Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Google Sites: Practice Site

Most students use Google Sites to publish their Storybook project (archive here). Although I don't require any special web publishing software, most students have never published a website before, and I think Google Sites is the easiest way to get started.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION. To give the students a sense of confidence about creating a website, there is a "Practice Site" assignment in Week 3: they create a simple website on any topic they want, creating a homepage and several additional pages, each with text, link, and image.

DETAILS. Here are the assignment instructions. I am pleased to say there are really no details to add here. This assignment always goes really smoothly! Students build the site and send the link to me in an email, and I then take a quick look to see that everything is in good shape. If there is a problem, I let them know about it, and then in the follow-up assignment for Week 4, they have a chance to fix that up and ask me if they run into trouble. The most common problem people have is that they do not read the instructions for making links with actual link text; I have a tip page for just that problem: Google Sites Links.

I really enjoy seeing the different topics they choose. Sometimes people share recipes, and pretty much every semester I collect some new recipes to try (yummm!). Occasionally I learn something about a student that I did not know before which might be relevant to their choice of a Storybook project, so that is also something I can write them back about. It's a good way for me to check in with every student in Week 3, reinforcing the connections we made when I read the Introduction posts back in Week 2.

HISTORY. I've been recommending Google Sites as a web publishing tool since Fall 2010 when my school abruptly ceased to support the web publishing system I had used previously (Mozilla Seamonkey as the HTML editor, using FTP to publish in university-provided web space). I am so lucky that the last-minute switch to Google Sites went so smoothly, and I've been using Google Sites happily in the years since.

GOALS. As usual, I have various goals here:
  • Introduce students to web publishing. Students learn how to create pages with links and images, and they also see how Google Sites automatically creates a navigation panel for the site.
  • Build student confidence. Many students are nervous about building a website, but Google Sites offers a very positive and reassuring first experience.
  • Promote self-expression. By letting the students create their practice website on any topic at all, it's a chance for them to express themselves online.

GENERAL THOUGHTS

I'm very happy recommending Google Sites as a web publishing tool for my students to use. In the future, I might try exploring some alternate systems so that I could recommend those systems too and provide technical support, but I just have not had time to do that. Since I personally prefer to use Blogger for pretty much all my own web publishing, I don't have a lot of experience with some of the other popular alternatives like Weebly or Wix, but maybe next summer I will play around with some of these other tools and see how they might work for a website like what students create for their Storybooks.

My school has recently started a pilot project of Domain of One's Own: create.ou.edu. I'm not sure if that will become something available to all students or not, but I learned how to map a Blogger blog to one of those domains, and I see there are instructions for mapping a Google Site too. I should learn how to do that so that I can support any students who might want to map a site to their own domain, just in case that Domain of One's Own project continues at my school!



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