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Creating Your Own Collections: Connexions

blendedlearning's picture

The wealth of available educational resources can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Sites which currate these resources all have some built-in mechanism for sorting -- by subject matter, level of difficulty, source, etc. However, these pre-packaged collections are no replacement for currating your own prefered resources and materials into sets that correspond to your interests and courses. This series of posts will provide tutorials on how to create your own collections from sites which offer currated resource lists. While collections in MERLOT are formatted to work as a repository of related links, collections in Connexions are intended to cohere into something like a textbook – the modules are grouped together in a defined order, and can even be exported to PDFs that can be read through much like a traditional textbook would be. Much like an ebook, when viewed online the pages are arranged sequentially with a table of contents.

In order to create collections, you first need to register an account. The account is free and the information required to register is minimal, though you do need a valid email address since the account is useless until you activate it through their activation email and create a password. Once you create an account, you will find yourself at MyCNX Home, where one of the options listed under “Create and edit content” is “Create a new collection.”

Selecting this option will immediately take you to a license agreement. Connexions works by mandating that all content on the site falls under a Creative Commons Attribution License. For someone creating a collection, what this really means is that other users are free to browse, use, and alter your collection for their own purposes so long as you get credit for your contribution. Since we won’t be creating any of the materials in our collection, you probably will encounter no problems with agreeing to these terms. However, just in case, feel free to review the Attribution License and make sure you are comfortable with the terms Connexions lays out. If you do, simply click the box and select Next and continue on to the “New collection: Metadata” page.

Most of this metadata is straightforward, though the box labeled “Location” may be a little mysterious, since the phrase “Select an area in which to work on your content” is not particularly illuminating. The default selection is “Personal Workspace,” which is probably the right choice for you. If you’re part of a Workgroup that’s collaborating on a project, this section gives you the option to work collaboratively on a collection. However, since I will be making this test collection on my own, we can leave Personal Workspace as the Location. For the title, I use “Intro to Sociology.” There is an option to add a “Collection Subtype” to specify what the collection will be used for – course, manual, thesis, etc. For this particular collection, I’ll select “Course.” The “Keywords,” as the section description explains, are not displayed with the content but rather will define the search terms which describe the collection. For the Summary, I will describe the collection as “a collection of materials relating to/for use in a college-level introductory class about the study of sociology and sociological theory.”

The resulting screen has a few interesting tabs. The tab which is automatically selected is “Contents,” which currently shows that there is no content currently in the selection and offers some rudimentary instructions for adding content. We’ll return to that momentarily, but first let’s consider the other tabs.

The Metadata tab essentially returns us to the screen we just came from and gives me the option to edit the metadata we’d already entered. The Roles tab shows which users are currently involved in the collection, and allows me to add other authors, maintainers, copyright holders and, if I want, translators. It also gives me the option to search Connexions for new collaborators. The most interesting tab, however, is the Parameters tab, which shows you exactly how analogous a collection can be to a print book. The options focus on font, notation, and stylistic choices. Essentially, they allow users to define the appearance of their “book.” The Export, Preview, and Publish tabs won’t be useful to us until we’ve got a collection to export, preview, or publish, so let’s return to the Contents tab.

Clicking “Add modules” causes a dialogue box to pop up giving us the option to run a basic search of the Content Commons. For now, I will simply search “sociology” and see what we get. Even just looking at the first page of results, it looks like the majority of our results may be redundant.

Unfortunately, these kinds of results seem pretty typical with Connexions – either repetition or irrelevance plagues a huge number of search results – so you should be prepared to do some sifting in order to find the material you really want. This particular search looks like it might’ve turned up some options we want to consider, such as “The History of Sociology.” Let’s assume we want to consider it for our collection. To add it, just check the box next to the module and then the “Add selected content” button just below the search bar. The newly added module will now appear as part of the collection.

Let’s find a few more modules for this collection using the same process. First, we’ll add “Theoretical Perspectives.” Since two of our modules are from OpenStax College, let’s look for something from another author. OpenStax seems to dominate the subject, but there are a number of modules from author Ruth Dunn concerning Minority Studies in Sociology. The module “General Reading List: Free, Online Books” seems like it could be a good resource for further reading, so let’s add that as well.

Now that we’ve added those three modules, we have the beginning of a collection. Let’s go ahead and move to the “Preview” tab where we can see all of the modules arranged in order and scroll through them. Technically, we cannot yet “Publish” the module – first we need to submit the model to be reviewed, to make sure that it meets the minimum standards for publication. Fortunately, for our purposes the Preview tab does just as well.

One of the benefits of this view is the sidebar at left featuring “Related Material,” which provides a list of other collections using the same modules we use. This gives us a list of other introductory sociological collections to peruse, and perhaps to find other resources we missed.