How to use KNIT in your teaching to foster collaboration and digital literacy in students

Implementing blogs in your course activities can be a great way to cultivate lively intellectual exchange between students. Many educators find that requiring weekly reading reflections on course blogs helps prepare students for classroom discussion and formal writing assignments. Course blogs also introduce students to valuable digital literacy skills that can be useful for academic projects and professional pursuits later on. Be warned, however: you may also find yourself enjoying student reflections a good bit more than you’re used to!

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through the steps of getting a basic course site up and running on KNIT. I’m going to keep the options narrow so that you can get a feel for how KNIT works. Don’t worry if it seems overwhelming — you’ll soon get accustomed to its logic. Once you’ve mastered these steps (which should take less than ten minutes), you can customize the site to your heart’s content!

How to use a site in the course

There are endless ways to integrate a website into your course plan, but even a simple site for weekly discussion posts can help lend an air of conviviality that other digital spaces don’t always achieve. On KNIT, you can custom design the look and feel of your site, post multimedia, and decide whether it’s private or public. What’s more, on KNIT, students will have access to the content long after the duration of the course as well as the resources to go off and build their own sites. For an example of the degree of thoughtfulness and enthusiasm that can be generated in these online student spaces, check out the blog Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric Amanda Licastro set up for her course at Stevenson University. Equally exciting is the opportunity to use blogs for final projects, such as exemplified by the wonderful digital projects produced by students in Danica Savonick’s course at Queens College.

As it can be easy to get overwhelmed by options, I recommend that instructors new to this practice create a private blog for students to post short weekly reflections on course material. This approach is often easy to integrate into an existing curriculum.  I also encourage requiring students to comment on their peers’ reflections at least a few times per term. Often a minor requirement is enough to get the discussion rolling on its own!

Get started by creating a KNIT group and a KNIT site:

Groups and sites are two independent features of KNIT, but they work together in useful ways. It’s important to set up a KNIT group as it will help you manage student access and permissions to the course site. KNIT groups also provide a discussion forum feature that you may find useful for enabling students to easily share information and questions with one another. 

  1. Navigate to this page and click on the yellow button that says “Create a group.”
  2. Add a group title and description in Step 1. Click the yellow button “Create group and continue.”
  3. Select the option “This is a private group” in Step 2 and then click the yellow button “Next Step.”
  4. Select the option “Enable group blog” and “Create New Blog.”
  5. In the blog title field, give your site a title, such as the full title of the course! The site title can be changed in the future.
  6. In the blog address field, create your site URL. You may choose to create a URL name that relates to your course such as knit.ucsd.edu/COURSENAME. Feel free to use underscore or dashes for clarity and don’t be afraid to abbreviate! You may also want to add information related to the term in case you create another site for the same course in the future. The URL cannot be changed in the future. Write this URL down so that you can navigate to it later.
  7. Click on your preferred privacy settings. When I’m building websites, I typically select “VISIBLE ONLY TO ADMINISTRATORS OF THIS SITE.”  (You can change this later by navigating to “Settings/Reading” in the dashboard.)
  8. Under “Member options,” click “Enable member posting” and keep the rest of the settings as they are. Click the yellow button “Next Steps.”
  9. In the next window, select the option “Yes, I want this group to have a forum.” Click the yellow button “Next Steps.”
  10. In the next window, unselect the “Docs” options unless you want to explore it. It’s a fun feature, but we don’t have time to get into it now. Click the yellow button “Next Steps.”
  11. In the next window, add photo if you like. Click the yellow button “Next Steps” until you reach the end of the process. These other options don’t matter to us.
  12. Congratulations! You have a KNIT group and site! Copy the URL of your KNIT group. It should look like this: “https://knit.ucsd.edu/groups/YOUR-GROUP-NAME.”

Designing your site on KNIT:

Creating your home page:

  1. Navigate to the URL of the site you just created.
  2. Navigate to the top menu bar and hover on “+New.” Click on “Post,” the first menu option down.
  3. In the next window, create a post to welcome students to your course site. Make sure to include a title. Click on the blue button “Publish” in the upper right corner to publish the post. Hooray! Now your post is on the homepage of the site. This is how your students will also post to the course blog.
  4. Now let’s create a “page” for your syllabus. Navigate to the top menu bar and hover on “+New,” but this time click on “Page.” In the next window, copy and paste your syllabus. You may have to fiddle with the formatting. Once you’re done, click “Publish.”
  5. Hooray! Now you have your syllabus published. You can make more pages using the same process. In the next session, I’ll show you how to make your pages show up in the navigation menu.

The navigation menu (optional)

  1. A  menu helps users navigate through your site. To create a menu, make sure you are first in the dashboard of your site. You can navigate to the dashboard by navigating to the top menu bar, hovering over the title of your site, and clicking “Edit site.”
  2. Once in the dashboard, hover over “Appearance” in the left-hand menu. Click on “menu,” and then click “add a menu.”
  3. Name your menu something like “first menu.”
  4. Click “primary menu” as your menu location. Then click “add items.”
  5. Click on the pages you want to add to your menu. You can create more menu items here in the future.

The side bar (optional)

  1. The sidebar allows you to add content like “recent posts” or “recent comments” or simply text about the content of your course.
  2. To change the content in the sidebar, hover over “Appearance” again and click on “Widgets.”
  3. In the new window, there will be a white box on the right titled “Sidebar.” Those little text boxes (that say “Search,” “Recent posts,” etc) in the white box represent the widgets that are currently populating your sidebar. Click on them and see what happens.
  4. To remove them, drag them outside of the white box. To add new widgets, drag inactive widgets on the left into the white box. Look at all the options! Feel free to explore them and see what happens.

Inviting students to the KNIT group and blog

  1. Find the URL of your KNIT group, not site. Remember, it should look like this: “https://knit.ucsd.edu/groups/YOUR-GROUP-NAME.”
  2. Email your students instructing them to request access to the group. They can do this by logging into KNIT using their active directory credentials, navigating to the group URL, and clicking the button that says “request membership.”
  3. You will receive a notification asking to approve their request. Once you’ve approved their request, they will be able to post to the blog and the discussion forum. Unfortunately, this process can be unwieldy for large courses, but not impossible especially with the help of Teaching Assistants. We are working on automating this process in the future.

Hooray! You now have a KNIT group and website up and running. To read more about customizing your website, go here. To read more about using groups, go here. If you want more information about using these tools for teaching or other academic activities, contact Erin Glass at erglass@ucsd.edu.

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