This is a project on Indian Epics stories retold in the American Wild West:

This student has traveled in India, so her project is a food and travel guide:

This project will be using medical urban legends from Snopes.com retold as Grey’s Anatomy stories:

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Instructional Designers.

The Power of Randomizers… Everywhere

One of my favorite motivational posters happened to pop up today when I checked something on my class calendar, and that prompted me to write up a post here about how I integrated a randomizer into the class calendar page last year… and now I cannot imagine doing the calendar without that. Here’s a screenshot, and below I explain how it works:

So, the Class Calendar is a page at my wiki, but of course the same approach could work as a Canvas Page. There’s nothing fancy as you can see: I have a table with three columns: the week, the start-stop dates, and a link to the week’s assignments (I have two links since I use the same calendar page for both of my classes).

Go ahead and take a look: Class Calendar. As you can see, I list the current week at the very top, with all the future weeks below, and then at the bottom you’ll also find the completed weeks. On Monday, I just move the top row of the table down to the bottom.

The randomizer comes between the top two rows and the rest of the table. The top two rows because I strongly encourage my students to work ahead, so in any given week, students are either working on the current week or the coming week. A few students are even more ahead than that, but only a few, so they can just scroll down below the graphic to get to their active week.

So, the randomizer: each time you come to the Calendar, an item pops up at random, and each item has a link where students can learn more about the item if it really grabs their attention. That is always my great hope: please be curious! please click! please go go go and learn more on the Internet following your curiosity!

But even without click-and-go, the graphic conveys something that I hope will be of value to the student. Try it yourself; you will probably see something new each time the page reloads. There are 20 items, so it’s not a lot, but enough to provide a decently random experience.

That particular randomizer shows time-related items, which I thought would be appropriate for a calendar page! Here is more information about it: Time Randomizer Widget.

That widget is just one of many at my Widget Warehouse, which I built to keep track of my own widgets but also to share with others. You can grab the javascript to use in your own blog or website or wiki. You can grab the https-iframe version to use in a Canvas Page. You can grab the raw source table to adapt for your own purposes. Or you can just build your own widget with the wonderful free tool from Randy Hoyt: RotateContent.com (I am proud to say he is a former student… and genius designer of board games also!).

I need to try to write more in this blog about my use of randomizers, but this can be a start anyway. And here again is the motivational poster that prompted me to write this post. Have a wonderful day! 🙂

This is a wonderful day;
I have never seen this one before.
(H.E.A.R.T. blog)

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

More on Embedded Blogs (or Sites)

Keegan just shared a great post about embedding a website in Canvas via the Redirect Tool: How To Integrate Websites Into Canvas. Lots of helpful information and screenshots also! If the goal is to have students actually stay in Canvas, using the Redirect Tool to add the site address to the course navigation definitely works. That is the method Keegan documents there in his post.

If, however, you want to use the embedded site as your Home Page, then you need a different option: the iframe tag is a way that you can insert a website into a Canvas Page. You can then make that Page the Home Page of your course. That’s the main difference between these two methods of embedding — unless there is some way to make a Redirect item into a Home Page??? If there is, I have not figured that out.

Here’s how the Blog-as-Home-Page works for me:

Whenever a student arrives at my Canvas course, the first thing they see is the announcements: Myth.MythFolklore.net (course is fully public, so you too can just click and go). Here’s a screenshot:

You’ll notice I also have a note up there at the top, alerting people that they can just pop open the embedded site in a tab of its own if they want.

So, if students are just on their way to the Gradebook, at least they will see the top part of the announcements (which is where I put the key information each day). If they are going to read through the whole announcements page, though, they will have a better time doing that outside the Canvas straitjacket, which is why I encourage them to open the blog in a new tab.

For details on how to embed a blog this way and also configure it to be the Home Page, see this post: Blissfully Blogging Announcements.

