As we move from the world of paper through the world of digital into the world of virtual, we are more and more faced with making the right decisions that not only will be helpful to our students but will make our teaching lives easier. Of all the choices put in front of us, one of the most important is where we build our digital classrooms, and how we make those resources available for our students.
So, with that, I often ask teachers the question “What do you use as your class website?” Often I receive answers such as, “I use Google Classroom for my website” or, “My students are on Blogger.” It is with this blog post and the help from some friends that I would like to ask the question… “Is Google Classroom…. a website?”
Before we answer this question, let's take a look at each of these platforms to figure out what they are, and most importantly what they are not.
- What is Google Classroom?
- Google Classroom is a simplified blended platform that allows teachers to create, distribute, collect and grade assignments quickly and efficiently. Google Classroom allows teachers to share documents with view-only access, the ability to edit a document or allowing each student to receive a copy. The about section has a place for teachers to keep important content that students can use frequently. Google Classroom also creates folders in each class and assignment to help keep the teachers and students organized.
- Google Classroom also has a place for questions and announcements. This feature allows students to practice digital citizenship through the questioning and comments feature.
- The power of Google Classroom is the simplicity. When working with teachers throughout the district, they find it easy to use and very powerful for distributing information, links or discussion questions. Google Classroom is also working to continually get better.
- What isn’t Google Classroom?
- Google Classroom isn’t a website. Unlike a website, It is “closed environment” where parents cannot access and other students cannot access. Google Classroom also isn’t a full LMS because it doesn’t have a grade book and work cannot be organized into units.
- Examples of ways to use Google Classroom
- There are a plethora of ways to use Google Classroom. The most effective way is to distribute material to all students quickly and effectively. The question feature can be used as for Do Nows or a Closure question. Embedding Google Forms allows teachers the ability to give surveys and quizzes quickly and have them graded using a Google Script called Flubaroo. You can also differentiate material for all students by providing different groups under the same assignment.
- There are also creative ways to use Google Classroom. As the lead tech coach, I use it to distribute materials and ideas to other tech coaches across the district. It is also a place for tech coaches to ask questions to the entire group. It has been an important collaboration tool. Administration can use the tool to share resources, videos, and announcements with the entire staff. If you’re looking for more ideas on Google Classroom, check out “50 Things you can do with Google Classroom” by Alice Keeler.
- How is Google Classroom Different from Blogger and Sites
- Google Classroom isn’t a website or blogging platform. It a simplified blended learning management system. Google Classroom allows you to assign work and collect it.
- Blogger and Sites are open systems that can be accessed by parents and others. It allows students to share with an authentic audience.
- How can they work together?
- Having a website is an important way to share information with parents and students. Recently, Google Classroom added a Calendar feature. One great way to have the two work together is to embed the Google Classroom Calendar directly onto your Google Site. This is a great way to keep parents abreast as to what is due in your class. Students can write blog posts directly in Google Sites but without the comment feature.
- What is Google Sites?
- Google Sites is another component of Google apps. Essentially, it is a free service to build and maintain a website. The great thing about Google Sites is that it can be used by any user: beginner to advanced. It will appeal to beginners because there is no knowledge of HTML, Java, or any other programming language necessary. Google Sites boasts that all it takes to create and expand a site is “a click of a button.” For the advanced users, there is the ability to add HTML to Sites and higher-level functionality. Google Sites integrates with Google and all of its various components. This makes it easy to embed and attach Docs, Sheets, Slides, YouTube videos and other features.
- There are various page types to add to a Google Site: Web page, File Cabinet, Announcement, and List. A Web page is a template that allows you to add and embed text, pictures, videos, and anything else that you may wish to include. A File Cabinet is a digital version of the physical namesake. You can update files from your computer or from Drive and add links. These can be organized with folders. An Announcement page type allows you to add posts, much like Blogger. Finally, a List page allows you to add information in tables. This is a very brief version of what a Site is; a more in-depth tutorial can be found here.
- What isn’t Google Sites?
