Social Learning Tools: Bringing it Together on NetVibes

My last two posts showed how students’ course-related blogging can be gathered and shared by Yahoo Pipes, and how their course-related social bookmarking can be gathered and shared by Diigo. Today, I conclude by showing how these and other online student works can be “fed” to a central location using NetVibes.

NetVibes is an aggregating page, as is Google Reader or Bloglines. NetVibes allows the user to create public pages (visible to anyone) as well as private pages (visible only to the user). Within a page, the user may create multiple tabs to organize her feeds. Michael Wesch, who teaches anthropology at KSU, has an active NetVibes public page.(*) Here is the “Welcome” tab of my own public page in progress.

For a given course, I create one or more tabs: here is the tab for my course IPS-417. Remember the Yahoo Pipe that I talked about a few days back, the one that gathers course-related blogs entries from all of the students’ different blogs? With NetVibes, I have created a widget that shows the results of that Yahoo Pipe: you can see it in the upper left of my IPS-417 course tab (it’s named, “Blogging”). And remember that the students will all belong to a Diigo group that shares its course-related bookmarks with one another? I also have a NetVibes widget showing those Diigo bookmarks: it’s in the lower left of that IPS-417 course tab.

Since this is all done simply by gathering RSS feeds, it is easy to add other useful feeds to a NetVibes course tab. So, that IPS-417 tab that we’re looking at also has feeds from Twitter and from the course WetPaint Wiki. On Twitter, I will encourage students to use the hashtag #ips417 for their course-related tweets; using RSS, my NetVibes widget gathers those tweets (and only those tweets) into a single feed. Similarly, any changes made to our course wiki are “fed” to a widget in our NetVibes tab. This not only helps the students keep abreast of changes, it also helps me easily track which students are contributing and how much.

It’s all funneling: taking the things our students are doing all over the web, and directing them where they can be shared and assessed in one place. As Wesch has said, we are training “the machine” to bring the information to us. For me, this means that I am free to dissolve (or at least make permeable) the “firmaments” that enclose our CMS (Blackboard) and our classroom itself, allowing student collaboration to find a place in the overlapping spheres of public discourse that they are already using (or at least could be using).

Are your students (or you yourself, as a student) already collaborating online? Do you have other strategies for encouraging and managing online collaboration? What do you think of the possibilities, for bad or for good?

* I encourage educators and students alike to view Wesch’s hour-long address, “A Portal to Media Literacy.”

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