I do not often read Google’s blog about their documents features, but recently I was looking for an answer to a few questions about Google Sites, the tool that I now use for all of my course syllabi. Unlike traditional web-site builders, Google Sites is collaborative; this is common for wikis, web-site software long popular in K-12 education but rarer in higher education.
In doing my reading at Google’s blog, I found a game-changer for writing teachers. Sites has quickly become my favorite tool for a few reasons:
- It’s free
- It offers a navigational sidebar that I like from PBworks‘ wiki
- It lacks obtrusive advertisements
- It has the ease of use that Wikispaces offers, but appears even more familiar to MS-Office users.
To my knowledge, however, none of Google’s smaller competitors, and certainly nothing from the desktop-centric Microsoft empire, offer a creator the ability to grant permissions, by page, to those sharing a site. Google explains the reasons for this feature here.
Course-Management Software vs. Sites
For years, I’ve refused to use BlackBoard because it has made guest access so hard. In my field, writing & composition, faculty routinely share lesson plans and syllabi, so Blackboard never met my needs. Our Eng. 383 syllabus has become a model for many other schools’ training programs precisely because colleagues outside the class can find it with a Web search and view the content.
That said, I’m pleased that Blackboard, seeing what the competition offers for free, has given faculty a “public” option for Bb sites. But I’ve argued elsewhere that Blackboard is an overpriced “transition” technology in the age of social media and Web 2.0 shared applications. Blackboard only recently added such technology to its product.
For now, Sites lacks the sort of testing features that Blackboard has, but I don’t use quizzes that way. It would be possible, however, to link to an online gradebook created with Google Docs. You can see the results (but not students’ grades!) in the latest iteration of my Eng. 383 syllabus, used for training Writing Consultants at the University of Richmond.
How the Collaboration Works
The process of granting permissions for a Google Site is a little tedious at first. I had to invite users to the site with “view” permissions…and they must have a Gmail account. But to my knowledge it cannot be one the University grants, either, as my site resides on the public servers at Google. Had I known this, I might have set up the site under UR’s rubric, but that change of service-providers had not occurred when I first set up my Google Site.
The nature of collaboration and the presence of multimedia in modern writing classrooms make something like Google Sites, with page permissions enabled, essential to how I teach. That said, Google still needs to add a few features:
- The ability to archive the site locally
- A somewhat more streamlined process for adding users.
Overall, however, this free tool is phenomenal, and I plan to recommend it to colleagues.
Image source: pre-Sites days in Eng. 103 classroom, late 1990s.