IMPORTANT: http links. Also, if you do embed a website, either with iframe or with the Redirect app, it is really important that you make sure the links open in a new tab. Canvas will not open http links inside Canvas; you have to open http links in a new tab. Worse: there is no warning or error message from Canvas if you click on an embedded http link. Just… nothing. You click and click and nothing happens. A student might figure out that they need to right-mouse-click to open in a new tab, but I wouldn’t count on it. They are just as likely to assume the link is broken.

So, given that there are still plenty of http links out there in the world — including all OUCreate sites that have not turned on encryption — I’ve found it easiest just to set up the site to open all links in a new tab automatically. I use the <base target=’_blank’/> tag in my blog template header, but I am guessing there are other good ways to do that too (more details).

Are there any other tips and suggestions from people who are using the Redirect app or iframe to bring external content into Canvas? Share your ideas in the comments here or at Keegan’s post. Or you can find us both at Twitter: @OnlineCrsLady and @KeeganSLW.

Break through the barriers!

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades #TTOG

Last week I went to check to see if a student had completed some assignments from earlier in the semester, and when I clicked, I saw a new panel pop up; here’s what it looks like for the Test Student:

From Chris Hofer I learned that this is a new “Student Context Card,” and my school chose to turn it on (without telling us, which is odd) when it was released last week. Canvas has invested what is clearly a lot of effort and resources in order to give us this new grade book view with information that shows me their latest graded items, ranking them compared to the rest of the class.

And I find this to be very depressing.

By emphasizing this “view” of students, Canvas shows us (the instructors, the students) that it really is all about the grades, ranking student against student. Not about the learning. Not about growth.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, I find the Canvas Gradebook to be mostly useless because I cannot include my own data fields (“Feature Request: Text Fields in the Gradebook“). In D2L, I could create little text fields to record important information about a student that I needed to remember (out with flu Weeks 3-4… needs Tuesday reminders… waiting on 2nd Portfolio story revisions… etc. etc.). Because the Canvas Gradebook refuses to let me enter information I consider important, I run my own spreadsheet outside the system. I definitely believe in analytics, but the data I need are not the grades: I need data about the whole student and about their learning process.

And that leads to my bigger concern here: by making it all about the grades, we are doing our students a huge disservice. We tell them to care about the grades as if the grades were a true representation of the learning. But we all know… if we are honest about it… that grades are a poor proxy for learning at best. And at worst, they are a huge hindrance to learning, a reward-and-punishment system that has negative consequences for many students. (Don’t believe me? Read Carol Dweck.)

To learn more and to learn better, students need FEEDBACK. Lots of it. And grades are a terrible form of feedback.

I have written about this often; here are all the posts at this blog labeled Grading, and I’ve also collected materials at Grading.MythFolklore.net, where you will find links and resources about the un-grading movement; see also the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) at Twitter.

Short version: I’m ALL-feedback and NO-grades. That has been my approach since I first started teaching online in 2002, and it works. How do I know it works? Because the students tell me it does: What Students Say About Un-Grading.

For information about what good feedback can and should be, check out my Feedback Resources at Diigo. Yep, that’s an RSS feed inside a Canvas page… and RSS is just one technology we could be using to bring real evidence of student learning from their own webspaces into the Canvas space.

So, instead of a dynamic whiz-bang Gradebook view of students, we instead need a dynamic whiz-bang LEARNING view that helps students and instructors see what their learning looks like and that also allows them to connect with others based on what we are all learning together. To get a sense of the dynamics of connected, visible learning in my classes, take a look at the blog hubs for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Take a look at the student projects, past and present at eStorybook Central.

I’ve also proposed creating a Connected Learning Group here at Canvas; if you are interested, let me know!

To help students learn more and learn better, I need to see what they are learning. To help them in their work, I need to see their work. Not quizzes, not tests. Their work.

The work, not the grades, is what matters, and I show the students that their work matters by giving them detailed feedback about it, by creating opportunities for them to share their work with others, and by saving their work in the class archives to sustain my classes in the future.

Grades penalize mistakes… feedback helps you learn from them. That’s what we need: feedback, not grades.

Because I feel safe, I can learn from my mistakes.

