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Posts Tagged ‘google sites

As I was updating a Google Site for one of my courses, I discovered that the version history function had returned. I wondered if there was an announcement that I missed and I found this article.

The function is not obvious. On any site page, you have to:

  1. Get into editing mode
  2. Click on the three-dot menu
  3. Select “version history”  

The list of page changes might take a moment to load depending on how extensive your Site revisions are. You can then travel back in time if necessary.

The version history function was removed when Google forced the move from Classic Sites to the now current version. I am glad that it is back because this allows for truly collaborative sharing and editing of Site pages. If anything goes wrong, an administrator can roll back changes to the last good state.

Twenty four. That is the number of classic Google Sites that I cannot transition to new Sites. These were created by someone else and shared with me, but I do not have administrative rights to update them.

My screenshot shows 22 such sites, but there are two more that are domain-locked and not included in my list.

According to this support article, as of January 2022 “when users try to visit a classic site, they won’t see the website content.” This is Google-speak for classic Google Sites are dead, so you have to use new Google Sites.

I wish my previous collaborators would update the classic Sites to new ones. Each site takes a few clicks and about one minute to complete the whole process. It would be a shame for all that shared knowledge to be hidden because people do not know or care.

Sharing takes effort. Sometimes it involves going against institutional policy. Sometimes it is a minor inconvenience. Converting classic Google Sites to the new version is the latter. Just do it.

As I prepare a new online resource, I am reminded that it is the small things can make big differences. This is a design principle that could apply to the minor quality-of-life changes to the current iteration of the Google Sites editor.

Google Sites announcement banner.

The first new tool I used was the announcement banner. Previously I had to manually add a block of text at the top of every page if I was updating a site. With the new tool, I visited the settings to automatically add a banner at the top of every page.

 

Google Sites collapsible text.

The second tool I discovered was the option to add collapsible drop down text. I plan on using this in three ways:

  1. Reduce the amount of text on screen by giving my learners the option to reveal hidden text that is useful but peripheral (see example above).
  2. Provide contextual tips or help for tasks and tools that are embedded in a page.
  3. State the purpose and/or design rationale for a learning activity.

Example of expanded text that appears as a result of activating the drop down button.
The screenshot above is an example of expanded text that appears as a result of activating the drop down button.

One reason I prefer Google Sites over other tools is their general applicability. I use them for courses in higher education, but someone else might use them for a portfolio, event website, project documentation, etc. The tools Google Sites offer are not designed specifically for education, but they are simple and powerful enough to accommodate more complex pedagogical designs.

Note: I have not been paid or otherwise compensated to promote Google Sites.

I have spent much of August transforming (not just converting) modules that I normally facilitate for an evening class. I am redesigning them to be asynchronous and synchronous online experiences.

Some in-person activities do not transfer easily online. For example, it is easy to create homogeneous and heterogenous groups in a classroom. After determining what the similarities and interests of my learners are, I can group them, move them to different parts of the room, and scaffold the learning tasks.

Current video conferencing tools like Zoom can only create small random groups automatically. Creating stratified or strategic groups is tedious and manual work. This is why I dreamt up a concept video conferencing app for education.

Around and About: Strategic grouping mode, e.g., heterogenous groups.

That wishful thinking aside, I have returned to three reliable tools to transform the modules. (Note: This is not a sponsored post. I have not been compensated in any way to share how I use the following tools.)

Notes app.

I spent about three weeks reviewing new resources and planning the changes I wanted to make. As I did so, I took notes in (surprise!) the Apple Notes app. This app is basic in that I only have text formatting, simple lists and tables, and imported images. But these accordances served me well in externalising my thoughts and outlining the lessons.

I also like the fact that the app works seamlessly by synchronising between my iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad. This allowed me to start on one device at home and continue on another someplace else, e.g., a train or bus.

Google Sites.

My modus operandi is to house resources in a Google Site. As some of my previous in-person activities are already blended by design, I am copying those to my new Site. I am doing this by duplicating the old Site and removing the old pages that are not relevant.

AnswerGarden.

I plan on reusing a word cloud tool — AnswerGarden (AG) — that has not seen action for several semesters. It is free and does not require signups from teachers or students.

I will use the word cloud tool as a bridge between two modules. At the end of the first module, my learners will share what seems like divergent experiences. As they conceptualise these in AG, they should see common ideas emerge. These ideas will inevitably overlap with and feed the next module where we explore conceptual frameworks.

My reflection on the process so far: It takes relatively simple tools to create complex resources. What matters is a combination of imagination and experience.

I avoided manually converting two old Google Sites to new ones in the hope that Google would offer an import-export or conversion tool. After all, the new Sites have been available for several months [early adopters announcement] [open for general use]. But such a tool does not yet exist.

Moving to a new Site requires a fair bit of work and is not a simple three-step process described in the help page.

The problem lies in the “copy and paste” step. If all I had was text, then I would have less of a problem. But since I have images, videos, and other embeds, I face an ordeal.

I need to have the images and videos in Google Photos, Google Drive, or YouTube first. Then I need to embed them again.

This could mean downloading these files from other sources and putting them in my Drive and folders. This might contravene usage guidelines of the original source and I have to find some other sources.

