The Sidebar Never Sleeps: Live Content 24/7

I teach General Education courses in the Humanities, and that means I welcome any opportunity to share with my students the wealth of literature, art, and music that is online. I can never be sure just what will click with each student, so I’m try to expose them to a steady stream of ever-changing items. Ideally, they might see something that makes them want to click and learn more, but even if that does not happen, by the constant parade of content, I am showing them what a world of culture they can find online … if they go looking.

The main way I do this is with my Class Announcements blog: every day there are new announcements, and then in the sidebar of the blog things are ever-changing, not just day to day but every time the page reloads. My goal is that every time they log on to Canvas, they will see something new… automatically. I’m busy doing other things (commenting on their projects), but while I am working, the power of the dynamic content in the blog is working too!

I’ve written elsewhere about how I configure Canvas so make my blog the homepage, and in this post, I want to provide a quick tour of my sidebar. If you go to my class Myth.MythFolklore.net (fully open, just click and go!), you can follow along by looking at the sidebar there for yourself; there is information about each sidebar item below.

Text Box: On top is a text box which is static and does not change; it contains the single most important link for students who are in a rush to get to what they need for class: the Class Calendar. While I want the blog to be a fun, exploratory space, I also want students in a hurry to be able to find what they need to get to work on the class.

Email Subscription: Some students subscribe to the announcements by email, which I think is great. Blogger’s Feedburner service provides really nice email presentation of the blog, so I am glad when students do choose to get the announcements by email. I’m subscribed too, so I can see the same email the students receive.

Random Cats: This is a randomizing widget of Growth Mindset Cats; the cats have turned out to be incredibly helpful in promoting a spirit of learning and also fun in my classes. If you’re interested, you can snag this widget and use it too, either in a blog like this or directly in a Canvas page: Widget Warehouse: Growth Mindset Cats.

Class Twitter: I try to update the class Twitter at least twice a day; it only takes a few minutes to add new items (I just retweet), and it’s always fun for me to see what’s new. Here’s how that works: Twitter for Class Content: My Top 5 Strategies.

Reading, Writing, Learning. This is a combination widget that randomly draws on several different widgets: Writing Inspiration, Reading Inspiration, and H.E.A.R.T. (each of those links goes to the Widget Warehouse page; these are also available for anyone else to use). Thanks to the power of random, new things appear each time the page loads!

Random Storybook. These are student projects from my class archives. I really like reminding students all the time how the projects they create will become part of future classes too. Their work matters! You can see the archive here: eStorybook Central.

Free Books Online. This is my favorite widget: it displays free books of stories and legends (I teach Mythology-Folklore and Indian Epics), drawing on the 900+ free books in my Freebookapalooza Library. I’ve broken that widget down by region, too, hoping that might make it more useful for others if you might also want to share free books with your students: Widget Warehouse: Freebookapalooza.

Videos. This is the playlist that I create with the videos from past class announcements; every day there is a new video in the daily announcements, and this playlist gives the students access to all the videos so far this semester. It’s like a second chance in case the students didn’t notice the video in yesterday’s announcement. You can see the playlist directly with this link: Announcements Videos.

RSS Links. I’ve never been able to get my students excited about RSS (alas!), but I do include the RSS links here in my sidebar.

Suggestion Box. Finally, there is a link to a Google Form where students can provide anonymous suggestions. Since there are lots of other opportunities for feedback in the class via their blogs, the students rarely use this, but I want to make sure they know that anonymous feedback is also welcome!

Every semester I tinker with the sidebar, and it’s hard to restrain myself from putting even more in there. I’m happy with the selection that I have now… but when I get some time to make more widgets this summer, I’ll probably be redecorating the sidebar for classes this Fall.

 

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Instructional Designers.

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