March 7, 2020

BTBGuide: The Joys of the Sidebar

As I mentioned earlier in Advantages of Blogging, one of my favorite features of blogging is the sidebar. That makes me kind of old-school, I know; the advent of mobile-first blog design means the sidebar is not a prominent blog feature the way that it was back in the day. But at the same time, I am a huge fan of what the sidebar can add to the blog experience, and that's the topic for this post.

Over time, the contents of my Announcements sidebar have changed, and that's one of the fun things I do at the start of each semester, deciding what content to include. Below is an inventory of what I have in the sidebar for Spring 2020, and in separate posts I'll get into some of the technical details about the different kinds of sidebar content. Meanwhile... pop open the blog so you can see for yourself: Daily Announcements. Details below.

Random Mindset Cats. The mindset cats have been part of my course for years now. They are a big hit with students, which is why they're at the top of the sidebar. There are hundreds of cats in the randomizer, which means lots of different content popping up each time. Each cat links to a post in the separate Mindset blog.

Random Advice. This is something new! Last semester I gathered up heaps of student-to-student advice which students provide at the end of the semester to the students coming in the next semester. I used a kind of "post-it" style color scheme to pop up random student-to-student advice here, plus a link to the course calendar.

Recent Announcements. This is an RSS feed for announcements over the past five days so students can easily browse back through day by day if they want.

Subscribe by Email. Quite a few students subscribe to the announcements by email, and some of them stay subscribed after the semester is over, continuing to browse the announcements for fun after the class is over.

Spring Projects. As soon as the class projects I go, I create a Google Slideshow which plays automatically; all 90 students projects are in there now. I use a randomizer to change the order (I try to remember to do that every day, but at a minimum I re-randomize every week). Yes, it's tiny, but you can click and go to the project from here!

Random Storybook. This is a randomizer of student projects from past semesters. As with the slideshow, each one links to the actual project online.

Random Free Book. These are books from the Freebookapalooza blog; each image has a link to a post at that blog with a table of contents and more information about the book.

Random Videos. This is a randomizer with YouTube videos relevant to my classes; yes, it's tiny, but the video will play right there in the sidebar! There's also a link to see the video (and it will display as part of a playlist).

Random 100-Word Stories. This is something new! I've been trying out some new microfiction experiments in class (and the students are definitely into it!), so this widget displays a 100-word story, along with a link to a blog post where students can find out more about the story.

Twitter. This is my class Twitter, @OnlineMythIndia, which is separate from my personal Twitter @OnlineCrsLady. For the class Twitter, I retweet items relevant to the class content along with campus news.

Search This Blog. I added this search widget when a student made that suggestion in Suggestion Box. I had no idea students would want to search the blog, but at least one of them did. So now there is a search box. :-)

Suggestion Box. This is just a static widget with an image and a link to a Google Form where students can leave anonymous suggestions about the class. I don't get a lot of suggestions that way, but I do get some, and I also think it sends a good message just to have the Suggestion Box available. (I embed that same Suggestion Box form inside the Canvas course spaces also.)

So, that's what I have going on this semester. And next semester, who knows? It will mostly stay the same, but I will probably retire some features in order to make room for some new ones!

And there's one crucial thing to remember.........

Sidebar is extra. I always have to remind myself that the side is just something extra: something fun, stimulating, and useful too, but it is an extra that not all the students will see.

For example, students will also not see the sidebar content if they subscribe the blog via email or if they read the blog via an RSS reader.

In addition, Blogger automatically suppresses the sidebar in mobile view. You can see what mobile view looks like by adding ?m=1 to any blog address. For example, here is my blog homepage shown in mobile view:
And here's what a post looks like:
(Just add ?m=1 to any Blogger URL to simulate the mobile view.)

So, while most of my students are doing work for my classes using a laptop, I always make sure that they can get the essential information they need from the actual posts in the Announcements blog. The sidebar is there as a supplement, but it's definitely an extra; the essential content of the blog is always in the blog posts themselves.

Mobile view: