As I explained in yesterday's blog post, my online course starts officially on January 14, but the early bird students are already getting a head start. Meanwhile, I am busy decorating my virtual classroom walls! College classroom walls are notoriously bare because they are transient places, usually without any kind of soul. I love the way high school and elementary school classrooms are often plastered from floor to ceiling with stimulating decorations (when I taught high school, I covered a wall with pictures from National Geographic magazine - it was the story wall, and students used the images as prompts for storytelling). Well in my college classroom online, I can achieve the same effect, covering the virtual walls of my classroom with all kinds of cool stuff. I do this by taking full advantage of the "widgets" option in Desire2Learn (about the only thing I am really enthusiastic about in Desire2Learn). Click on this image for a full-size view of my D2L homepage in Indian Epics:

The idea is that when students "arrive" for class (and most of them log on to the Desire2Learn website at least once every day), they are greeted with new stuff - either things that display at random, or things that are displayed for that particular day of the calendar. It's all DYNAMIC and AUTOMATIC - once I get it set up, I don't do a thing to alter the content - new stuff is there all the time, but I am off busy doing other teacherly things, not messing with the D2L homepage in any way. Once I am done decorating (I think I am done, as of today!), I don't have to do a thing for the rest of the semester.
Here's a quick listing of the materials in the three columns, and the tools I used to create them:

Left Column:

Progress Meter: Custom made for the start and end dates of the current semester, created with Rotating Content: Progress Meter tool.

Holiday Calendar: Holidays, both religious and secular, observed around the world on today's date. You can get this script at SchoolhouseWidgets.com.

South Asian Calendar: Important events, personalities and places in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.) - helping students make the connection between ancient India, which we are studying in this class, and India today. You can get this script at SchoolhouseWidgets.com.

New Delhi Clock: See what time it is in New Delhi, India. You can create your own custom clocks, highly configurable, at TimeandDate.com.

Technology History: A calendar of events in the history of technology, day by day. You can get this script at SchoolhouseWidgets.com.

Cool Tools: Free online tools, displayed at random, to introduce students to the wonderful world of web2.0. You can get this script at SchoolhouseWidgets.com.

Center Column:

Deadlines: This displays the upcoming deadlines for class assignments, day by day. Since all the due dates are established at the beginning of the semester, I build the script and just let it run (script built as date-based content at RotateContent.com).

Study Tips: This is a custom list of study tips, displayed at random, to help my students succeed in this class. You can create your own random study tips list using the great tool at RotateContent.com.

Announcements: I post the announcement in my blog, and then use Feed2JS.org to automatically re-display the announcements at the course website, with one week's worth of announcements available here in Desire2Learn.

Right Column:

Random Bumper Sticker: I love InternetBumperStickers.com. I used the RotateContent.com tool to build a random selection of 100 of my favorite bumper stickers. There's a link to the IBS site so that my students will hopefully be inspired to put bumper stickers in their blogs and websites for class.

Hindu Myth: This is a random widget of Hindu gods and goddesses, built especially for this class. Interested? You can get this script at SchoolhouseWidgets.com.

University Libraries: This is a school-wide widget which any instructor can add to their course, built by the FABULOUS guys at our library. So far, the library is the only institution on campus which has taken advantage of the great widget functionality of Desire2Learn. Librarians rock!

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Comment by Anne Mirtschin on January 5, 2008 at 2:11pm
wow, this is great. Thanks for sharing. I have put some widgets on our site but will look at some of the others that you have suggested. Thanks
Comment by Laura Gibbs on January 5, 2008 at 2:42pm
Hi Anne, I am a big fan of widgets and automated content, because now, at the beginning of the semester, I have time to set things up all nice and pretty... then, when things get crazy later in the semester and I barely have time to think, the fresh content is still popping up, thanks to the dynamic widgets! :-)
Comment by Anne Mirtschin on January 5, 2008 at 9:44pm
I have just been given 20 professional devleopment days leave to work out how to lay the eplanks in a virtual classroom. (ie trying to get our whole school more into web 2.0) And I just love the ideas of decorating the walls as well. It has given me quite a few ideas.
Comment by Kathy Epps on January 6, 2008 at 4:15am
I teach ICT in a primary school, so my online presence is extension material. I maintain a few blogs with resources for the students, families and teachers, one of which I've called "Virtual Windows" http://pypict2.blogspot.com/" - for all those neat things I'd like them to see, but that don't really fit into the category of "resources". A paper sign, hanging in my real hall window lets people know about the site.
Comment by Laura Gibbs on January 6, 2008 at 10:16am
Hi Kathy, that's great - I love the tag line for your blog about "if only you could embed HTML in wood" (and Anne mentioned "eplanks" for the virtual classroom) - I am fascinated by all the metaphors we use for web PAGES, WINDOWS, etc. etc. to come to terms with the way the computer world is "like" our world, but also different. In primary school, people can decorate their classrooms - in colleges, professors decorate their offices sometimes, but not a lot of students never even visit their professors' offices, so all they see are the bare bare bare classroom walls, since the classrooms don't belong to anybody in particular. :-)

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