Laura Gibbs

Blog Labels: When you want students to explore...

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 12, 2017

And here's another post prepping for my CanvasLIVE later this week; here's the CanvasLIVE link:

Building a Library of Free Online Books 


What I want to focus on in this post is the power of labels (or tags or categories; different platforms use different terminology) as a way to organize content in a blog. Specifically, blog labels as a way to organize content in flexible, non-linear ways that allow the user to explore the content based on their choices and preferences.


This is in sharp contrast to the very linear, top-down format of content in the Canvas space where it's all about previous-next, and not really about user-driven browsing and exploration. For that, you don't need an LMS... you need the Internet. Admittedly, things can get kind of chaotic on the hyperlinked and totally non-linear Internet, but that's where labels and curation comes in: if you can select and organize materials in smart, flexible ways, you can help people make discoveries as they browse and explore, but without feeling lost and overwhelmed.


Let me just give a few examples from the blog project I am working on this summer: Aesop's Books. (The CanvasLIVE presentation is going to focus on a blog project from last summer, the Freebookapalooza.)


Aesop's Books


I've worked on many Latin language Aesop projects, but this is my first English language Aesop project, and my goal is to assemble public domain illustrated editions of Aesop, along with English versions of the fables, for people to read and explore online. I'm using labels so that people can explore the fables book by book OR by looking at multiple versions of the "same" fable. I want those navigation options to happen AUTOMATICALLY as I am adding new material to the blog. The labels are doing all the navigation work for me, which means I can focus 100% on adding content all summer long!


So, in order to allow people to explore the content in those two different ways — book by book OR fable by fable — each fable that I add to the blog has (at least) two different labels: a label specific to the book and a label specific to the fable.


For example, here is a version of the fable of the fox and the crow. It's from a really cool book published in 1857 that has beautiful art and also really creative, satirical retellings of the fables.


Bennett fox and crow


There is a label for the book which you can see below the fable: book: 1857 Bennett. And there is also a label for the fable, using the Perry Index number: index: Perry 124  (more about fable indexing here).


labels below post

You can click on those labels under the fable to browse, or you can use the Label widgets in the sidebar. Blogger has a really flexible Label widget system (easier to use than WordPress in fact, in part because it's simpler); you can put as many Label widgets as you want in the sidebar, and you can choose which labels appear in which widget, as well as showing (or not) the number of posts per label. When you click on a label link (and it's just a link, like any other link), the blog displays ALL the posts with that label. Instant content galleries!


So, for example, I have a navigation widget with the book labels:


book labels


Someone can click on the Bennett book label and then they will see all the posts related to that book. There is a table-of-contents post at the top (it's at the top because I jiggle the date to make it the "newest" post), and below that are all the posts from that book. Since the book is online, of course people can click on the links provided and read the book in an online format, like at the Internet Archive, but you can also get the full experience here at the blog. Fables are really great for this purpose since they are short and fit nicely in a blog post format.


You might notice how I am creating the labels in a very consistent way; the book labels start with "book:" so they are all grouped together, and then I am also prefacing each book with the year of publication like this:

book: 1857 Bennett is the label for Fables of Aesop and others, translated into human nature by Charles H. Bennett, published in 1857.


Using this system means in the widget the books appear in the order of publication. The label widget lists everything alphabetically, which is how I end up with books in order of year of publication... automatically! As I add a new book to the system, I just start using a new label and it appears in the label widget navigation box. I was going to do it alphabetically by author, but then I realized the year of publication would be so much more helpful as people choose which books to browse and look at, ranging from Renaissance incunabula to books published right at the limit of the public domain in the early 20th century.


I also have a navigation widget with fables that appear in five or more posts (which means they are the most interesting to compare). The fable about the fox and the crow appears in 7 versions already; it is one of the most popular Aesop's fables. Blogger makes it easy for me to select which labels go in which widget; that's how I selected the index labels where there are at least 5 versions of the fable.

select labels


Just like with the years of publication, I am using automatic alphabetizing to keep things organized here: instead of Perry 1, the first Perry number is Perry 001. Yeah, the zeroes look kind of dumb, but that's what keeps everything in nice numerical order, all automatically. For the Mille index, it starts at Mille 0001, with three leading zeroes, because the index itself goes over 1000.


So, that is how I am labeling the content in order to facilitate readers exploring based on their interests and preferences. Later on, I might add some additional labeling layers, going back through the fables and tagging them to go into some kind of "gallery" based on a theme (fables about cooperation!) or based on a specific animal (my favorite fables about cats!).


I can also publish other kinds of content at the blog; I did one essay already, and I'll probably add some more essays later on. The Essay label (currently on just one post) is kind of a promise to myself that I will be adding more essays later. I can also add the fable label to the Essay posts too, so that someone browsing fables about The Kite and his Mother will find this essay along with the fables.


essay label


So, as you can see, this is a totally different experience than creating content inside Canvas. It's highly flexible, and it is capable of expanding ad infinitum. I've done blogs that have thousands of posts, and as long as you are systematic about the labels, navigation is not a problem. It's also sustainable into the future, thanks to Blogger's standards-based XML export which would allow me to move this to a different platform if I ever wanted, for example, to take advantage of the wider range of features that WordPress would offer.


Whether to create content inside Canvas using Canvas tools or to create content outside using other tools depends on your goals: if you have a fixed body of content that you want all your students to read in a particular order so that you can then test them on that content, an LMS-based system is probably a good choice.


But my goals are very different: I want to get students excited about wide-ranging and long-lasting cultural traditions, helping them to find excellent materials to read and explore online based on their interests. Exactly what they read is up to them, and instead of quizzing them about what they read, I ask them to MAKE something with the materials that they find, telling their own Aesop's fables just as they can see people have been telling and re-telling Aesop's fables for hundreds of years — and they publish their own stories in their own blogs, so we are all blogging together.


And hey, if you want to add some Aesop to your classes, I've got a widget for you. Each image links to the book that it comes from... and there are hundreds of images already with hundreds more to come as the summer rolls happily along. :-)


Aesop Illustration Widget for Canvas


(more about my Canvas Widget Warehouse here from a previous CanvasLIVE)


Canvas Aesop widget