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. 🙂

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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.