Using Google Sites to create digital teaching and learning materials

Report from Nick Ritchie – Department of Politics, University of York

Session recording available here.

On 7 October 2020 Phil Martin from the International Pathway College ran an online Teaching and Learning Forum workshop on Google Sites. Phil has been using Google Sites to create a new digital, classroom-based learning experience for students on the University’s Language and Study Skills module. This 18-month project has been designed to make documents and resources normally available on the VLE as accessible, intuitive and interactive as possible to enhance the students’ learning experience through improved engagement with learning materials.

During the workshop, the group discussed some of the limits of the VLE and how developing Google Sites either for a full module or individual learning sessions can be a useful addition to a traditional VLE approach. Phil’s approach was to use Google Sites to streamline course design so that each site becomes a ‘one stop shop’, or a ‘digital coursebook’, with everything a student needs for that week’s learning materials and activities or even a full module. An example of a site Phil has developed on ‘The stats of global health’ is here.

Links to a series of Google Sites for weekly learning activities from Phil’s module

Phil also created and shared a workshop Padlet with details on how to get started creating a Google Site, some of the sites workshop participants started to put together during the workshop, and links to additional tools for interactivity, such as Xerte. It demonstrates how video (e.g. a Ted Talk), links to reading materials, pictures, areas for responses for comprehension exercise, embedded Google Docs and Slides, and an interactive writing space can all be brought together in one place for students.

Using Google Sites as a way to develop a blended learning approach received positive feedback from students surveyed as part of the project, with over 90% reporting that it made learning materials easier to use and navigate than the VLE. In particular, using Google Sites seems to resolve some of the clunkiness of the VLE, it has built in and intuitive useability and accessibility, but it was seen by some as an example of change for change’ sake.

The workshop introduced the SAMR model of change through adoption of new technologies, and Phil encouraged the workshop to think about ways in which using Google Sites and other interactive tools could open up new learning tasks that are currently not available or even conceivable using our current modes of engagement. SAMR stands for the following:

  • Substitution: Technology as a direct substitute with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Technology acts as a direct substitute with functional improvement
  • Modification: Technology allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: Technology allow for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable

There are some limits to using Google Sites. For example, interactivity isn’t built in, and instead links to tools like Xerte need to be made from the site. Although Panopto sites can be embedded, students have to first sign in through the VLE to have access. Overall, I found Google Sites to be full of new possibilities for engaging with students with a module’s learning resources and activities and I can see ways in which it can be integrated into the module VLE sites, as Phil has done:

VLE site with links to Google Sites and Padlet for the module

For those new to Google Sites, as I was, here are two introductory guides to Google Sites and to Padlet: