Moodle OR Google?

In this post I would like to build on Ariella Rotramel’s and Anthony Graesh’s posts on course management systems and describe how I use Google Sites to deliver content and manage students’ assignments.

What is Google Sites?

Google Sites is the website building application in the G Suite productivity suite. The application allows you to easily build a webpage from scratch or customize a template. Although intended for webpages, Google Sites is a versatile and useful tool that can be used for many purposes. Two features make it especially useful in the classroom: collaboration and privacy.

Why do I use Google Sites?

Collaboration and privacy are the main reasons why I chose Google Sites as my course management system for my upper level Italian courses. In these courses I mostly use open-ended written responses to readings and other course material on a weekly basis. I require students to submit their writing assignments as Google Docs and share them with me so we can edit collaboratively.  Google Sites allows me to manage all these Google Docs files, which, depending on the size of the class, could be close to 200 per semester, effortlessly and efficiently. Moreover, it allows me to consolidate both students’ assignments and content delivery in the same place. In these courses I tend not to use many of the features available in Moodle, such as gradebook, rubrics, and quizzes, therefore Moodle was never my first choice.

How do I use Google Sites?

For each course, I build a simple webpage using the “Classic Sites”. I use this mode because it is the simpler but more flexible builder and allows me to design my site the way that best suits my purposes. I restrict access to only the students in the class, who also have permission to edit.

This is a snapshot of the course I am teaching this semester where I use Sites.

I use the main page of the website to post the body of the schedule of topics organized by class meetings with links to either PDFs or online resources. I find linking and posting course material much easier and faster in Google Sites than in Moodle. Any changes in schedule or announcements can easily be incorporated in the body of the page. In dedicated areas of the main page, I add other resources that students might need for the course. I then create subpages for each student enrolled in the course. Students have complete control over their subpages and over their own Google Docs files, which they can share either just with me or with anybody else in the site. 

On the first day of class I show students how to edit their webpages and divide them into sections, each one devoted to a certain group of assignments.  I ask them to adhere to a naming convention (so that I can easily track what was submitted or not submitted.

Students’ subpages look like the one here

Submitting their work on this customized platform is very easy for the students. They work on their Google Docs and, when they are ready to submit, they follow these simple steps:

  • select Edit mode on subpage
  • write the title of paper and due date under the appropriate category
  • highlight title
  • click on Link icon
  • add shareable link of the Google Docs file into the Web Address Box
  • hit Save

What are the advantages of using Google Sites?

For me there are a number of advantages, in courses of this nature, to use Google Sites over either Moodle or My Drive with separate folders and subfolders for each course.

  1. It prevents My Drive to be flooded with files from students.
  2. It prevents My Drive from having too many folders and subfolders.
  3. Content and students’ work is consolidated into a single separate space, that is saved in My Sites (NOT in My Drive).
  4. All the students’ Google Docs files are easily accessible for revisions and neatly organized.
  5. It is quicker to link content than in Moodle.

If you would like to explore this approach,  G Suite Learning Center provides detailed instructions on how to work with Sites or Lynda.com has a tutorial entitled Google Sites Essential Training by Jess Stratton.

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Appointment Slots in the New Google Calendar

With advising week fast approaching we’ve been getting questions about using appointment slots in the new Google Calendar. It still works in the same way that we outlined in our original post, but finding the link to share with your students is different. Here are instructions.

1. Begin to create an event on your calendar, but select “Appointment Slot” instead of “Event.” You can then edit the duration of the appointment slots. Save (or if you want to add location and other details, edit that in “More Options”).

2. Share the link to your appointments. To find the link, open the event on your calendar and copy/paste the link for “This calendar’s appointment page” by right-clicking on the link and copying it, or opening it in another tab and copying the URL from the address bar.

A Handy Trick for Duplicating Google Docs

Faculty often create assignments in which students are asked to complete a worksheet or template. When using Google Docs for this, a common practice is to either make multiple copies of the template and share the copies with individual students , or to give students access to the original document so the students can make the copy themselves. The former option is time consuming while the latter option is risky, as students may make inadvertent edits to the original document.

At a recent NERCOMP event, I picked up a great Google Drive tip from a colleague (credit to Carol Damm of Brandeis University). There is a quick and easy way to make copies of a Google Doc (or Sheet or Slide): by changing the word “edit” to the word “copy” at the end of the URL for a Google Doc, the URL becomes a command to create a duplicate of the original Doc. The modified URL can be pasted into an email to students, or posted on the course Moodle page. A student clicking on the link will be prompted to create a copy of the original Google Doc, which will then be stored in the student’s own Google Drive. That resulting file can be edited by the student, and subsequently printed, saved as a PDF, or shared.