A meme inspired by this infographic:

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

Marketing and Community

I was both pleased, but surprised, to find a link to the University of Oklahoma Community space in the marketing email that went out this morning (we get regular marketing emails every week). Here’s the screenshot:

It would be SO GREAT if OU Canvas users started participating at the Community. I’ve been faithfully crossposting this blog there for months now… although at this point, my main reason for doing so is that the blog posts show up in the Canvas Community search, not because there is an OU Community there.

And why is there no OU Community? Because nobody participates. Literally. There are probably dozens of people working on the Canvas rollout at my school: people in IT, people in our Center for Teaching Excellence, people who do teaching support in all the different colleges, not to mention the hundreds of faculty who are actually using Canvas.

But if you go to our OU Community page (which I do every day), you will see that there’s nothing going on except for my crossposted blog posts:

My guess is that if any faculty do follow the links in the email, they will look for the people they know in the Community: the lead Canvas managers from the Center for Teaching Excellence, the lead Canvas people in their colleges… but they will not find those people there using the Community, demonstrating its value, showing how it’s useful, etc.

To build a community online requires participation and persistence from people who are committed to building the community and sustaining it. Just sending out a marketing email with a link in it does not a community make.

But we’ll see! I have found the Canvas Community to be incredibly valuable (like in this total revelation about Canvas Pages and Files last week), and I have enjoyed the opportunity to crosspost my blog here.

So, I will remain optimistic and hope that something might happen in the OU Community space in Canvas. And I’ll keep on cross-posting. Because I am a believer in DIY… and in the power of online communities!

Growth Mindset Cat knows:

Life has no remote. You have to get up and change it yourself!


Crossposted (ever hopeful) at OU Canvas Community.

Flickr Albums in Canvas Pages

Today’s post is about Flickr Albums! Canvas already has good integration with Flickr image search which makes it easy to include individual Flickr images in a Canvas Page, and you can even browser Flickr to find images to use as course cards.

Thanks to the great File-in-Page trick I learned at the Community last week, I’m now able to embed Flickr Albums in Canvas pages too. Here are step by step instructions: Step by Step Flickr Album in Canvas. Here’s a screenshot of am album in a Page:

So, in addition to being able to embed Flickr albums in other spaces (blog sidebars, webpages, etc.), now you can embed them in a Canvas page or in a Canvas discussion board. The iframe solution works in both spaces; here’s a screenshot of the same album in the Discussion Board. You can use an album to provide a range of visual prompts for the discussion, and the album approach allows students to respond to the one that most interests them — and they can easily access the Flickr photo page to grab the URL to include in their reply:

For people who have followed Flickr for a while, this embedded album option is really great to see! Years ago, Flickr had an excellent embedded slideshow option, but it was Flash-based. They discontinued that, with no other good option in place, but now this new embedded album has come along, and I think it is a very nice solution. I wish they would offer an embedded album option for displaying live search results (that would be really cool!), but this is certainly as good as the old slideshow, and in some ways it is better; I find it more visually appealing anyway.

When I wrote my last Aesop book (Mille Fabulae et Una), I created slideshows for my collections of Aesop illustrations, like this one from Steinhowel’s wonderful illustrated Aesop (hand-colored too!) circa 1500. As you can see, Flickr albums can serve all kinds of purposes; they don’t just have to be photos. Now that Flickr has this wonderful new embedding option, I am inspired to make more albums. 🙂

Steinhowel (colored)

Blog Index / February 18, 2017

In all the busy-ness of the past couple of weeks, I forgot to do an Index post last week. And now… I am indexing not just this blog, but also my Twitter4Canvas blog and CanvasLIVE Playground blogs. I am clearly having too much fun with this! 🙂

The posts new to this index are marked in bold, and there are also “latest posts” from all three blogs in the sidebar.


