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.

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.

Two Opportunities from Instructional Technology

Did you miss our most recent Call for Proposals? In case you did, see both below! Contact Jessica McCullough with questions about either opportunity.

Instructional Technology Mini-Grants

The Digitally Enhanced Learning Initiative (DELI) MiniGrant program provides funding for faculty members to explore and experiment with digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning. Faculty members may request up to $300 (per academic year) to support the purchase of software or hardware that will be used in one or more courses.

Proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis year-round, and decisions on awards will be made once a month by the Instructional Technology team. Funds are limited. You are encouraged to consult with a member of the Instructional Technology team when crafting your proposal. View the full Call for Proposals.

Tempel Summer Institute 2018

The 19th Annual Tempel Summer Institute will be held June 4-8, 2018. Faculty participate in group discussions on pedagogical challenges and teaching and learning goals, and learn about instructional technologies that can be used to address those challenges and goals. Sessions are hands-on and ample time for course development is built into the Institute, enabling participants to make significant progress on redesigning courses and creating course materials with the assistance of faculty and staff.
Find more information and the call for proposals on the Tempel Summer Institute webpage.

WeSpeke Follow-Up

In my last post I talked about using a social media site for my upper level conversation class as a way to connect to native speakers. The main purpose of this experiment was to have access to native speakers for text/video-chat on some of the topics discussed in class. This exercise would give my students the opportunity to hear unfiltered opinions from native speakers beyond the class discussions and ask questions. Topics for the class are drawn from current news articles and are chosen so that they not only generate conversation but also inform on modern Italian society. So, hearing the perspective of Italians directly seems like an excellent exercise for the students both culturally as well as linguistically. For this purpose, I decided to try out WeSpeke, a social media site that connects speakers from all over the world to practice world languages. I chose WeSpeke because of its user-friendly interface and good online reviews.  

After setting up the account in class and restricting the community to Italian-English speakers, the students spent time on their own on the site in multiple occasions. Unfortunately, even with the Italian-English setting, many of the students reported being bombarded by people seeking to learn English and not Italian. These same students also experienced some type of predatory behavior at first. However, once the students figured out how to avoid irrelevant partners, most of them reported establishing at least a couple of connections with which they could engage in a fruitful conversation. Unfortunately the conversations were just limited to text-messaging and didn’t go much beyond first introductions and superficial exchanges. Some of the students responded positively to this exercises, and thought it was an interesting twist for the class.

From my point of view, however, and from what I have read from the students’ reports so far, I have become skeptical about the pedagogical value of this site, or similar ones, in a structured course. Although the site seems to promote “long lasting friendships”, the reality is that most people on sites like this are not reliable, not consistently active, or willing to commit or engage in a meaningful conversation. Even my students reported some sense of discomfort with these interactions and they themselves were not ready for video-chats or discuss more complex topics. Although I asked my students to write reports about their activities as a way of documenting their interactions, I have no way of properly monitoring the exchanges and evaluate their relevance to the topic.  Moreover, and most importantly, very few of the people that post their profiles on this site are college students, which made my students even more uncomfortable to move beyond a text chat.

In conclusion, although these types of sites might have some appeal for teachers and students because they seem to solve the native speaker problem, I would not recommend investing too much time and energy on them. A structured course needs a structured platform whereby both sides are fully engaged and invested, and equally accountable.

How is your class going? Tools for mid-semester feedback

Join Diane Creede and me on Thursday for a new workshop, Tools for Mid-Semester Feedback.  In this hour-long workshop, we will discuss the purpose and goals for collecting mid-semester feedback, demonstrate and teach several tools you can use, and help participants select the right tool too meet their goals. Details are below. We look forward to seeing you!

Tools for Mid-Semester Feedback – Register (or just drop-in!)
Thursday, February 22, 3:00 – 4:00 PM| Advanced Technology Lab
How is the semester going so far? Join us as we discuss technology tools including Moodle Questionnaire and Google Forms, that can provide information on students’ progress in your course and give you valuable insight to guide your teaching through the rest of the semester. This workshop will include hands-on practice and discussion.

Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (2 of 3)

This post was written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant. 

The second of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore Bear, a note taking app; and Adobe Scan, a mobile PDF scanner.