Watch this video to see how it’s done!

Snow day planning…

Due to demand, we are re-publishing this post from earlier in the year!


Did you miss the weatherproofing workshop last week? We focused on three types of activities you can do with your students if you are unable to attend class. Here are just a few ideas we shared. If you want more information or need step-by-step instructions about anything mentioned, contact Diane Creede or Jessica McCullough!

  1. Record mini-lectures or a full lecture. This can be so easy and done on the fly! Record audio directly on PowerPoint slides, or make mini-lectures and share with students. Students can listen/watch from any location, and you can include some of the more participatory ideas below to hold discussion and check for understanding. Technologies we demonstrated are PowerPoint (Insert Audio feature), QuickTime audio/screen capture, Jing, and whiteboard apps such as Educreations.
  2. Hold discussion, collect responses, and continue group work.  Students can participate in discussion and participate in group projects just as they would during class. Use a Moodle Forum to elicit responses to readings or your recorded mini-lectures, or to hold (asynchronous) discussion. Google Docs can be used for group work – ask students to add you as an editor and check in, answer questions, and provide feedback as they progress.
  3. Meet virtually. Have an exam coming up and want to be available to answer questions or hold a review? Hold virtual office hours using a tool such as Zoom. A free license allows for a 40-minute virtual meeting. We have a limited number of Pro licenses that we can distribute for longer meetings. Other options are Google Hangouts or Skype.

Weatherproofing Workshop Recap

*This post was scheduled for later in the day, but we are publishing it now due to the weather!


Did you miss the weatherproofing workshop last week? We focused on three types of activities you can do with your students if you are unable to attend class. Here are just a few ideas we shared. If you want more information or need step-by-step instructions about anything mentioned, contact Diane Creede or Jessica McCullough!

  1. Record mini-lectures or a full lecture. This can be so easy and done on the fly! Record audio directly on PowerPoint slides, or make mini-lectures and share with students. Students can listen/watch from any location, and you can include some of the more participatory ideas below to hold discussion and check for understanding. Technologies we demonstrated are PowerPoint (Insert Audio feature), QuickTime audio/screen capture, Jing, and whiteboard apps such as Educreations.
  2. Hold discussion, collect responses, and continue group work.  Students can participate in discussion and participate in group projects just as they would during class. Use a Moodle Forum to elicit responses to readings or your recorded mini-lectures, or to hold (asynchronous) discussion. Google Docs can be used for group work – ask students to add you as an editor and check in, answer questions, and provide feedback as they progress.
  3. Meet virtually. Have an exam coming up and want to be available to answer questions or hold a review? Hold virtual office hours using a tool such as Zoom. A free license allows for a 40-minute virtual meeting. We have a limited number of Pro licenses that we can distribute for longer meetings. Other options are Google Hangouts or Skype.

Using Google Drive for Peer Review

Screenshot of peer review formIn ANT 320 Anthropology of Sexuality and Gender, students work in pairs to compose posters that address an issue on campus or in a workplace related to sexualty and/or gender. For example, one pair of students is writing about intimate partner violence and bystander intervention. Another pair is writing about the erasure of queer people through daily microaggressions. A core component of the assignment is peer review. Each student will review other students’ posters and provide feedback. In the assignment instructions, I have included why peer review is critical to the project, including bringing new information and perspectives, ensuring high-quality work, improving critical thinking skills, and the opportunity to practice providing critical, meaningful, and constructive feedback.

To facilitate collaboration and the peer review process, I am using Google Docs for the poster project and the peer review. Each pair of students creating a poster has a Google Folder that I created for them. It looks like this. In the folder is a template of a Google Slide using the correct dimensions for printing. Also located in each folder is a Google Form with the questions for the peer review. When students are ready to engage in the peer review, they simply share their poster via the sharing settings in Google Slides. They then send the form to their designated peer reviewers, which I have chosen for them and noted in the assignment instructions.

A student who is conducting the peer review will receive a link to the form in their inbox. The form includes guiding questions for students to consider as they work through the poster. When a student completes a peer review, the results are logged under “responses” in the Google Form. This way, each pair of students only sees the feedback related to their poster, it is accessible anywhere there is internet, and both authors of the poster can see the feedback.

