Building Your Front Door, or Hub for Digital Learning Spaces

Building Your Front Door, or Hub for Digital Learning Spaces

TL:DR Version: This blog post shares advice on how to think through and develop an online learning hub, or front door for your digital identity.


Over the past couple of years I’ve worked with educators to create and curate their online brand. Most of the time I guide teachers to build up their own space using free, online tools and focus on entrepreneurial motives. My thinking is that educators should focus on building up their own brand, or digital identity…and not concern themselves with building up content in the silos of a school’s website. Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the indieweb movement, and building up a domain of one’s own. In this post, I’d like to share my guidance for educators thinking about starting up their digital learning hub.


One of the first questions I believe you should consider is the purpose of your site. Will you be blogging (daily, weekly, monthly) and reflecting about experiences in your classroom? Will you be sharing teaching materials? Will this be a form of e-portfolio for you? There are tons of opportunities out there, I think it’s helpful to first think about WHY you’d like to build this hub.

In the IT&DML program, I have students build a learning hub that serves as a spot to save and archive all teaching materials for their students. They also create a blog to routinely post work, announcements, reflections, etc. The blog and the hub (in my mind) are two different spaces that should interconnect. That being said, many of my students over the past year have started to merge these two online spaces into one larger site using different tools. We’ll talk about that in a minute.


One of the second questions I ask students is to identify the specific audience they are targeting with this hub. Who are you focusing on as you share these materials? Are you building this to share with and build a personal learning network (PLN)? Are you building a spot for your students to access teaching materials? Is this a way to share with colleagues, and promote your own work? These are all very good reasons, and i’m sure there are many more out there.

Part of the reason why I suggest that students separate out different online spaces is to help identify and focus on the audience. Take for example this blog ( I primarily teach teachers. I also try and provide guidance for colleagues in higher ed, and K-12 on technology integration in literacy-based practices. As a result, I create teaching and learning materials. I use this blog to post and share any and all materials that I create with my PLN. I also use this blog as a way to reflect on things I’m experimenting with. As an example, I documented my learning and thinking about digital badges along the way. This has helped me consider my own growth, and helped others (perhaps 🙂 ) as they develop badges.

The very important factor to also consider is that I’m doing this openly. I made a decision at the beginning to write, think, and share in the open. This blog serves as one part of my online hub, or digital identity…and becomes an open educational resource (OER) to help other learners online. I think there is a certain amount of serendipity that occurs as we learn, share, and connect in online open spaces. Please review the recent interview I conducted with Cable Green from CC to think more about open and OER.


Now that you’re thinking about the purpose, and audience of your hub, you’ve got plenty of options to think about the digital tools and texts you can use to design and develop this spot. Greg McVerry put together a great overview of possibilities for building this front door to your digital identity. As you develop your hub, I think it’s important to understand that you have something important to share, and that your ideas have merit. You’ll be building a home for all of these ideas. The thinking is that you’ll continue to build this home…and share content out to others from this space you’re building. We’re building up an infrastructure that you’ll continue to build, edit, revise, and share.

In class this past week, I shared several tools I think you should check out as you find a place to build your digital identity.

  • WordPress – WordPress is a great blogging platform. This is the type of tool I’d recommend if you plan on routinely (daily, weekly) posting content and sharing it. This blog is built on WordPress. You can choose to have WordPress host it, or pay a bit and run your own domain. I’d suggest starting with the free version for a bit, and then purchase your own domain if you keep going with it.
  • Tumblr – Tumblr is also free and very easy to use. Tumblr is “lightweight” compared to most of the other options. Tumblr provides an opportunity to routinely post and share with others, but makes it very simple to do so.
  • Google Sites – This is one of the traditional tools that I use, and initially teach to teachers. It’s free, and a product of Google. As a result, it plays well with Google Apps. It’s not as sexy as some of the other online spaces…and requires some tinkering. I’ve found Google Sites to be a good tool to use to create basic, “throwaway” websites. Here is an overview of the teaching materials I’ve produced in the past for Google Sites.
  • Wikispaces – Wikispaces is the second tool that I always introduce to teachers as they get started building a hub for their online classroom. Wikispaces and Google Sites provide an easy to use spot to create and share online, starter websites. In my classes, I use Wikispaces and Google Sites for my classroom spaces. They’re not perfect…but they get the job done. Please review this wiki to get a great overview on how to use and develop a wikispaces site.
  • Weebly – Weebly is a tool that I’m just beginning to learn about. I was introduced to Weebly by Tina Hurlbert and continue to really like it. Tina was one of the first students to suggest that my dichotomy of needing different spaces for a hub and blog might be misguided. In checking out the space that Tina is building…I think I agree. I think Weebly might provide a nice opportunity to build up a blog, and teaching hub that can serve as the e-portfolio and teaching resource for your classes.
  • Wix – Wix is a free online tool that provides a sophisticated online hub using drag and drop tools. Wix is (for the most part) drop dead simple. I was introduced to Wix by Tim Flanagan last year as he was developing his digital portfolio. Since then, most of the students in the IT&DML program have jumped to the platform. I’ve also seen it advertised a lot online and TV. It’s becoming a staple of Shark Tank episodes. 🙂 I think Wix provides a nice, easy way to develop an e-portfolio that you’ll enjoy.

Build it and share it to let them know to come

My advice is to think about the prompts up above and play with the tools presented. What is not blocked in your school? What “looks” the best to you? What interface do you like? These are all important considerations. Feel free to play and see what you want to invest more time in developing.