Bear (Shiny Frog, $Free) / Bear Pro (Shiny Frog, $1.49/month or $14.99/year)

What Is It? Bear is a minimalist note taking app compatible with Markdown note taking. The app boasts a Markup Editor supports over 20 programming languages, in-line support for images and photos, cross-note links that help you build a body of work, multiple different themes to choose from, multiple export options for formatting your notes, a Focus Mode that hides other notes and options to keep your workspace distraction-free, and multi-device sync using iCloud. If you want to access to Bear’s advanced features (which includes the aforementioned multi-device sync, certain application themes, and various export options), a Pro subscription is required. However, Bear does offer free trials to test out the features, and the free app itself could stand alone if needed.

How Is It Helpful? Aesthetically, Bear stands out from other note taking apps and platforms due to its simplicity. With its focus on plain text, there is little to distract you from whatever task may be on hand. For me, the benefit of Bear lies in the various themes you are able to choose from. With the free app, you have access to four different theme options including the classic Red Graphite, Solarized Light, High Contrast, and Charcoal. The ability to switch between these themes not only provides a way to personalize the app, but also a way to keep yourself focused by not becoming too accustomed to the view. Additionally, while the app itself is incredibly clutter-free, the enhanced Focus Mode helps to keep your field of vision clear of anything but your writing.

Adobe Scan (Adobe, $Free)

What Is It? The Adobe Scan app allows you to use your smartphone as a portable scanner that recognizes text automatically. Adobe’s image technology automatically detects the borders of your document and captures the image for you, sharpening the scanned content. Once scanned, the app allows you to easily touch up your new PDFs by reordering pages, cropping or rotating images, and adjusting the color as needed. Though you need to sign up for an Adobe account (free) in order to properly use the app, linking your account to Adobe Scan allows you to save your documents to Adobe Document Cloud which lets you search and copy text or open your documents in Acrobat Reader in order to highlight and annotate your newly scanned PDFs.

How Is It Helpful? Being able to keep a digital library of readings for classes or research projects is incredibly beneficial, and taking the time out of your day to scan at one of the campus printers is not always convenient or possible. Once your documents are scanned to a PDF, you are able to catch up on class readings or look over your notes on any device you wish. Aside from being an overall easy to use and well-designed app, the real benefit of Adobe Scan lies in it being an Adobe app. With Adobe Acrobat Reader being such a popular choice for a PDF-reader, the linkage Adobe Scan provides by allowing you to store documents in the Adobe Cloud means you do not need to worry about searching for PDFs in various file folders. Additionally, Adobe Scan’s border detection makes it possible to scan any kind of document (forms, book pages, notebooks, business cards, receipts, etc) with ease and still get a quality PDF.

Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (1 of 3)

This post is written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant

The first of three posts exploring productivity and accessibility apps, this series will focus on apps that have practical application in anyone’s life, but are especially helpful for students with difficulties focusing and learning. This first post focuses on Tide, a Pomodoro timer app, and the graphic on the right presents some of the apps that will be discussed.

Technology is frequently referred to as “the great equalizer,” able to remove the barriers of distance or physical and sensory abilities. For many people, the way technology has evolved in the last few decades has provided them a way to dramatically improve their quality of life, opening doors to opportunities and experiences that were previously inaccessible. However, in practice, discussions of the ability of technology to improve accessibility remain fairly limited. This series of blog posts will present apps for iOS and OSX that can aid in productivity for everyone, especially those with learning difficulties and/or focus issues.

Tide (Moreless, Inc., $Free)

What Is It? Tide is a Pomodoro timer app. For those unfamiliar with this method, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the 1980s (described by Professor Anderson in this post). The method itself can be modified to fit individual needs, but traditionally you break down your work time into 25 minute intervals, with short timed breaks (often 5 minutes) in-between. The more consecutive working intervals completed, the longer your breaks become. Tide not only works as a timer, but also allows you to pick from various color schemes, white noise options, integrating your own music, or using the ‘Music Fusion’ feature which allows you to play white noise and music simultaneously. Additionally, the app boasts an “Immersive Mode,” which, when activated, makes it so that exiting the app results in ‘Focus Failure’ (failure to complete a full working interval) and disables the ability to pause during a Focus period.

How Is It Helpful? While timer apps may seem a bit redundant given the built-in timer most devices have, Tide does provide a much easier way to manage your time. Essentially, the convenience lies in the ability to set the timer on a loop and get on with your work without the worry of timing the intervals yourself. With the Pomodoro Technique being a fairly common system of time-management, there are many apps that provide a similar service. Tide sets itself apart not only due to the convenient built-in features like Music Fusion, but also because of its well-crafted, minimalistic design. For a free app, the app itself is free from clutter or intrusive advertisements. Additionally, once you download the app, you have access to its full range of features with no specific features you need to pay to unlock.