Course Hub Pages with Inoreader

In preparation for DML2015 in June (and June is soon!), I did a massive redesign and clean-up of some course hub pages. Admitted, these course hub pages are really not something I use or that my students use (which is why I had neglected the pages; the students and I both have other ways of intersecting with the course — more on that later), but it is definitely something I need in order to try to give visitors a sense of how the courses work, and I am now thinking it might also be useful for the students at the very beginning of the semester for a kind of overview also!

You can see the results here:

The idea is that these pages provide you with a basic overview of the courses. The main course hub page for each course shows the blog post feed in the left panel and a list of useful links in the right panel:

In addition to the all-posts feed you see there, I created some additional pages showing the blog comments feed, along with some specific types of posts for the classes: Reading Diary posts, Storytelling posts, along with their "Famous Last Words" posts (a free-form option for blogging about whatever). There are actually lots of other types of blog posts that the students are writing, but those are the main categories. During the semester, the feeds are full of new content every day, but now that the semester is over, it all feels very frozen in time. I'll be excited when the new semester starts up again in the fall, and the feeds come back to life!

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Aggregated Hub

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of how you "re-present" a network of independent blogs. By using an aggregator, you can get all the latest posts and their content, which is great, but you lose the distinctive personality of each blog. For example, in the screenshot above, here is that that student's blog post looks like in its natural setting:

To make those person-to-person connections, the students need to engage with the blogs directly (more on that later), rather than accessing the course through an aggregator: the blogs provide personal spaces that allow them to interact with one another as individuals, above and beyond the content of a specific post or comment. When you are at someone's blog, you can read their introduction post, look at their other writing, see what they have put in the blog sidebar, etc. etc. You are "in their world" when you visit their blog; the aggregator is just a gateway to get you to where you really need to go, and the aggregator is also essential for me to interact with the class overall (more on that later).

To see just how varied the blogs are, you can click on any post title in the post display area and go straight to that person's blog. They are all so different! You can also visit the blog list for each class and click to access the blogs that way.

Inoreader HTML Clippings

As you can see, the course hub pages are insanely simple: just a a feed display panel on the left, and some links on the right. I built the feed display panels using the magic of Inoreader's "HTML clippings" view. The customizable clippings view that I use is a premium feature (part of the $30/year package), but you can get the same effect by using the standard clipping presentation and adjusting your webpage design accordingly.

To start with, as students join the class and make a blog, I use Inoreader to subscribe to their blog post feed and also to their blog comments feed. I put the post feeds and comment feeds into folders in Inoreader, and I also configure Inoreader to automatically assign tags to incoming posts based on keywords. The rules are also a premium feature, but it would also be possible to do this by manually assigning the tags and/or subscribing to the label-specific RSS feeds for the students' blog and then putting those label-based feeds in a folder.

So, after you have your folders and tags chugging along, you can then syndicate that content publicly via RSS, HTML Clippings, or an OPML file. I used the HTML Clippings option to create the different pages in the course hub, showing either all the posts for a course (those are blogs in a folder) or all the posts for a specific course assignment. Here's how you syndicate a specific folder or tag:

First, right-mouse click on a folder or tag in the sidebar, and then choose "View Folder Information" (or "View Tag Information").

You will then see a screen that allows you to turn sharing on or off, and also to access the RSS, HTML, or OPML data for that folder (or tag):
If you choose the HTML Clip option, you will then see the various options you can use to configure the display, along with an http link that you can use or an iframe option you can use to insert the display inside another webpage, which is what I did for my course hub pages that are linked above:

That's all there is to it! There are a lot of things I like about Inoreader, and this easy way of sharing curated content is one of my favorites. For another application of this same approach, see my homepage at The feed on that page is what I call my "omnifeed," since it combines content from my blogs, plus my two Twitter accounts, and also my Google+ posts, thanks to Inoreader's great Twitter and Google+ integration. Whoo-hoo! :-)


Yep, I made a screencast; it is for our DML2015 presentation support site. Maybe it will be useful: Laura Loves RSS.

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