CanvasLive: Growth Mindset / Feedback Cats

Twitter4Canvas Mini-Course

Widgets and Other Dynamic Content

Spring 2017 Reports

Openness, Sharing, and Connectedness

Canvas Class Announcements

Blogs and Blogging

Thoughts about Canvas and about LMSes

Posts about Students

Posts about Instructors

Teaching Writing

Some Practical Canvas Advice

Grading with Canvas

And here is one of the growth mindset cats from this week:

Don’t stop! Just keep going!


CanvasLIVE: Planning Twitter4Canvas

Okay, so like with Growth Mindset Cats post yesterday,  this is going to be a brain dump of how I might do a 15-minute presentation on Twitter4Canvas, which seems the other likely candidate for a way to get started with CanvasLIVE. Like yesterday, I’ll start with some “why” examples in terms of teaching and learning, and them zoom in on the technical stuff.

Update. Okay… I am excited about BOTH of these options, but after writing up this post, it’s clear that Twitter4Canvas one is closer to being ready to go; almost everything is already in place, so my guess is that it will be better to do this one first, and then do the Growth Mindset Cats a couple of weeks later after I’ve had a chance to finish documenting those materials more fully. I will see what Stefanie thinks about that! Also, this one provides a kind of lead-in to the idea of dynamic content in Canvas, but it starts with something more familiar: Twitter. I think if people experiment with this first, then some of the strategies in the Growth Mindset cats (other kinds of embedding) will make more sense.

Update again. I’ve been able to radically streamline my Twitter4Canvas Workshop thanks to the Canvas Files trick I learned at Canvas Community, and I have modified this presentation accordingly!

~ ~ ~

Some kind of quick 1-minute introduction followed by:

TWITTER FOR TEACHING (total of 4 minutes): My focus is not on students using Twitter (although that is a great opportunity also), but instead Twitter was a way to deliver fresh, new, real stimulating content to students, especially images and video.

My Class Twitter stream (1 minute). I’ll talk about the sources I draw on to create the @OnlineMythIndia Twitter stream for my classes, and I’ve written a post about Twitter curation: Twitter for Class Content: My Top 5 Strategies. My students see it embedded in my class announcements.

And it can run in other webspaces too, like  at our class wiki.

Other Account streams (1 minute). I’ll show some of the other account streams I’ve widgetized, like our student newspaper

and our Library Twitter account.

Hashtag streams (1 minute): There is an international weekly chat by folklorists at the #FolkloreThursday hashtag:

And there are also occasional hashtags, like the beautiful #ColorOurCollections

Sample Twitter-based assignment (1 minute): Wikipedia Trails (1 minute). One of my favorite ways to use our class Twitter is as the starting point for a Wikipedia Trails assignment. (I should mock this up as a Canvas page; right now it is just a page at my class wiki, and the student blog stream is also just at the wiki, but I can also mock that up as a Canvas page):

Some kind of quick 1-minute transition into next section:

TECHNOLOGY (total of 8 minutes).

Canvas Twitter App versus Real Twitter Widgets (1 minute). It’s all about the media. The Canvas Twitter App displays no media; for me, that makes it a complete nonstarter.

Different Kinds of Twitter Widgets (1 minute). Another difference from the Canvas Twitter App is that Twitter offers a lot of different kinds of widgets, not all of which are supported by the Canvas Twitter App, such as List. Here’s a simple List example: our two university museums, combined in a single list:

Twitter4Canvas Workshop (1 minute). I’ve created a self-guided Twitter4Canvas Workshop which has everything you need to get up and running with Twitter (even if you have never used it before), and to then create a Twitter widget for your account and include it in your Canvas course. The key steps are Creating a Widget, inserting it into a File, and then inserting that File into a Page.

Generate Twitter Widget (1 minute). After you are up and running with Twitter, you can use the Twitter Widget generator to get the Twitter Widget code you need; it just takes a few seconds.

Insert Twitter in Canvas File (1 minute). For the next step, you’ll insert the Twitter Widget you created into a Canvas File:

Insert File into Canvas Page (1 minute). Then, you insert the Cavnas File into your Page; for security reasons, you cannot just paste the Widget directly into your Page, but routing it through the File system takes care of Cavnas’s security concerns:

Canvas Tables (1 minute). Tables can be useful for layout. You might consider putting the Twitter Widget in the right column of a table, and then using the left column to explain what the Twitter stream contains, how to use it for a class assignment, etc.

