Martin Luther King Canvas Widget

I did not post anything in this blog so far this week: there was Martin Luther King Day on Monday, and then school started on Tuesday — and the first day of school is always wild. But it’s now Wednesday; I’ve got 84 blogs up and running and all happily networked (just waiting on 2 more), so I wanted to catch up here a little bit.

First, I want to share the Martin Luther King Day widget which I made, using some King quote posters that I had created a few years ago in honor of the holidays. Like with my other widgets, you will find it in the Canvas Widget Warehouse. There’s an iframe version you can use inside Canvas, plus javascripts you can use in a blog, like there (just reload for more):

Even though I only use that widget one day a year, I am really glad for it: on that day, I replace the daily class announcement blog post (which students see as the Canvas homepage) with a post that features the widget, and I also include the 200-pixel version of the widget in the blog’s sidebar. That means students who are doing work for the class (and that means quite a few of them) get to see multiple quotes throughout the day, hopefully learning something new about Dr. King and his legacy.

For more information, see the Martin Luther King widget page.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

The Power of a Student Project Archive

So, after the API excitement of yesterday, we can return to our regularly scheduled program: more fun in the Widget Warehouse! Today I want to write about my favorite widget of all: the Student Storybooks.

Sharing student work. This is not a widget that someone would want to use in their class (unlike the other widgets, which I always hope might be useful to others!), but I wanted to share this widget as an example of how to continually share and promote student work in a class. For me, the student project archive is the single most important resource in inspiring each new semester’s students, and the randomizing widget allows me to include hundreds of past projects, letting them come up at random again and again so that the new students will get to see lots of great work done by students in the past. It’s also fun for me to see, too, because all these projects are connected with happy memories of semesters gone by as I watched those former students create their projects.

Growing the archive. At the beginning of each semester, I harvest up the projects from last semester and add them to the widget, and I also check the old items in the widget to see if any student has taken their project offline. This time, I found that three projects were offline now, so I removed them from the widget. I am really fortunate that most students choose to leave their work online! (In a separate post, I’ll need to explain how I am going to cope with the coming demise of the old Google Sites now that the new and completely retooled Google Sites has become available.)

Widgets big and small. As usual, I make 400-pixel-wide and 200-pixel-wide versions of the widget. You can see the 400-pixel version here on the homepage of our class wiki for example, and you can see the 200-pixel version in the sidebar of the class announcements blog. Those show both classes, and I also have class-specific versions, as you can see here for Myth-Folklore and for Indian Epics.

Explore! One of the first assignments each semester is for students to explore past Storybooks, getting ideas and inspiration for their own projects. Seeing work by past students is the single best way to help new students get started, far more so than any instructions or descriptions I might provide of the project: Storybook Favorites.

So, this post is both about the power of random for increasing awareness and for promoting curiosity… and it is also about the power of student-to-student learning. Students of the past can also contribute to the students of today, and the more you can weave a project archive into your class environment, the stronger the presence of those past students will be!

My peers can be my teachers.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Widgets to Awaken Curiosity

For today’s post, I want to follow up on yesterday’s post about my Freebookapalooza widget, where I emphasized random-for-discoverability. Today I will focus on two similar widgets (one for each of the two classes I teach) — the Myth-Folklore Images and Indian Epics Images widgets — but with an emphasis this time on curiosity, and the importance of curiosity in the learning process.

Let me begin with the widgets. On the left, you see the Myth-Folklore widget which draws at random on images from the UnTextbook from which students choose their reading in the class each week (it includes some India images also because India is one of the regions included in the class). Meanwhile, on the right, you see an Indian Epics images which draws on a wide range of art related to the characters in the epics and other Indian stories; again, in that class, students are choosing their readings from the huge range of options that are available. So, each time the page loads here, you will see other images at random (although my students sometimes joke that it is a divine sign if they do, by chance, see the same image twice in a row):

 These are the 200-pixel-wide versions that I can use in blog sidebars; there are also 400-pixel-wide versions available which you can see in Canvas for example: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics.

Importantly, it is not only an image that you see, with the images being just some kind of eye candy as so often happens in the students’ other online worlds (and even, sad to say, in other academic content online). Instead, each image has a link where you can learn more: if you are curious, just click! The links in the Myth-Folklore images go to specific stories in the online UnTextbook for class, where students choose a different reading unit each week (there are 100 reading units overall). The links for the Indian Epics images go to pages at a class website which is a repository of images, and which is also home to the public domain reference editions of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata that the students are using in the class — and yes, that class is also based on the students choosing their own reading from week to week.

And that, then, is the key: how will the students CHOOSE what to read? how will they decide what they want to learn in the class?