An even bigger problem is not being able to embed anything outside the Google tools ecosystem. For example, I like using Padlet and AnswerGarden. Both appear immediately and are usable on old Google Site pages thanks to scripting add-ons. However, in new Sites, my learners need to visit them in separate tabs or windows.

While I can create links to these resources that open in new windows or tabs, Sites is fanatical about warning me and my learners that we are going elsewhere. How very Facebook of Google to do this!

The experience from a learner’s point of view is potentially jarring because new instances and resources need to pop up or draw them away from the page. The experience is no longer as seamless, logical, or convenient.

All that said, the editing and creating interface is simpler and more modern. That is a good thing. However, the point of producing a Google Site is to share, teach, showcase, or otherwise let someone else interact with it.

It is not just my experience that needs to be good. Being learner-centred also means taking their experiences into account. I feel good about using the new Google Sites. I would like my learners to feel the same way too.

Recently I created a seminar and workshop resource in the new version of Google Sites.

I tried the new Google Sites out as soon as it was publicly released, but had no reason to jump on the bandwagon. According to my account, I last edited a new trial site in April.

I had good reason to not adopt the new version immediately. New releases are always buggy and there was no tool to mass convert old Sites to new ones. It has been months since the new Sites creation tool was made available to all and my concerns are still valid.

But first, the good stuff.

My old Google Sites list looks like a roll of toilet paper while new Sites are photos in an album. This is because the new version looks like Google Drive with thumbnails of Sites. This gives it a more modern and unified look.

I created several pages using my MacBook Pro and thought that they looked better and more functional on my iPhone than on my laptop. It took me a moment to figure out why.

I discovered that the design templates insert lots of white space between page elements. Depending on your screen resolution, the elements might spread out too much on a desktop browser. Mobile browsers have less real estate, and while the elements are squished into a smaller screen, the white space creates a pleasing balance.

The navigation on mobile is restricted to the expandable “hamburger” menu (see GIF above). This is not intuitive to users who are not familiar with this mobile standard.

However, the navigation on a desktop always remains in view at the top. Depending on the template you use, the navigation bar might even change colour to remain obvious (see GIF below).

The page creating and editing interface takes some getting used to if you are an old Sites user like me.

For example, once you find and insert an element like an image or a video, you can drag-and-drop it into place or resize it. While this sounds convenient, you have to follow Google Sites rules. One rule is that it decides how many columns there are on the page. Another is that each element is assumed to be standalone.

The number of columns seems to be decided on how large the element is; larger artefacts create fewer columns while smaller ones create more. Refer to this TechCrunch article for a GIF of this.

The standalone element rule seems like a fair one until you realise that each page has chunked elements, e.g., header-text-image chunk; video and source chunk. After inserting separate elements into a page as standalones, I had to drag them one on top of the other to associate them (see GIF below). This was like grouping items in PowerPoint or Google Slides. However, there did not seem to be a way to ungroup them quickly.

The interface is designed for creators with no knowledge of HTML. While this seems like a fair assumption, it dissuades more advanced users from tinkering under the hood. This means not being able to fine-tune or customise the look of a page or to add outside-Google elements.

During my two hours of creating and editing, the new Google Sites interface produced the same error message four times. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to screencapture them. Fortunately, after I clicked “OK” on the messages, the editor interface refreshed and I did not lose any work.

Other bugbears I have with the new Google Sites:

  • I like how you can search for and use freely available images. However, Sites does not attribute such images. This not only prevents Sites creators from giving credit where it is due, it was a lost opportunity for Google to take leadership in the open resource movement.
  • The new Sites does not offer uploads to each site or page. If you do not already have an element online, e.g., an image of a QR code or PDFs, you need to upload to Google Drive first and then insert it from the Sites interface. The old Sites allowed you to upload a limited number of files to every page.
  • Each page in the new Sites does not seem to have comment threads anymore. Perhaps Google wants to distance Sites from its wiki roots and the feature has low usage. However, this is shame because comments are a way to capture the history and development of collaboratively-generated pages.


Video source

Despite my complaints, I am glad that Google not only decided to keep Sites alive but also gave it some love and development. The Sites faithful like me had to wait a long time for this and I hope Sites becomes a mainstay instead of an odd poor cousin to G Suite. After all, the pages in Sites are a way to bring the rest of the family together.

Portfolio by cirox, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License by  cirox

In my bid to push boundaries and increase transparency bit by bit, I am getting my CeL team to do our year end work reviews with the help of Google Docs and Sites.

The work review form was originally a Word document. Converting it to a Google Doc is not only easy, it also allows each team member to have an active copy of the document. Rather than print it out and hide it in a cabinet, both my team member and I can see what we have written on it once the interview is over. Google Docs keeps track of who wrote what, of course, so there is no chance for mischief!

We are using Google Sites as e-portfolios. Instead of just talking about their work, my team members can actually showcase their work with images, videos, stakeholder comments, personal reflections, etc.

I think that having the online review documents and e-portfolios not only provides a scaffold for the review process, it also creates a bit more transparency and relies on user artefacts. It doesn’t take very much more effort to add this to the review process. I think that my staff benefit from it as they 1) get more involved in the process, 2) take ownership of their document and e-portfolio, and 3) are able to reflect more critically as they create digital artefacts to back up what they claim to have achieved.


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