This past week, with limited time, I've built the website EdStimulus.org. Whatever your view is of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), it is important that the disbursed funds are spent on programs that deliver good long-term results. The goal of the site is to provide information and access to events, resources, and discussion areas relating to the educational portion of the the funds--and hopefully to help facilitate a dialog that will promote that good decision-making.
While the site is assuredly simple, I think it serves as a potential example for those interested in the use of Web 2.0 and collaborative Web technologies to help promote dialog by rapidly building topic-specific websites using social media tools. What follows is a description of how EdStimulus.org has been constructed. I am amazed at the significant abilities currently available with free and low-cost tools to coalesce resources and discussion around specific topics. Hopefully this information is interesting to some.
The site was created using the Web-based site creation program Weebly. Great for fast website prototyping, the program is free to use with some small advertising for their company in the footer, or in a very inexpensive upgraded form without the advertising and with some additional features. In either version, you are able to associate a domain name with the site for free. For student portfolio projects, this site is an undiscovered gem.
The "Home" tab includes some widgets, one of this is a Twitter box. I created a Twitter account for his project (http://www.twitter.com/edstimulus), and then I propose here the use of the specific tag "#edstimulus" to allow easy following and searching of posts in Twitter on the educational stimulus discussion. On my own Netvibes page, where I track many Twitter search phrases and can also post to my multiple Twitter accounts from one place, I added a widget to now track this code.
The "Events" tab uses an embedded Google calendar form to display upcoming events. Anyone with permission to access to this calendar can add events which will show up automatically on the site. The ability to request to hold an event is through Weebly's pre-structured integration with HourTown. This could also easily be accomplished with a Google form.
The "Discuss" tab also utilizes a pre-configured integration Weebly has established, this time with Nabble. While it's not necessarily our long-term plan to host conversation on this site, the features of Nabble are very impressive. Set up was easy, but the featureset is robust enough that I haven't even fully looked at all the options. I will certainly do so if there is enough dialog to warrant the attention. :)
The "Links" tab draws RSS feeds through standard Weebly elements placed on the page, with the feeds coming from the social bookmarking tool Diigo's "enhanced linkrolls" tool. While the bookmarking feature is just one part of Diigo's amazing repertoire, it's a very effective way to maintain a dynamic link list on a website with very little work. I've set up a news alert from Google on the phrase "education stimulus" to come to me once a day, and any relevant sites I find I can "bookmark" by right-clicking in my Firefox web browser and adding the appropriate description and tags (this requires loading the Diigo add-on for Firefox, which is easy). Depending on the tags I use, these items show up immediately in the lists on the website.
The "News" tab first takes an RSS feed from searching Twitter (http://search.twitter.com) for "edstimulus" and displays that. Then I've taken the same Google news alert RSS feed and placed it in an RSS element box on the page.
"Voices" is our blog tab. The blog is a Blogger blog at http://blog.edstimulus.org, so we link to that but there is also RSS feed element using the blog's feed to show the postings in reverse chronological order on the page. Clicking on one of them opens a new tab or window and takes you to that specific post.
The "Archive" tab also utilizes the same Diigo features, just drawing from a different tag set.
Any other ideas most welcome! One unique aspect of the site is that it allows you to schedule and hold, for free, live public web events using the Elluminate.com platform, which is a direct benefit of my working for Elluminate now. We've also been soliciting partner organizations to help provide events, information, promotion, or staff-time support for EdStimulus.org. The site is for informational purposes and the only financial interest associated with this project at this point is Elluminate allowing a portion of my time to work on it.