Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dynamic webpages generated by del.icio.us

Now that you have a del.icio.us account (see the previous post), you can create dynamic lists of links without having to do any web programming at all. In this blog post, I'll show how I use the del.icio.us tagging system to make sure the information I am giving to my students is up to date so that I can add new content every semester, without having to modify my webpages in any way.

Adding new content with del.icio.us each semester. Every semester in my Indian Epics class, my students choose from a list of approximately 30 broad topics. When they start brainstorming about the topic, I want them to read some notes from me (those notes do not change from semester to semester), and I also want them to look at any projects students have done on that topic in the past, up to and including the past semester (so that content does change, as new projects are added to the list each semester). I use del.icio.us in order to get the dynamic, changing content to the students without having to update my course webpage.

To see what I mean, take a look at the course webpage which has the instructions for the topic of love stories: Love Stories in the Indian Epics - Storybook Project Guidelines.

As you can see, my instructions consist of a list of relevant characters and stories from the book we will be reading in the class (static content). There is also this link to a del.icio.us page, sample Storybooks about love stories in the epics (dynamic content, evolving as I tag new projects for the archive):
http://del.icio.us/onlinecourselady/ie+storybook+archive+lovestories

If you click on that link, you will see it goes to a del.icio.us webpage, showing my links (the ones for user "OnlineCourseLady") which I have tagged with "IE" (Indian Epics, the name of the course), "storybook" (the name of the assignment), "archive" (indicating it is a completed project from a previous semester), and "lovestories" - the specific tag for this particular topic.

So, at the end of each semester, I just take a few minutes and tag the completed projects that I want to save for future reference in the archive. I don't have to update the webpages at all: the webpage at my course site can stay the same, and the del.icio.us webpage is generated automatically, based on what I have tagged.

Structured browsing, too! One of the things I like best about this del.icio.us system is that it encourages my students to prowl around in the specific web resources I have flagged for their attention. So, for example, when they reach this page with with love story links, they can also click the link that says "remove lovestories" in order to see all the Storybook projects I have archived for this course (currently about 80 projects, with a new 15-20 projects added every semester).

They can then get a quick overview of the other possible topics when they see the related tags that are now available, in other words, all the other tags associated with the group of "IE Storybook Archive" materials in my OnlineCourseLady account:


Who knows? A student might think they want to do love stories, but if they happen to notice that "avatars" link right there, sheer curiosity might lead them to click and to go down a different road on the (highly structured) map that del.icio.us creates for me online.

In short: I love del.icio.us! With these dynamic pages, generated automatically for me by del.icio.us, I can make sure that the course materials I have for my students are updated each semester... without my having to go through the tedious process of actually updating my course website. For any of you who maintain large websites for your courses, you know that being able to EASILY update your website is a big plus. Using these del.icio.us pages to manage my course content means it is very easy indeed for me to keep the content up to date - while also giving my students the freedom to maneuver through the resources based on their own interests and curiosity. :-)


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