Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bring a D2L Homepage to Life with a Twitter Widget

Thanks to an inquiry from Tassie Hirschfeld (OU Anthropology), I wanted to explain the way I use Twitter to share announcements and fun/useful stuff with my classes via a Twitter widget in my D2L homepage.

My Class Twitter Stream

So, first things first: my Twitter handle is @OnlineCrsLady and my class Twitter is @OnlineMythIndia. To get a sense of the kinds of content I share with my students, take a look through the class stream. Some days I share more than other days, but I usually have good stuff to share every day, and it takes only a few minutes. It's all about retweeting: I'm just sharing other people's Twitter content! I share lots of items related to the University of Oklahoma, and I also share artwork, music, and books from the Twitter feeds I follow with my class account.

So, how do students see the stream? A few of them follow the class stream at Twitter, but most of my students are not Twitter users (alas! I wish they were; we could have even more fun that way). Yet even though my students are not Twitter users, the students still see the Twitter class stream ... thanks to the power of Twitter widget. Twitter widgets allow you to share Twitter content (a stream, a hashtag, etc.) by displaying the Twitter content inside other websites. For example, you can see the Twitter widget for OnlineMythIndia in the sidebar here: Class Announcements blog.

Twitter Stream Inside D2L

Here's a screenshot of a course homepage in D2L. As you can see, I have some static text (important links) on the left, and the dynamic Twitter widget on the right. It changes all day long as I tweet and retweet:

This is so easy to do! Here's how it works:

Step One. Create a Twitter widget. Here are the instructions I share with my students. (Those instructions also explain how to add the Twitter widget to a Blogger blog, which is what my students do with their Twitter widgets.)

Step Two. Create a D2L Twitter Widget. To create a new D2L widget, click on Edit Course, and then choose Widgets. Click Create Widget and give your widget a name. Click on the Content tab to add the Twitter widget code you copied from the Twitter widget page. You need to switch to HTML mode by clicking on the <> icon in the lower right-hand corner, paste the Twitter widget code into the popup box, then save, and then save the widget. You can preview the widget to make sure it is working.
Update: For detailed instructions with lots of screenshots, see: D2L - Add A Twitter Feed.

Step Three. Add Twitter Widget to D2L Homepage. To add your widget to your D2L homepage, go to Edit Course, and then click Homepages. Next, click on your homepage to edit it, click Add Widgets, and then add the widget you created. Save your homepage, and your homepage is now alive with Twitter!

Reasons to Use Twitter for Class Content

For the rest of this post, I'll share some of the reasons why I love using Twitter for class announcements, along with some tips and strategies. My approach is admittedly idiosyncratic, having to do with the classes I teach and the kinds of online content that I enjoy... but, mutatis mutandis, some of the things that work for me would probably work for others too!

1. Fresh content. I can always find fresh new content all day, every day. I follow OU faculty and OU programs already (it's the main way I keep up with news at my school), and I find lots of tweets to share that way. It's also fun to keep an eye on the museums and other streams I follow with the class account; there's always something new worth sharing whenever I look. I am especially lucky because the courses I teach have a lot of overlap (Indian Epics can be considered a subset of Myth-Folklore), so that means I can use the same stream for both classes. Hence the name of the stream: OnlineMythIndia.

2. Lots of images. Images are good for the brain! My favorite Twitter content to share consists of images: paintings, posters, cartoons, etc. I ask my students to read and write a lot, but I also want them to see and enjoy all kinds of images. I especially like the clear, intriguing way that the image thumbnails are displayed in the Twitter widget; to me, the thumbnails are very attention-getting, and I hope they can be attention-getting for my students to.

3. Videos too! Twitter is very video-friendly! For example, when you include a YouTube video link in a tweet, there is an embedded player so that the video will play right there in the tweet. The video will even play right there inside D2L inside the embedded widget: no kidding! Here's a screenshot of Maati Baani's Funky Pawa... and you can listen for yourselves here at the tweet. It's hard to see in the screenshot but the video is playing: instant music!

(screenshot is from different homepage layout last year)

(I adore Maati Baani, and I actually had a Twitter back-and-forth with them this semester: I was so thrilled to be in touch with them virtually!!!) 

4. Easy to manage. Two accounts are easy to manage with two browsers. There are lots of tools out there for managing multiple Twitter accounts, but the trick that works best for me is to be logged in to my own Twitter account in Chrome, the browser I use almost all the time. Meanwhile, I am logged in to my class account with Firefox. To share a tweet I see in Chrome over in Firefox, I just copy-and-paste the URL of the tweet (click on the time-date stamp of the tweet to get the URL) into the Firefox browser bar, and then I can reshare the tweet.

5. Hashtags. I love hashtags! Searching by hashtags is a great way to find additional content, and it's also very useful to add hashtags to your own retweets. To do that, you need the Classic Retweet Extension (available for both Chrome and Firefox). It's called Classic Retweet because Twitter used to allow editing of retweets; it's kind of maddening that they took that great feature away, but Classic Retweet solves that problem!

6. Lists. Twitter lists are a great way to follow specific types of content. For example, as I mentioned above, I use lists to keep up with hundreds of OU faculty and programs. You can see the tips I give my students about Twitter lists here: Twitter lists.

7. Modeling digital literacy. I want to model digital literacy for students. Even though most of my students do not use Twitter, I am glad that they have seen someone using Twitter in a fun and effective way for professional and educational purposes. As a result, they know that it is possible to use Twitter this way!

8. Building online presence. Twitter is an important part of how I build my online presence. As someone who teaches fully online courses, I need an online presence that "shows" students who I am. The Twitter stream helps the students get to know me as they see the kinds of things I like and share.

9. Harvesting and archiving. Most Twitter content is ephemeral, but when I see Twitter content that I want to save for repeated use in the future, I save the tweet in the Pinterest Portfolio Board that I keep for each of my classes. To do that, I just open the tweet in its own window (right-mouse click on the time-date stamp to get the specific tweet as a URL), and then I pin the tweet. Here are my class Boards: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. I like the way that the Pinterest Boards are accessible to my students too. Not all my students use Pinterest, but far more of them use Pinterest than use Twitter!

10. Twitter is ... fun!!!!! Having fun is one of my main goals for teaching and learning online, and I think Twitter is so much fun! When I need to take just a quick break from work, Twitter is the perfect option. My main hangout online is Google+, but I can get seriously lost in there, writing long posts, getting involved in long discussions. The way I use Twitter is very different: ephemeral, fun, fast. It never takes up much of my time, but it manages to pack a lot of pleasure into that small amount of time!

So, those are some of my Twitter tips and tricks. Do you have any to share? Comment here at the blog or at Twitter (I'm @OnlineCrsLady). Twitter is so flexible and can be used in so many ways, and I keep learning new tips and tricks all the time! :-)


  1. Have you ever tried HootSuite for managing multiple accounts? I am starting to use it to manage my personal and CAS twitter -- I've not been a very good tweeter lately on that one!

  2. Yes, exactly! I use HootSuite when I am trying to follow several hashtags at once, like for a conference that is live-tweeted. For day to day, though, this two-browser solution works perfectly... so far (it's been a year or so that I've been doing this), I haven't tweeted something on the wrong account (yet!) since the two browsers LOOK so different.
    I had not made a D2L homepage widget recently since I started using the blog as the landing page, but that interface sure is nice and easy now. It would be so cool if faculty all did custom widgets like that. I saw there are lots of canned OU widgets to choose from now too!


If the comment form misbehaves, you can also find me at Twitter: @OnlineCrsLady.