For me, curiosity is the learning motivator that is most strong, and it is the learning motivator that I try to encourage most in my students. Now, there is a whole range of reasons why students might be curious about things: some students have acquired a kind of conventional, impersonal academic curiosity (although that’s less common than people like to assume), but all students have elements of purely personal curiosity that they can build on. That, in turn, is fascinating for me, because as I learn about the students’ personal curiosities, I get to know more about them as people, far more so than if I were the one making all the decisions about what to read and learn in the class.

So, I use widgets like these, and others, woven into as many class spaces as possible (daily announcements, assignment pages, class resource websites), in order to try to excite the students’ curiosity, and I also encourage them in their blogs to make their curiosity visible to others, explaining why they make the reading choices they do and what their favorite stories are, while also sharing their favorite images in their blog posts too.

In future posts, I’ll have more to say about curiosity and the high value I place on it in all my course designs, but for now let me close with a great post from Maha Bali responding to the recent flurry of concern about fake news stories and the larger questions that arise for us as educators. I really appreciated the emphasis she put on curiosity, and the danger of IN-curiosity, here:

Fake News: Not Your Main Problem by Maha Bali (writing at DMLCentral). I highly recommend the whole article; here is a key passage for me:

The real problem isn’t that some sources produce fake news. The problem is that young people (and grown, otherwise reasonable adults!) are not prepared, morally, socially, and emotionally to interpret this critically. Martin Weller has wondered if we are at an age of unenlightenment, and Sherri Spelic has brought up the issue of incuriosity about others — that’s more an attitude and an orientation than just a skill. It’s not something we switch on. It takes years to build, especially with so much going against us.

And here is the item that Maha cites from Sherri Spelic (writing at Medium): Incuriosity is a thing, and why not? She concludes with this optimistic paragraph that I endorse wholeheartedly:

Complexity is never going to be everybody’s friend. But complexity met with curiosity can become a source of momentum or points of departure; opportunities to broaden rather than narrow our fabulous humanity.

So, why do I use all these randomizing widgets? It’s one way, among many, to “broaden our fabulous humanity.”

And of course curiosity is a major motif in the Growth Mindset Cats collection! Here’s one — and, yes, the famous kitten-with-apples video is included in that post, but I will restrain myself from including it here. Although, if  you are curious, it is just a click away. 🙂

Confront the unknown with curiosity.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Progress at the Canvas Widget Warehouse

I’m back in action for 2017 (whoo-hoo!), and you can check out the 2016 Round-Up for goings on at this blog last year.

And now, the new post: a Widget Warehouse update!

Working on my Canvas Widget Warehouse turned out to be a wonderful project for over the winter break. Much of the work involved in creating widgets is mechanical: creating lists of links, batch processing images, generating HTML tables, etc. So, I was able to work on those kinds of tasks while listening to audiobooks (my favorites were Michael Scott’s Nicolas Flamel series, Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, and — best of all — Frank Wilczek’s own reading of A Beautiful Question). In my posts here for this week, I’ll share some of the highlights of the holiday widget adventure, describing some of the widgets themselves and also how this widget-production process works as a content management strategy.

Free Mythology and Folklore books online. The widget I am most excited about is the Freebookapalooza widget. It features the free online books — over 900 of them — that I collected last summer at my Freebookapalooza blog. Each item in the widget features the author and title for each book, plus an image — it might be an image of the book cover, or perhaps an illustration from the book or, failing those, an image that is related to the book’s contents. You can see the widget in action here at the Canvas widget page, and you can see the 200-pixel version in the sidebar of the Freebookapalooza blog. Plus, I can include the widget right here; you’ll see a new book at random each time the page loads.

Widgets and Sub-Widgets. Because the blog itself is divided into regional sections, I also created widgets for the specific regions: African, Asian-Pacific, Biblical, British-Celtic, Classical, European, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Native American. Having a specifically Classical widget, for example, is useful to me because I can feature those books in my Bestiaria Latina blog sidebar.

Spreadsheet Magic. Creating the regional widgets is not extra work: I just have an extra column in the spreadsheet that generates the HTML tables, and I filter based on that column to get the HTML tables I need for each widget. I could create other flags as well, such as thematic collections (fairy tales, ghost stories, Aesop, etc.); creating thematic collections is a project I am contemplating for next summer, and I am also excited to add more books to the project next summer also.

Widgets for Discoverability. One of the biggest obstacles in a content collection like this is discoverability. If I have over 900 books here, how can I help connect students with the books they would really enjoy and/or find useful for class? That is why I am so excited about this new widget! By having the randomizing widget in the sidebar of my class announcements blog, I hope to catch the students’ attention at random with items that are of interest; the dynamic power of random and the use of images make it far more powerful than a static list of links. I’ll also be using the widget as part of the “Extra Reading” option that is available to the students each week where I hope they will choose a book to explore and blog about, and the widget will be a key feature in the Week 2 assignment where students explore the overall resources for the class. In addition, I can add the randomizer to the region-specific pages at the blog, as here: Greece and Rome.

