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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weblist: Create a Visual Gallery of Your Collected Sites




While Richard is off in Maine, drilling down into the ice and fishing for rejuvenation, I'm delighted to step in for a visit to introduce one of my favorite new tools, weblist.

When I taught in the classroom, sending students to the internet to explore websites often was a hit-or-miss exercise that ended in a chaotic mishmash. A few students stayed on target and found pertinent sites that focused on the lesson topics, but too many poor souls were dragged out to open seas in the web undertow, drifting without destination.

When I wanted to guide students to target relevant information for a lesson, I learned to use weblists to narrow their focus-- collections of preselected links -- to prevent them from wildcard roaming. I used delicious or diigo tags to create these lists, and these tools work well, but now I've stumbled upon an aggregator application that presents weblists in a visual mode, packaged ideally for student browsing. This app offers visual appeal via thumbnail browsing without many opportunities for getting lost at sea.



Still in Beta, Weblist is easy to use, although it has a few minor glitches that are being worked out (for example, as of this writing, the pages cannot be reordered and sometimes appear crazily out of order when uploaded as multiple files). The developer has responded to almost all of my feedback and/or requests for help, so I'm hopeful that these glitches will be worked out soon. To the developer's credit, I've noticed that improvements are being added continually. Its initial bugs do not prevent Weblist from being used as a lesson resource -- it still offers a handy, appealing container for collections of websites. One of my favorite features of Weblist is its attractive presentation of sites as thumbnails:


A user can click on a thumbnail to open the site, after which the navigation bar at the top of the page allows single-page viewing. From there, a viewer can use the navigation tools at the top of the page to continue to the next page or revisit previous pages -- or return to the thumbnail overview of all pages.


One notable feature of the interface is that single page views do not open sites in a new window, so the URL remains fixed to Weblist's URL. Users can browse the pages within the spotlighted webpage, but they cannot jump to sites outside of Weblist. This can be frustrating if a user wants to go to one of the sites (to bookmark it, for example) -- but on the other hand, this is ideal for classroom use because it keeps students connected to "home base" and minimizes distractions. When students are researching or exploring websites and need the URLs for citations, they can find the individual URLs by clicking on the "List Info" button at the bottom of the thumbnail page:


For examples of Weblist in action, take a look at some of my galleries:
  • Vocabulary Gallery, which presents a collection of sites students may use for exploring words and interacting with vocabulary.
  • Valentine Cards, which is my personal collection of sites about the history and art of valentines. This gallery currently exhibits the glitch of unordered pages -- an annoyance, but not really a deal-breaker for me. The only time this would bother me is when I want students to progress through sites in a sequential manner and can't get the sites in order.
  • Romeo and Juliet, which I will use to provide resources for students studying Shakespeare for the first time. Notice that occasionally, thumbnails will be blank although they are still active links. Sometimes they fill in after a few days when webcrawlers pull in all the information from the site.
Now that I design online courses rather than teaching in the classroom, I find tools like Weblist even more valuable for scaffolding and guiding students to keep them on track, while still allowing them a range of freedom to browse and choose. When I can't look over their shoulder, I can be sure the selection of sites is relevant.

Consider using Weblist in a webquest you design, use it simply to corral your harvested websites about a topic -- or better yet, challenge your students to create a weblist of their own about a topic they are studying!

--Sharon Elin
http://www.edutwist.com/elin

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