Laura Gibbs

Freebookapalooza: A Web-Based Curation Adventure

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 13, 2017

So, yesterday I wrote up three very practical posts about Diigo tags and blog labels plus RSS for those labels. Today I want to step back and share my overall approach to content development in general, based on using bookmarking and blogging tools. As I see it, the point is NOT to create content (i.e. write it from scratch yourself). Instead, the point is to CURATE the great content that is already out there, just waiting for you to discover, save, organize, annotate, and share. And that means you need a search engine like Google to discover that content, and then you need bookmarking tools (like Diigo) to save and organize, plus publishing tools (like blogs and wikis) to annotate and share. That, in short, is what I want to talk about at the CanvasLIVE this Thursday... with this blog as a place for preliminary thoughts and links. :-)

Building a Library of Free Online Books 


In Canvas, unfortunately, there are not any really good curation tools. You can put stuff in the Files area, but except for folders there are no other organizational tools. You can write stuff in the Pages area, but as I just said, the goal is really not so much to write content, but to annotate and share existing content.


Luckily, though, there are all kinds of ways to connect the content you create outside Canvas with your Canvas space so that your course design provides a context for that content. I've mentioned some of those Canvas integration strategies (embedding, widgets, feeds, etc.) in my CanvasLIVE presentations and my previous blog posts here, and what I want to do in this week's CanvasLIVE is to use one of my content projects, the Freebookapalooza, as an example of how you can manage a content project (small, jumbo, or in-between) with bookmarking and blogging tools, and then connect that content back to a Canvas course space.


So, step by step, here's what I did:


1. FIND A NEED. In July of last summer, I decided that I had to do something about the lists of links to online books that I had been accumulating for 10+ years for both my Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics courses. The lists of links were scattered here and there, and they were just links with the titles/authors of the books, nothing more. My students and I needed better. I also knew that Hathi Trust, in particular, was a great source of full-text books online that I had not explored, and summer would be the perfect time to do that. (If you have not checked out the millions of books at Hathi, go look: it's like Google Books, but with real librarians.) And if online books are not your thing, this same process could apply to any systematic search for resources to share with your students: videos, works of art, maps, Wikipedia articles, etc. etc.


2. Then, I started GATHERING BOOKS. I went through all my old links of lists and used Diigo to bookmark them with the label Add2Library. Those links came from lots of different sources: Sacred Texts, Gutenberg, Internet Archive, etc. etc. After I finished bookmarking all the links from my existing lists, I was ready to start making blog posts (see next step), but I also keep on gathering, searching by keywords, authors, etc. at Hathi Trust, since it was the source that had the best search tools.


3. While I kept on gathering, I was also ready to start ADDING BOOKS TO THE FREEBOOKAPALOOZA, which I set up as a blog: Freebookapalooza. I found the books to add using the Diigo Add2Library tag (see previous step). For the title of each post, I chose Author's Last Name. Short Title, as here: Dyer. The Folklore of Plants.


blog post screenshot


Then, in the body of the post, I had the full title and author's name, plus an image from the book (the cover, an illustration or, if those were not available, some pertinent image). I also included the table of contents (so students could really see what was in there, plus to increase the search power of the blog); sometimes I could copy-and-paste that, while other times I had to edit OCR (of variable quality), or type it myself. Then, I systematically searched my primary sources so that I could list the different copies available: Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Sacred Texts, Hathi, Google Books, Amazon (free Kindles only), and LibriVox. It was worth checking for multiple copies since different online presentations are useful for different purposes (some have better reading options, some have better searching options, some have better OCR, etc.). I used a Region label for each post, and labels for the available Sources. You can see the blog here: Freebookapalooza.
Here's an example of a source label: Gutenberg

And here's an example of a region label: Asia
And here's a search for elephant: Elephant (no, that's not every elephant because it is not a full-text search of the books themselves... but it is a great way to start looking for stories with elephants!)


4. As I worked, I also BOOKMARKED THE LIBRARY. Each time I added a post, I was able to delete the Diigo bookmark I started with, and then to bookmark my new blog post instead. That meant I built up a collection of Freebookapalooza bookmarks in Diigo so that, instead of pointing people to a hodge-podge of online book sources (what I had back in Step 1), I now pointed them to a systematic book presentation at my blog. I also used more labels at Diigo also, indicating the regions-within-regions. At the blog, I just labeled things as "Region: Asia" but at Diigo, where it's easier to use multiple labels and Boolean searching, I used more specific labels like Japan.


Diigo: Japan


5. I worked on this for about six weeks, and then it was time to wrap things up at the end of the summer, so I created some BLOG PAGES (as opposed to blog posts). I snagged the book titles from Diigo (Diigo has some great export options), and then created blog pages with an overview of the book collections region by region. Here's the Asia Page for example. In those pages, I also included links to the specific Diigo subregions (Japan, Korea, China, etc.). You can see those pages horizontally across the top of the blog header:


blog pages navigation



6. I also build a BLOG RANDOMIZER, which randomly displays blog posts from the whole Freebookapalooza or region by region. To do this I took advantage of the blog's mobile view in order to display just the post contents. You can see how that works here: Freebookapalooza Randomizer. 


Freebookapalooza Randomizer


7. Then, after seeing how well things went in Fall 2016 (students were really exploring the books!), I decided to build some CANVAS-FRIENDLY WIDGETS to help encourage even more exploring. You can see the results in my Widget Warehouse; there is a whole series of randomizing widgets which show books from the Library at random: Freebookapalooza Canvas Widgets. Each item in the widget has the image from the blog post, along with a link to the actual blog post. The main way I use these widgets is in the sidebar of the Freebookapalooza blog and in my other blog sidebars and pages, all to increase access (the power of random!) to the hundreds of books that await students in the Library. You can learn more about all that in this CanvasLIVE on Canvas-Friendly Javascripts.


widget screenshot


ABOUT HTTPS: In order to build those widgets that display in Canvas, I need to have HTTPS webspace to save all the images and the actual javascripts. Luckily, my school participates Reclaim Hosting's Domain of One's Own project; that is what gives me easy access to HTTPS webspace so that I can create content that displays inside Canvas if I want. And even if your school does not offer a DoOO project, you can get an individual account with Reclaim for just $30/year (or $50 if you need more storage). As website hosting goes, I cannot imagine anything better; I got a chance to meet all the members of the Reclaim crew in person at their Domains2017 conference just last week, and I was so impressed: they really understand what it means to provide web hosting to educators!


Reclaim Hosting



Some final thoughts... People talk about scale in education: well, this is a process that scales beautifully! If you want to collect just a couple dozen items, you can do that, or you can collect hundreds. It all depends on what you find and how much time you have; either way, the technology is not a limitation. Instead, the technology can and should be an inspiration! It is also the kind of task on which you could collaborate with your students, building your content together. I've never been able to get my students excited about Diigo (although I keep trying!), but they really like blogging, so we are all just blogging together, side by side.


And if you are inspired to do something with any of these technology tools and are looking for ideas or advice, just let me know. I'm glad to answer questions and help if I can. :-)