TL;DR version: As your create and curate your digital identity and online educational brand, consider using Google Sites as your digital learning hub. This allows you to have one place online that you use to include any & all content you want your students to use.
In a previous set of blog posts I detailed my own learning and reflections as a result of facilitating and presenting at the MA New Literacies Institute. One of my final revelations is that we’re at the point where educators should not only be creating and curating their online brand, but that this should be supplemented with your own learning management system (LMS). Thanks to a growing suite of free tools…most notably Google Apps, this is now possible. We’re now at the point where technology is quickly iterating and providing opportunities to build an entire LMS using these free tools. And what is not currently available, usually is developed fairly quickly. To that end, I believe that Google Sites can be used to create a digital learning hub to serve as your online classroom and learning space. Let’s look at how to make it happen.
Getting started with Google Sites
Google Sites is a free website construction and hosting tool that is part of the Google Apps for Educators suite. There is a slight learning curve in getting accustomed to the nuances of using Google Sites. This post will serve as a resource to get you up and running with creating, editing, and revising in Google Sites. The bottom of the page will list other technology tutorials and resources that are available to support your learning. The key to using Google Sites is that you need to just get started. Think of this as a process in which you thoughtfully build, edit, and revise your online learning space. In just the same way that you build up your classroom every year…and every year it might be slightly different…you should constantly build up, edit, and revise your one digital learning hub.
The following video provides the basics on building and editing in Google Sites.
Advanced use of Google Sites
After you’ve spent some time using Google Sites (or when you’re just getting started ;)) try and polish up your digital learning hub. The thinking is that you want to cobble together a series of digital texts and tools to create a learning management system that is shiny and sticky. Shiny means that it looks polished and everything is thoughtfully laid out. Sticky means that it draws the reader in, and provides some interactivity. To expand my thinking about using Google Sites, I joined (and thoroughly recommend) the Using Google Apps as a Free LMS Community. This community taught me everything I know, and expanded my thinking about what could/should be done with my digital learning hub and LMS.
The power of using Google Sites as your digital learning hub is that not only can you embed content in from other sites across the Internet, but use of Google Apps supercharges this. If you use Google Docs, Drive, YouTube, etc. these embed very nicely in your new Google Site. You also can easily integrate Google Groups and Google+ Communities into your Google Site as a way to embed discussion and sharing features into your site. This allows you to include those interactive, sticky features to your site.
In the following video I detail the advanced features I built in to the ORMS MOOC.
Living la vida Google
As I stated, the real power behind using Google Sites as your digital learning hub is that if you are a believer in Google Apps for Education, all of your materials seamlessly embed in your website. If you are interested in building a site like the one that I detail in the video above, I suggest the following:
- Start your Google Site, and build up one unit that you plan on teaching this year. Don’t think that you need to build up everything you teach (or might teach) this year. Start with an achievable goal.
- Use Google Apps for Educators materials for all construction of teaching materials from here on out. Build word docs in gDocs, PPTs in Presenter, worksheet in Forms, etc. You can also use the downloadable Google Drive app for Mac or PC to upload your old Office docs and convert to Google Drive apps. Embed these in your digital learning hub.
- Create screencaptures and screencasts of everything. Record and document every teaching moment, think aloud, work product, etc. Upload these to YouTube and embed in your digital learning hub. Embed the screencaptures in the appropriate places on your website to scaffold students as they read your content. While you’re at YouTube…use it. Create video playlists for your students and embed these on your website as well.
Continue to learn, iterate, and innovate
Your digital learning hub should always be a work in progress. That doesn’t mean that it should look like “The Money Pit.”
Think about the purpose, audience, and design of your website as you continue to build and add content. This is your website, make it yours. If you find your purpose, audience, or design elements of changing as your website evolves…that’s fine. Try to make your ultimate goal to have a website that is shiny and sticky. Document your learning progress and thought process on your blog. Just as I am detailing my thinking here on my blog…you should be sharing your thinking on your blog. That’s how we make the world a better place, through open education and sharing.
To continue your learning about using Google Sites as your digital learning hub, feel free to use the Google Sites page on the Digital Texts and Tools site for future resources. We will continue to edit and revise this page as technology changes. Also join and interact in the Using Google Apps as a Free LMS Community in Google+. This is a great place to get ideas, troubleshoot, and share your work for feedback. Finally…if you’re really stuck and can’t figure out how to do something in Google Sites…Google it. When I help others troubleshoot, or figure out a tricky embed code, I Google the solution. Chances are there is a 12 year old child from Idaho that has three to four HD videos on YouTube showing you exactly what you want to now. Utilize the PLN you already have in Twitter, Google, and YouTube.
Image CC by Wikimedia