Ready-to-Use Twitter Widgets (1 minute). One of the other powerful things about Twitter Widgets is that you can share them with others. So, I’ve been making “ready-to-use” Twitter Widgets to share with people at my school. They don’t even have to use Twitter: just copy-and-paste the code snippet, and they can put Twitter into their Canvas Pages directly. So, for example, our student newspaper, as I mentioned earlier:

Quick 1-minute conclusion to review and point to Slidedeck online plus single page with all the links mentioned here.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

CanvasLIVE: Planning the Mindset Cats

Beware: brain dump! These are notes… but I am happy with how it turned out. 🙂

~ ~ ~

So, I need to start thinking about a way to go with the actual CanvasLIVE presentation proposal. It looks like I’ve got two more-or-less separate tracks to follow: Mindset Cats and Twitter4Canvas. I’ll sketch them both out, and then list the components I have ready to go, along with components I still need to document to fill in the gaps.

For today, I’ll focus on the Growth Mindset one; I’ll do Twitter4Canvas tomorrow.

Growth Mindset / Feedback Cats: This is one that would start from a more pedagogical perspective, following up on Janie’s Feedback presentation. I’d like to do what she did, going from the teaching philosophy/strategy and then to the technology. My goal is a 15-minute presentation. So, that would be maybe 5 minutes on the role of growth mindset / feedback in teaching and learning, and then maybe 10 minutes on strategies for using cats and other motivational memes to weave that content into the online course environment.

Some kind of quick 1-minute introduction followed by:

TEACHING (total of 4 minutes): Growth mindset shifts the focus away from teacher-awarded grades to student-driven learning.

Growth Mindset / Feedback: 2 minutes. I need to series of cats to demonstrate the main themes. I have lots of cats; just have to choose key themes. These slides can go quickly; I’ll reduce each main them to a single word or short phrase — and I’m creating new feedback cats as my focus this semester:

Student Voices: 1 minute
. These would be key quotes from student blog posts that I will read. I can get quotes student blog posts via their Mindset stream as they write about and explore growth mindset in class (I learn so much from reading their posts). I need to do a Canvas page that has that blog post stream in; works same as at wiki page where I feature growth mindset student blog stream, as in screenshot here:

Growth versus Grading: 1 minute
. Quick statement about all-feedback-no-grading approach. I’ve collected grading materials at Grading.MythFolklore.net, including page of quotes from students re: both grading and curiosity), so I would select key quotes to read.

Some kind of quick 1-minute transition into next section:

TECHNOLOGY (total of 8 minutes). So, once you’ve decided to weave growth mindset into a course, how do you want to do it? Growth mindset is not just content to cover on a given day of the class; instead, it’s about how you approach the design of the class, and it’s also about how you help the students reflect on their own assumptions and take charge of their own learning. For growth mindset to be effective, it needs to be a persistent, recurring feature of the class.

Sharing Cats Out to Students

1. Announcements: 1 minute. New cat every day. Myth.MythFolklore.net. And I’ve already written up how to do blog for announcements in Canvas. What I want to talk about here is power of daily class announcements as way to both remind students about deadlines, etc., and also to reinforce the goals and strategies of the class itself. I value growth mindset, and I show that every day by including a cat. Students can subscribe to the blog by email; snag screenshot of how the cat looks in the email.

2. Random Cats: 1 minute. I have a randomizing widget in the sidebar of the announcements: Myth.MythFolklore.net. This means that in addition to the cat of the day, there is a new cat every time students log on to Canvas course; no scrolling – I put it up near the top! Say something about power of random to continually surface material, provide something new, etc. – lots of randomizing widgets in my blogs and also at Widget Warehouse.

