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

Web2.0 & Students with Disabilities

Many web2.0 sites have great potential for students with disabilities. Many of these sites help meet the concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a framework curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. Using multiple means of representation, multiple means of action & expression, and multiple means of engagement you can create lessons & curriculum that all learners can participate in. For more information visit the website.

Many web2.0 sites are great ways to meet UDL goals and many of these site are easily adapted for use by students with disabilities. Tar Heel Reader is a free, online book creator. The site has over 8,000 books on many topics. Many of these books have been written by students. Some features of Tar Heel Reader are integration with Flickr for photos and Text-to-Speech capabilities for completed books.

Voicethread, a site mentioned on this blog numerous times, is a great way for students to express themselves. I've used it to allow students with disabilities the opportunity to present, even if they have limited verbal skills. Using the record feature they can pre-record comments, then play them back to present their information. It's been a great tool to share what they know! Since other can leave comments too, it becomes an interactive tool, and what student doesn't love to have their parents, grandparents or friends comment on their work.

These are just a couple of examples of web2.0 sites that help meet UDL guidelines. If you are interested in more please check out my blog - Teaching All Students.


Patrick Black is a special education teacher in Mt. Prospect, IL. As a self described "Geek", he writes the blog Teaching All Students about integrating assistive technology and students with disabilities.

What is ISTE?

My name is Beth Still and I am so happy that Richard invited me to be a guest blogger while he is enjoying his vacation. I "met" Richard on Twitter about a year and a half ago. He was kind enough to be my test subject in a crazy experiment I had last year to use my PLN (personal learning network) to send a "newbie" to ISTE which is a national educational technology conference. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that I decided to do it again this year. This year, Jason Schrage, a teacher from New York is the ISTE10 Newbie.

The International Society for Technology in Education is the premier membership organization for helping promote professional development, innovation, and advancing the effective use of technology. More than 100,000 educators from around the globe are members. Membership ranges anywhere from $39-$212 depending on the benefits. Some of the benefits of membership include:

• “Leading and Learning with Technology” magazine
• Membership in any or all of the special interest groups (SIGS)
• 30% discount on ISTE books
• Discounted rates for professional development webinars and annual conference
Social Networking opportunities

The ISTE website has links to more information about advocacy, educator resources, careers, publications, professional development, and national technology standards. Some of this information is available to the general public while other areas are reserved for members only. There are also seventy-six ISTE affiliates from five countries.

As summer draws near you will start hearing people talk about the ISTE conference (formerly NECC-National Educational Computing Conference) which will be in Denver during the last week of June. During this conference thousands of educators converge on the host city to discuss anything and everything related to educational technology. (Click here to learn more about NECC 2009. ) This is a fantastic opportunity to learn, share, and meet some amazing people.

If you are planning on attending ISTE you might want to consider attending Edubloggercon on June 26. It is an all day event in which people discuss various educational issues. I missed Edubloggercon 2008 in San Antonio because I did not know about it, but I was able to attend last year in Washington DC. It is definitely worth spending an extra couple of nights away from home.

Guest Blogger Week

I'll be on vacation for the next four days and will not be online at all during that time. But don't worry, I have thirteen awesome guest bloggers lined-up for the next four days. They will each be sharing their experience using technology in the classroom, out of the classroom, and for personal professional development. Comments on their posts won't be moderated until Wednesday afternoon (EST). If you enjoy their posts, please take some time to check out their blogs.