Prior to using Google Docs for the peer review of posters, I found peer review difficult because I did not want students to waste paper by printing the first draft of their poster.. That made sharing the poster difficult. Using Google Drive for this endeavor has eliminated the seemingly endless paper shuffle that my old peer review process used to ential. Furthermore, students can leave specific feedback on the poster using the “suggesting” mode in Slides.

If you are considering doing peer review for a project in your class, here are some important tips:

  • Schedule the peer review during class time. That way you are there to address any technology concerns and where things are or how to do them.
  • Use a technology lab on campus, such as the Advanced Technology Lab at Connecticut College. The monitors are much bigger than students’ laptops, which enables them to see the poster better.  
  • Make sure to include in your instructions that students must read the poster once, read it a second time, fill out the peer review, and then read the poster a third time to make sure they provided quality feedback. Otherwise, they will rush through the assignment.
  • Also be sure to include instructions on how to handle the peer review feedback. This semester, I am asking students to make their revisions and then write a few short paragraphs addressing why the feedback and changes they made. This reinforces the critical thinking component, and it provides valuable experience in how to professionally handle criticism.

Virtual Discussion: Take 1

In my last post, I described how, from a hotel room across the world, I was getting ready to launch my “virtual discussion” in class the next day. Students had to complete an assigned reading before class and then spend class time in a Google Hangout (1) addressing a set of initial prompts in an open-ended discussion and (2) collaborating on a set of written responses in a Google Doc.  

Overall, it was fascinating to have such a clear-eyed view of students’ responses to the reading. I enjoyed reading the Hangout transcripts more than I imagined. While performance varied across groups, I got deep insight into what makes for a successful chat: thoughtful initial responses that followed from a careful reading; inclusively bouncing ideas off of each other and responding to each other’s points; and staying on task and mindfully proceeding through the set of prompts. Groups who successfully did these things tended to also have more thorough and thoughtful answers to the collaborative questions. Groups who were less successful had some of the following issues:

  • Some groups, going against the instructions and the criteria listed on the rubric, adopted a divide-and-conquer approach to responding to the collaborative discussion questions. These same groups tended to abandon the discussion in Google Hangout when they shifted to writing responses to the discussion questions.
  • Some groups had uneven participation. One student failed to participate completely, while another group had one student deeply invested and two students unwilling to work hard during the class period or meet outside of class to finish the assignment.
  • Some groups mismanaged their time and failed to address important prompts in the initial open-ended discussion. A couple of groups were late getting started due to confusion about how to start the Hangout, and this set them back for the entire period.

Feedback from students indicated that the discussion allowed them to better understand the reading and appreciate its insight. Unfortunately, however, due to constraints set by my travel, I was unable to read and grade the work before soliciting feedback. So I was not able to provide an immediate, meaningful debriefing session.

Overall, I was encouraged by this initial experience. I see five immediate steps that I should take to make the discussions universally more productive in future sessions:

  1. I should devote some class time to going over the instructions and the rubric.
  2. Since some students also indicated that there were unexpected challenges associated with communicating in a chat, I should develop a set of best practices for productive, inclusive and meaningful dialogue in Google Hangouts. At the top of this list will be advice to either write in short statements rather than long paragraphs, given the asynchronous nature of typing responses, or to let group members know when a long response is coming so that the discussion doesn’t pivot while someone is typing.
  3. While I was unable to be present during this class, in the future I will drop in on chats as they occur in real time to provide feedback, clear up misunderstandings, or highlight questions that may not have been adequately addressed.
  4. I should grade discussions immediately, and start the next class with a debrief to reinforce the main ideas and clear up common areas of misunderstanding.
  5. I should develop a more formal method of assessment.

I knew that learning-by-doing would be essential with this assignment, so I am pleased by the outcome of this initial attempt and hopeful that I can work out the kinks as I refine the assignment going forward.     

Do you have our upcoming Google calendar session on your calendar?

This Thursday afternoon we’ll talk about this easy tool that can help you organize your time and share information with colleagues or students. Learn about basic and advanced calendar features, as well as appointment slots and invitations, that will: make your availability visible (or not) to others, help you streamline advising and other sign-ups, and keep everybody on the same page about time, location, and attendance for planned events. We’ll show you how to sync your calendar with your phone and to control automated reminders.

Plus a special bonus for productivity nerds: calendar integration with other apps such as Todoist and Wunderlist!

Productive and Meaningful (Virtual) Class Discussions

My technology-fellows project involves setting up a platform for online discussions with collaborative responses. This endeavor is motivated by the practical goal of being able to hold productive class sessions when I am forced to be away from campus and the pedagogical goal of using digital technology to help students more deeply engage with course material.