3. Widgets-in-Canvas: 2 minutes. You can also embed randomizing Growth Mindset Cats widget in any Canvas page, integrated with other types of Canvas content. I should mock up a page so there could be a random cat page that can go at open or close of any Canvas module… and explain that my widgets are ready to go and use; if there is interest I would be glad to demo how to use RotateContent.com to create widgets like this – no programming required.

Prompting Students to Reflect, Write, and Share

This is obviously the important part: getting students to engage with the mindset materials, experiment, apply them, share what they learn, etc.

4. Discussion Board: 2 minutes. You can use random cats or cats of the day as Discussion Board prompts; I tested to make sure it works – it does! Details. I use blogs instead of discussion boards, but same idea applies of course: students need space to write and share what they write with others. They can also create their own cats, their own memes, etc. (Tech Tips for students). Basically all of my blog-based challenge assignments and tech tips can be repurposed as Discussion Board prompts for people relying on that space for student sharing:

5. More Resources-as-Prompts: 2 minutes. In addition to randomizers, you can also use blog streams and also Diigo bookmark streams to share content with students for them to reflect on as part of their chosen growth mindset challenges that students could write about and share at Discussion Boards (my students do that in their blogs, but it’s the same idea). Here is how you could do those kinds of prompts in Canvas:

Blog. For example, I have a blog stream for my new Feedback Cats; new blog posts show up automatically in Canvas page:

Diigo. I also have a stream of new articles at Diigo that I have bookmarked and annotated for the students to use:

Videos. Plus, it’s easy to embed a YouTube playlist in Canvas, and you can keep the content fresh by recycling, just bumping up a video from bottom of list to the top every day or as often as you want. (I need to write up instructions on how to embed video playlist in Canvas; emphasize advantages of playlist over single videos).

Quick 1-minute conclusion to review and point to Slidedeck online plus single page with all the links mentioned here.

Okay, that’s a rough sketch, and I think it is fitting together pretty well. Now I am excited! 🙂

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Canvas: Curation and Distributed Content

Okay, I’ve just go too much exciting Canvas stuff going on to even keep track of it, but here’s what I played with today: inspired by Janie’s presentation on feedback, I cleaned up my Diigo bookmarks of articles about feedback that I share with students, and I showed how to create a live RSS feed from Diigo into Canvas so that as I add new Diigo bookmarks, those items will automatically show up in Canvas. I put the Diigo page in my CanvasLIVE Playground: Diigo Feedback Resources. I also documented the step-by-step process of how that works here: Diigo in Canvas. Best of all, I have now made a promise myself to curate several articles each week to add to the stream.

Meanwhile, what I want to write about here is not the nitty-gritty of Diigo and RSS and HTML clippings and iframes. Nope. What I want to write about is the more general idea of content curation and distributed content. That is how I see content creation happening in the 21st century, and it’s very different from textbooks (still, sad to say, the default mode of content in education). In this post, I’ll try to describe how I create content by curation, and how I use javascript widgets to distribute that content.

(from great post by Silvia Tolisano: Blogging as Curation)

. So, first, what do I mean by curation? I mean the way that I seek out existing content, assess it, save it, annotate it, and then share it. I don’t really write much content at all. Why should I? There is plenty of amazing content out there: written work, and also images and video. Instead of adding more to that existing content, the better service I can provide is that of a curator. If you think of that in terms of a traditional curator, like a museum curator, the ideas is this: I don’t want to fill up a museum with my own paintings (even if I were a great painter, that would be monotonous); instead, I want to fill up a museum with the great paintings that others have done. Or a librarian: I don’t want a library that contains only books I have written; I want a library that contains lots and lots and lots of books, and I want to help my students connect with the books that will be the most valuable to them.

Following up on that librarian example, let me describe my Freebookapalooza project, which is the main way I share free online books with my students.

These are books of folktales, legends, and myths, etc., and it is these story collections that provide the reading material for my classes. I’ve been collecting online books since I first started teaching online, and the Freebookapalooza is just the current form that the collection takes. Right now, I have no idea how it will evolve in its next iteration… but I know it will keep on evolving, as it has for the past 15 years.

