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 (wiobyrne.com). 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