Lots of teachers are starting to wonder how to create an online presence for their courses. Teachers want to be able to create websites for students and parents to access at home.
There are several options for teachers to create class websites:
- Your school board may offer website template pages that you can modify and tweak.
- WordPress is a great content management system (CMS) that lets you create class sites and student blogs where teachers and students can post content and visitors can reply in the form of questions or comments. You can use a service like WordPress.com, Edublogs.org, or Educircles.org to get your class website up and running (or, if you’re tech savvy, you can install the free WordPress software on your own web host.)
- Blogger is a blog publishing service operated by Google (and will apparently be renamed as Google blogs.)
- Wikispaces is a service that lets teachers create educational wikis for their students. (Think Wikipedia for the classroom.) They still provide free upgrades to any wiki that is used exclusively for educational purposes. The sign up link can be found here.
And then, there’s Google sites.
Google sites is part of Google apps – a free collection of cloud-based productivity software. (Think Google’s version of Microsoft office in the cloud.)
- Here are 5 reasons why you should consider using Google sites for your class website:
- 5. It’s by Google. (I guess this could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how you feel about Google.) Google is huge.
- 4. It’s so easy to embed Google docs, Google presentations, Picassa web slideshows, YouTube videos, and other content onto your class Google site.
- 3. Google Sites is part of Google Apps for Education, and Google Apps for Education is free
- 2. If you have multiple teachers or students editing a class website, then you’ll be happy to know that Google sites does an excellent job of tracking recent site activity
- 1. Google sites has a variety of professional looking website templates that you can use for your class website.
- Before you invest a lot of time creating your class website using Google sites, you need to be aware of a limitation in the way that Google sites handles student users.
5. It’s by Google. (I guess this could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how you feel about Google.) Google is huge.
How many engineers do they have working behind the scenes to keep their services up and running? How many servers and how many data centers do they have set up to provide users with a fast experience? Class websites created using Google sites are probably a little more stable and robust than class websites created by tech savvy teachers who have installed WordPress on a shared web host plan.
Of course, there are days when Google docs or Google apps or Google sites seems to lag and crawl, but all things being equal, Google has more resources to keep your class website up and running smoothly and quickly.
4. It’s so easy to embed Google docs, Google presentations, Picassa web slideshows, YouTube videos, and other content onto your class Google site.
If you have a class website, then you know that in order to include a YouTube video or a Google calendar on your class website, then you need to copy and paste some HTML code onto your website. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t work on all websites. For example, the free hosted WordPress.com blogs doesn’t let you insert iframe code. This means that you cannot include a Google calendar on your class website if you use the free WordPress.com – you need to run a self hosted WordPress blog in order to do this.)
On the other hand, if you use Google sites to create your class website, when you are editing a post or page, you simply click insert to see a list of items that you can insert into your Google site. For example, AdSense widgets, a Google calendar, a Google chart, a Google doc, a Google map, a Picassa photo, a YouTube or Google video. If you click on more gadgets, you can also see third-party apps that you can embed as well.
If you use Google apps in the classroom, then using a Google sites website is probably the easiest way for you to share your Google Docs or Google presentations with the world.
(That’s a lot of Google to say at once.)
3. Google Sites is part of Google Apps for Education, and Google Apps for Education is free
If you’re a K-12 school, you can create a free (and advertising free) environment for your staff and students.
You can create over 1500 accounts just by uploading a CSV file with usernames and passwords. (Compare that with wikispaces where you can only create up to 100 accounts the time with their user creator tool.)
You have complete control over your student accounts – you can reset passwords, suspend passwords, all from the Google apps control panel. (Compare that with wikispaces where you need to e-mail their help desk to reset passwords.)
Google servers are powerful enough to have all of your students login and work on your class sites at same time. (Compare that with a class website running WordPress on a shared web host plan. Some web hosts will intentionally slow down your class site if too many people try to work on at the same time.)
You have complete control over which Google services are available to your students. For example, you can turn off Gmail if you don’t want to supply your students with the school e-mail address. Or, you can leave Gmail on, but add some filtering rules to protect students from receiving mail from outside sources.
(Here are 10 other reasons choose Google apps for education.)
2. If you have multiple teachers or students editing a class website, then you’ll be happy to know that Google sites does an excellent job of tracking recent site activity
You can see a list in chronological order showing when people are creating pages, editing content, moving pages, etc. You can even subscribe to say changes to get notified when changes are made to the site. That way, if you run a class website, you can keep track of any unauthorized changes. If you let your students create student blogs, then you can also be notified when someone posts something new online.
1. Google sites has a variety of professional looking website templates that you can use for your class website.
They have created a Google sites template gallery that includes a classroom template, a restaurant template, the project wiki template, and more. You can see some of their templates here, including some tips on how to use and modify them.
It’s also relatively easy to switch between templates.
- From your Google site, you simply click on manage site, and then at the bottom. Click on themes to show a list of options.
- If you click on the “browse more themes” menu you can choose from a variety of public site templates.
- This is the easiest way to create a pretty looking Google site. (So many teachers use the basic themes instead of these template themes, and really their sites are. very basic looking.)
Before you invest a lot of time creating your class website using Google sites, you need to be aware of a limitation in the way that Google sites handles student users.
For example, right now (Oct 2011), you cannot create a website using Google sites where visitors can easily leave a comment at the bottom of the post. This has to do with the way that Google sites handles user privileges.
When you give a user (for example, a student) access to your class website, you have a few sharing options:
- You can make that user the owner of your website (and give them the power to delete your website.)
- You can allow that user “to edit” your website, which means that they can add or edit any posts as well as create or edit any comments on your website.
- Finally, you can allow that user “to view” your website, which means they can access a private class website but not edit any of the content (or leave any comments.)
One problem is that Google sites doesn’t have an option that lets registered users or anonymous visitors leave comments on your site. (Students will need the “to edit” privilege in order to add a comment, but this will also give them the power to edit teacher created content as well. Chances are, you don’t want your students changing your assignment or vandalizing your website.)
The second problem is that Google sites doesn’t give us an option for teachers to moderate or approved student content before it goes live on the website. If students have the “to edit” privilege, then they can publish any content to your class website (with or without your permission.)
You’ll need to use something like Blogger or WordPress if you want a wider range of user permissions. For example, class websites powered by WordPress have five basic user levels:
- An administrator level which can do everything.
- An editor level, which allows users to publish content to the website and edit other people’s content. (Editors can also moderate comments and publish them to the website.)
- An author level which allows users to publish and edit their own posts.
- A contributor level which allows users to create posts and submit them for review, (but an editor or administrator needs to approve them before they will become published online.)
- Finally, a subscriber level which is someone who can simply view the website
How do you use Google sites in the classroom?
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