Don’t worry about building something…and throwing it out. Many student have this concern that when you create a social media account, or a website…everyone online will come look at you, point, and laugh. Trust me…it doesn’t happen. I’ve got tons of content online (good and bad) that people could bump into. When you Google me, you get the blog posts and information I push out on social media. It’s identity curation and obfuscation through creation. Basically, you need to produce and publish more and more content to create the brand that you want to promote…and push the other stuff down in search rankings. So, play, create, share, reflect, repeat the process… 🙂

Finally, Creative Commons license your content and share, share, share. CC licensing is a great way to protect, and more importantly promote your content online. It’s the mark of a savvy, and web literate individual.



Image CC BY-ND 2.0 Nathan Larkin

4 Comments Building Your Front Door, or Hub for Digital Learning Spaces

  1. wiobyrne

    In many of my classes I have students reading, writing, making, and sharing in online spaces. This may include blogging, tweeting, or connecting with others on Twitter or Google+. In some of my more advanced classes, I ask students to go use the Internet to learn something…anything. At the end of the individual learning modules, I ask that they indicate or document what they have learned.
    In this process we are practicing content curation as a form of assessment. In my work I try and move learners from content consumers, to content curators, to content constructors in online spaces. I believe content curation is a valuable step in the process. You are actively reviewing and evaluating content from an informed perspective and sharing this out with others. You might be an expert in reading comprehension strategies, fine leather handbags, or exercise routines. Regardless of the field, or the tools used (e.g., Diigo, Pinterest, Learnist), I believe you are performing a valuable service online as you curate the web.
    creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by planeta
    One of the top tools I use, and use in my classes is Storify. Storify is a free online tool that scrapes social networks to find, collect, and share what people are saying all over the web.
    Please review the following video overview and tutorial on Storify. For a more detailed overview of the tool, please visit the Storify page on the Digital Texts and Tools repository.

    Pedagogical opportunities for Storify
    As detailed earlier, I use Storify in some of graduate level classes. I want my students to search and sift online texts, connect with other learners, and document their learning. I trust that they will be able to negotiate these online spaces without getting lost in some bad places. I also want them to learn in a networked space while respecting the challenges and opportunities of the open web. Students create Storify stories to document their learning over a module or block of content. They are to reflect during the process and guide the reader as they help identify what they have learned.creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Phil and Jo Schiffbauer
    I have also worked with secondary teachers as they use Storify to create their own stories to share with students. These stories are used as introductory activities to build prior knowledge, or closing activities to review in a unit. I recommend that teachers create and use Storify in secondary settings. If you want to have students use the tool to create a story, my recommendation is to have students curate and share content with the teacher using email or some other vehicle. Then the teacher can add this content to the class story.
    Finally, I recommend embedding the Storify stories in your website or classroom blog. Students can click through the links in Storify to get out to the various social networks. However, in my humble opinion, it is far better to have students review and use content that you have edited to your digital learning hub…as opposed to traipsing across the Internet looking for breadcrumbs that you have left behind.
    Cover creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by psd:
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  2. wiobyrne

    A part of the ORMS MOOC, we built a series of badges to act as gatekeepers and markers of identity within the community. The ORMS MOOC is a mentored, open, online learning community where we focus on opportunities to authentically and effectively embed technology into instruction. As part of this learning community, we wanted a way to build in assessments for each learning module that mimicked the literacies and technologies espoused in the MOOC. Also…we wanted a way to have learners in the community experiment with badges to see what value they had in their learning.
    What is a digital badge?
    Digital badges are visual representations of learner accomplishments. Unlike traditional scout badges or other credentials such as school grades or transcripts, digital badges can contain specific claims regarding what the learner learned or did and detailed evidence supporting those claims. For more information about digital badges…please review this post or this post.
    Digital badges and the ORMS MOOC
    For each learning module, we built in one digital badge at the end of each module. The thinking is that you will complete all of the activities for each module, and then apply for the badge to indicate that you have finished the work for that module.
    As an example, let’s take a look at the steps to complete the activities and apply for the digital badge as part of Module 1.
    Review all directives for the badge as detailed in the badge metadata on the badge page.
    Develop materials for a multimodal tutorial, you would use with your students. The template for the multimodal tutorial is available here. Examples of other multimodal tutorials are available here. I’ll have more info about the multimodal tutorial in a post next week. For now…start to consider a digital text or tool you would like your students to use.
    Share your multimodal tutorial and any relevant links in a blog post. You might also choose to list these materials on your classroom website or learning hub.
    You should share this point out to the Google+ Community and your favorite social networks and use the #ORMSMOOC and #ed6671 hashtags. You’ll also need to leave a link to your work in the ORMS MOOC Google Group.
    How to make this happen
    If you follow the four steps above, at this point you have a post on your blog or website where you share your work submission for the module. In this case…it’s a multimodal tutorial you would use with your students. You then request admission to this Google Group. Once you have been granted admission to the Group, you’ll share a post with the Group in which you indicate the badge that you’re applying for…in this case Module 1. You leave a little bit of text letting us know what you’re sharing…and paste in the link to your blog or website post. For more information on how to get around Google Groups click this link.
    After you share your work to the Google Group, your work will be reviewed by a mentor in the community, and you will receive feedback and possibly the badge. The badge and feedback will come to you from the Mozilla badges site. For the first module, it will be this page.
    Cover photo by Ben K Adams shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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