Content is only really useful if it reaches the students, and having this dynamic, visual way of presenting the content will help to connect students with the books they might really want to read. Given that reading, and the love of reading, is a key feature of my class, I am really glad to have the power of random to help my students explore the free online book library! I’ll report back on how it is going as the semester gets underway. Classes start officially on January 17, and I hope to have my classes ready to go for an early start on January 9… so I should have some preliminary information to report in just a few weeks from now. 🙂

~ ~ ~

A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much. — Tyrion Lannister, in Game of Thrones (more)


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Widget Warehouse Update

I had a great day working on the Widget Warehouse Canvas space! I was motivated to focus on that this weekend because of the Canvas Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum Workshop on Monday and Tuesday, which seems like a great opportunity to connect with other faculty at my school (such online opportunities are few and far between in the very face-to-face world that is my school). Are you an OU faculty member or graduate student instructor? Come play! Online Mini Course: Writing Enriched Curriculum.

Here’s a quick overview of the things I got done:

Set up navigation bar. I used the (awful) “Redirect Tool” to add some useful links to the navigation bar in the course. There’s a link there now to this blog, plus the internal navigation I need.

Created a Widget Catalog. I will update this Catalog page as I add new widgets. And there are now five, count ’em, five widgets in there, all with Canvas-friendly https iframe options.

Added new widgets. Now in addition to the Growth Mindset Cats., there are widgets on WritingReadingTime, and the H.E.A.R.T. topics.

Built an omni-randomizer. On both the Homepage and the Catalog page, there is now an omni-randomizer which shows items from all five widgets at random. It’s easy to update, too!

I’m especially excited about the Writers and Writing widget ready to go. If I have time tonight, I’ll also do a punctuation humor widget… because you can never have too much humor when it comes to English punctuation. 🙂

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

New Canvas Course: Laura’s Widget Warehouse

Sure sign that you are a nerd: the very first thing you want to do on the very first morning of winter break is . . .  build a Widgets Warehouse in Canvas, ha ha. But seriously, that’s what I wanted to do this morning.

So, here’s what I’ve got so far: (Yes, that’s an example of a custom URL for a Canvas course: very useful! Find out more.)

That takes you to Laura’s Widget Warehouse, a new public course I just created in Canvas (and thank you, Canvas, for letting us create courses like this on our own; we didn’t have that freedom in D2L).

The purpose of the course is to provide a kind of catalog for widgets that I am creating based on what I’ve learned about widgets in the mixed-content era (https required!), and also about widgets in Canvas (no javascript allowed; only iframe). I’ve been making widgets like these for over 10 years, but now in the mixed-content era, I am going to have to start systematically re-creating the widgets I want to keep. So, one of my projects for 2017 is to figure out which widgets are worth that extra effort… and of course it will also inspire me to make new widgets. As I create or re-create each widget, I’ll write up a catalog page for the Widget Warehouse.

Here’s what I mean by a catalog page: Widget: Growth Mindset Cats. The catalog page links to the content source that supports the widget (it’s almost always one of my blogs). There will be a link to the source for both the https javascript and for the Canvas-friendly iframe. There will also be a brief description of the contents of the widget along with a link to the source table so that anybody who wants to use the widget can see all the potential content in advance (no surprises). I’ve also included links to examples of where/how I use the widget for my own classes.

As you can see, there is no real new content in the Canvas course, and I have no interest in creating content inside Canvas; I far prefer my blog network for creating and sharing content. There is, however, real value in creating a catalog like this in Canvas… even just for selfish reasons: it will help keep me organized as I work through this widget redesign process. So, as often with things online, I’ll be getting the benefit of it whether or not others use it — but if this can be useful to others, so much the better!

Feel free to use my scripts or, even better, perhaps seeing how I use the script tool will inspire you to make your own. As this project evolves, I’ll be writing up some tips and how-tos for creating your own widgets. Now that my students also have access to https webspace through OUCreate, I am thinking they might even be interested in giving this tool a try,

I’ll have more to say about all that as this project evolves in the coming semester. During the semester, I don’t have time for a really sustained project like I do during the summer, but something like this should be great: when I find myself with a free morning or afternoon, I can pick a widget, redesign, and add a new page to the catalog.

And when I have a whole day free… I can create new widgets! YES!!!

So, more about all that later: this is just the inaugural post in what should be an ongoing series on Widgets for Canvas. 🙂

Advice from the cats:

Immerse yourself in a project, and create something new.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.