Using Google Sites in School

Posted on December 26th, 2008 in VLE | 8 Comments »

We’ve recently created accounts for every student at Google apps for education. We registered a new domain for this at www.rickyschool.com . This provides e-mail, google docs, google start page, google calendar and google sites for all users. I’m still not 100% sure what it will be used for long term but I am convinced there are so many potential applications. Tom Barrett’s blog gives many of his examples of use and I’m sure few of these were thought of by the developers or even by Tom when he first started.

My first week with google sites has been rather inspiring. It’s a nifty and simple tool for building websites. It’s so easy to use and it’s got loads of features built in. It has plenty of great, pretty, ready made templates (all fully customisable). It also makes it really easy to embed google docs, youtube videos and loads of other widgets. Apart from ease of use it’s also collaborative. If you have a school wide google apps setup, pages are by default editable by all users (though it’s very easy to turn this off). There are four great ways I can envision google sites being used for schools.

  1. For students to create great looking websites for school projects.

  2. For students to work collaboratively on school projects.

  3. For students to create their own personal online spaces.

  4. For students to have online eportfolios of work.

Though google sites is a potentially great and simple solution to creating eportfolios (there is a ready made template available when a new page is created called “filing cabinet” for placing files in) I am most excited about number 3. It’s my ‘dream’ to have a VLE that is customisable and editable by students. Sadly this is very hard to achieve as most VLEs are teacher run and allowing students to run their own personal spaces individually can be very tricky to set up. (Though I have seen some commercial VLEs that allow this although not without problems). Google sites let students create sites about whatever they want and when a site is created a user can label the page with one or more categories. When users view a list of all sites they see a list of all categories and can choose ones they are interested in. Though we’ll have to train students to use sites sensibly and monitor any problems this could be the online student space I have been looking for.

Google sites, lots of potential for teaching and learning but even more potential for students creating their own content and personal space.

To see a little more about google sites take a look at this short screencast introduction I made earlier.

Update: Thanks for the comments- Lisa Thumann put a link to this useful presentation

 

.

There are three things that I ask students to do when they first log onto our VLE at Rickypedia.

1. Change their password
2. Fill in the profile information (see previous post on customising profile feeds)
3. Create an avatar (an online picture representing them)

The instructions I use for students are publicly available here. Feel free to borrow them and if you improve on them (not hard to do) then let me know so I can borrow yours!

I got some of the ideas for creating avatars from Ian Usher’s blog post on the same subject – it’s well worth reading and discusses online identity forming and whether to allow students to post their pictures as avatars. I told students not to use pictures but a few didn’t follow instructions and I’m still undecided what to do about it!

There are hundreds of websites available for creating avatars, just search and you’ll find plenty on the web. You’ll also find that your students know plenty of places already that they have already used for their Myspace and Bebo profiles.

If you’re a moodle user and an admin on your site you can see a great display of user profile pictures by visiting http://www.yourmoodlesite.org/userpix/ Click the picture below to see what my students look like.

student avatars

Setting up custom fields on users’ personal profile is really easy. The standard fields in a moodle install are things like skype, msn, icq, e-mail, website. I felt a bit uneasy about encouraging students to put in all of those personal details which I or the school could have no control over, particularly personal websites which may contain personal pictures. So I hid all of those fields (apart from e-mail as an e-mail address is very important for teacher student communication and students can choose for it to be private). Instead I included fields for “favourite music”, “hobbies”, “favourite tv shows”, “favourite movies”, “favourite books” and a more general “about me”. I don’t believe a school VLE will become a replacement for myspace, facebook or other social networking sites (and I’m not sure I’d want it to be) but having these fields does add a much more personal and social dynamic to the site. There’s a little bit of competition from students to see who can have the best profile. It’s also great from a teacher’s perspective to see what students are interested in. Some students have also made great efforts to customise the top part of the profile with photos and animations.

I’ve included some screenshots below of a couple of profiles (one is mine, can you guess which one?) Moodle 1.9 has a new social tagging system but it’s not quite as organised as my solution with just one box for students to write all their interests in, the new features it brings will certainly be interesting to explore.

Nb: Even if standard fields are hidden students can override this or put any information they wish in the top “description” part of their profile – there may be a way to turn this off but it’s probably easier having a set of rules that students need to follow.

profile fields

student profile