To blog is to curate. As you can see, the format is simple: the Freebookapalooza is just a Blogger blog with about 900 posts, each of which features a free online book. I provide basic info like author and title, links to the free online sources I know of, some kind of image or illustration (either from the book or relevant to the contents), plus a listing of the stories in the book. I built this blog in the summer of 2016, and this coming summer I have all kinds of plans to expand and improve it.

Now, let’s look at the Freebookapalooza as a curation process:

SEEK and ASSESS. This is where my professional training really comes into play. I know a lot about these books. Many of these are the same books I used in my work in graduate school… but back then, in the 1990s, I had to be physically in the UC Berkeley Library to use the books. Now: they are online! Literally the same books I held in my hands as a graduate student are available as digital scans. Plus books from many other research libraries all over the world. The best tool for seeking out the books is Hathi Trust; as for assessing the books and deciding which ones to include, that’s my job. And it’s a job I enjoy. Seeking out online books is one of my favorite things to do in fact.

SAVE. I use Diigo as my first line of bookmarking, and then I work through my Diigo bookmarks to end up with the blog posts you see at the blog. Often I go through an intermediate spreadsheet stage if I need to do a lot of sorting and filtering to prioritize the contents I am going to post at the blog. Then, when I do the actual blog post, I save that blog post to Diigo, replacing the earlier bookmarks for Hathi Trust or Internet Archive or LibriVox, etc. wherever I happened to be researching originally.

ANNOTATE. I have done minimal annotation at the Freebookapalooza blog right now, and that’s something I want to improve on next summer, especially for the books that I know are of interest to a lot of my students. The most important part of my annotation process so far has been including the table of contents in the blog post. This is important both to alert the students to the contents of the book, and also to take advantage of the search features of the blog itself. Although I cannot search on the full contents of the stories, being able to search on the titles is pretty powerful. For example, one of my students is thinking of doing a class project on stories about baboons. Presto: story titles with baboons. Here are the top Google Search results for the Freebookapalooza’s baboons:

SHARE. This is the best part about any curation process: sharing! Which means: connecting students to the right resources and/or giving them the tools to explore those resources and make their own connections. Here are just some of the ways I am able to share the contents of the Freebookapalooza collection:

Book of the Day. I share a free online book every day in the class announcements. Sometimes students will want to actually read the book and, even if the specific book is not of interest, I am able to promote a culture of reading in this announcements this way. Endless reading. You don’t have to pay for the book… you just have to find the time to read.

Widgets. I have created javascript widgets to randomly display the books, and the widgets are all available in my Canvas Widget Warehouse.

You can see the widgets at work in the sidebars of the blogs (like at the announcements blog and the Freebookapalooza too of course), they are in the class assignments (like the extra credit reading available each week). With 900 books in the blog right now, I rely on the power of random to continually surface new books, showing the students different books as they move through the course at each visit. Automatically.

Person to person. Each week, students share with me the work they have done on their class project, and the feedback I give them about their work each week is an opportunity for me to share these books back with them, either in the form of a link to a specific book post, or search results (like for the baboons above). As I get to know the students and their interests better week by week, I am able to provide better book recommendations. I’m also modeling good curation practices for them, too, as they also need to learn how to seek out and assess online content, saving and annotating it, and hopefully sharing it too!

~ ~ ~

Conclusion: curation, not lectures. Sure, I could write lectures about epics and fairy tales etc. etc. etc., and I could then record those lectures on video, and I could make the students watch the videos, and that could be our online course experience. And yes, I could rely on my professional expertise to write some pretty entertaining and even useful lectures I’m sure. But instead, I far prefer to put my professional expertise to work in curating online content, and then letting students loose in the Freebookapalooza while also helping to connect them with things they will really enjoy reading: epics that they select, fairy tales that they choose, and whatever else attracts their interest, resulting in a wider range of learning than any lectures of mine could encompass.

So, keep on reading, everybody! And yeah, I have a Reading Motivator Widget too.  This beautiful graphic is just one of the motivators in that widget. 🙂

(from Last Lemon by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar)

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.