Desk in my hotel room in Accra, Ghana

In fact, as I write this blog post, I am preparing for the launching of this assignment in a hotel room in Accra, Ghana. I have sent students the assignment’s instructions and rubric, and I have shared with their groups a Google Doc that provides them with the questions they have to discuss in the “virtual class.” Students will open to Google Doc at the start of class, connect with their group members on Google Hangout, and discuss the reading in two phases. First, they will broadly discuss the reading, responding in their Hangout to a set of prompts that I provide. Then, they will continue their discussion by addressing a second set of prompts. This second set includes more challenging thought questions, and requires students to build off of their initial discussion and collaborate on a set of written responses in paragraph form.

Students are encouraged (and, through the rubric, incentivized) to be inclusive; it is expected that all group members will contribute substantively. All group members will receive the same grade, hopefully making it clear that they should work as a team. Groups will be inviting me to their Hangout session, which will allow me to assess the degree to which discussions meet the criteria specified on the rubric. Typically, being invited to the Hangout sessions will allow me to “roam around,” much like I would do in a standard class setting in order to briefly listen to what groups are discussing.

Trying the assignment for the first time, I am not sure what I should expect. I hope to see thoughtful, thorough discussions with students engaging with each other and teaching each other when there are gaps in knowledge. I also hope to see collaborative answers that show mastery of the difficult concepts within this reading and a level of engagement with the reading that exceeds what I see in standard small-group discussion settings. But I am afraid that students will come to the discussion without having read critically, spend most of the time reviewing the surface details of the reading, and rush through the collaborative responses simply to get something written on the document. Stay tune for updates!

Google into Moodle

About a year ago, I shifted my course syllabi to Google Docs as a strategy for more nimbly handling the inevitable hiccups and improvisational changes to scheduled meetings during the semester: snow days; opportunistic class visits by colleagues and other scholars; newly published research addressing course topics; etc..  As a result, any updates to syllabi are immediately available to students and other course participants.  You can read more about this here.

For similar reasons, I’ve since shifted to using Google Docs for all of my lab and other assignment instructions.  Whenever I correct a typo or tweak an assignment parameter, the changes are rendered in real time, and I don’t have to convert the doc into a PDF, upload to Moodle, and delete or replace the old version.  Fewer steps, fewer keystrokes, fewer headaches. Huzzah.

I might even consider shifting my courses entirely to Google Drive – for example, check out Ari Rotramel’s approach – but I’m a huge fan of Moodle’s online submission tools, gradebook, and quickmail features; I find all indispensable to my pursuit of less paperwork, less email, and a streamlined workflow during the semester.  But Google Drive and Moodle can happily play together.  Links to Google Docs, Sheets, and Maps are easily curated on Moodle with other course content and, when properly framed, all of these apps facilitate and enhance student collaborations in ways that are seldom afforded by other software.

Recently, in a moment of glorious nerdiness, I figured out how to take this simpatico relationship one step further, or how to display the contents of a Google Doc in Moodle.  My simple goal was to have my Google Doc syllabus display – not as a link but, rather, the actual contents – near the top of a course Moodle page.  In effect, the syllabus becomes the digital center of all digital content and workflow while retaining its autonomy as a document that can be shared with colleagues or added to a tenure or promotion file.

The path to embedding the Google Doc into Moodle is not overly complicated, but it does require a dive into various menu commands and a minor tweak to some HTML code provided by Google.  For those who take the plunge, here’s a brief video tutorial as well as some step-by-step instructions and notes:

  1. Open up your Google Doc in one tab of your browser and your course Moodle page in another.
  2. Make sure that your Google Doc is shared or, at minimum, viewable by anyone who has the link.
  3. In your Google Doc app, select “File” from the menu bar, and then select “Publish to the web”.  (Make sure you’re selecting from the menu in the Google Docs app and not the upper menu bar that belongs to your browser.)
  4. Click on the “Embed” tab in the window that opens and copy the link. If no code is displayed, press the blue “Publish” button. Copy the code, and then close this window with the “X” in the upper right.
  5. In Moodle, turn editing on, and then select “Edit topic” for one of the major topic sections of your Moodle page.
  6. You might name this section “Syllabus”.
  7. In the Summary box below, select the “<>” button which allows you to edit the HTML source code.
  8. Paste the code you copied from Google.  

Some tips and code for making more screen real estate, making the document editable in Moodle, and for loading up on bookmarked pages in the embedded Google Doc below.