- Google Sites is not a learning management system. Students and parents can interact with a Site by visiting, reading it, and downloading the files. However, they cannot turn in assignments like they can on Classroom. In training other teachers, I say that Classroom is for the students, while Sites is for the students, teacher, and parents.
- Examples of ways to use Google Sites
- I use my classroom Site as a “one-stop-shop” for everything relevant to my class. I use a file cabinet for uploading files that the students or parents may need. On the homepage, I have embedded a Google Photo slideshow to showcase what activities we are doing in class. The students use the Announcements page to share classroom news, in place of a physical weekly newsletter. The Site also includes a Calendar, digital agenda, a resource page with various important websites, and houses our Flipped Classroom Videos. If the students (or parents) need something in or out of class, it’s found on the Site. Similar concepts could be applied to an entire school.
- Sites can also be used for e-portfolios by students. If the school is a GAFE district, this would be a simple and streamlined way to highlight work and growth. This e-portfolio Site could travel with the student from grade level to grade level, allowing them to showcase their work throughout the years. Similarly, a Site can be used as a digital portfolio for educators who may be seeking new employment.
- Another use of Site is to connect schools from across the nation or world. Because inviting members Classroom is limited to the school domain (and not available to non-GAFE districts,) a Site could be built to link two schools. Just like anything else Google, collaborators can be added to a Site, so multiple students from different schools could add information to a Site.
- How is Sites different than Blogger and Classroom
- Sites differ from Blogger and Classroom in various ways. The Announcement page on a Site works much like the main blogging feature in Blogger, but readers do not have the ability to comment. As previously mentioned, assignments can be downloaded from Sites, but not “turned in” by students (unless it is a shared Site.) A Site can primarily be a place curate information for students, while Blogger and Classroom can be used by the students to create.
- How can they work together?
- The most obvious way to have Blogger and Classroom work together is to include links to both somewhere on the Site. You can also include a link to the classroom website in both Blogger and Classroom. In Classroom, you could reference materials needed that they would have to locate on the Site, or the Site could house materials they need to complete assignments in Classroom. This could be similarly reproduced with Blogger. It is advisable to have all three, because their functionality differs for each, and utilizing all will allow you to cover a wide variety of uses.
- What is Blogger?
- Blogger is a free web publishing platform that allows anyone with a google account to share, publicly or privately, text, photos, and other HTML embedded content. Blogger allows users to get writing and sharing without the challenge of building an entire website.
- If Classroom is a platform centered on workflow management, and Sites is a platform that focuses the user on design, Blogger puts the focus squarely on content creation. Teachers can use blogger to deliver lessons and house resources. They can also use blogger to share their work with other teachers. One feature of Blogger that teachers can exploit is the submit by email protocol. Blogger allows users to publish posts via email. In the elementary classroom, teachers can program this address into the students’ devices and the can email their work to the student work blog. As students finish creating their movie or image they email it to the blog and it appears on the screen at the front of the room.
- What isn’t Blogger?
- Blogger is not an LMS. Blogger is a great tool to help teachers get lesson materials accessible to students, especially if the school does not have a learning management system. The downside is that the blog is very much in the public space, which might violate your district's policies. Blogger is not a safe blogging platform for classes. For a walled garden, blogging platform try Edublogs or Kidblog, Blogger does not have the level of support and control teachers need to support younger students blogging.
- Examples of ways to use Blogger as an individual… and as a classroom
- Put your lessons there, have the students set a bookmark. Lesson plan into the blog post and build a searchable class as you go.
- Collect student work. Use the email submission tool to have students send their work to the blog. This makes it easy to show student work to the class.
- How is Blogger different than Sites and Classroom
- Blogger is limited in design elements and it has never been the subject of an Alice Keeler book.
- How can they work together?
- I don’t know that I would use Blogger “and” Sites. If I needed sites, I could do lesson delivery in sites, even have students build their own blog pages. Blogger is just handy if you need to get something accessible quickly. Once you are using Google Classroom, it seems like an odd step out of that ecosystem to use Blogger. If Blogger even got a really nice Google Drive integration it might change things. As it stands, Blogger is a great solution for a teacher who cannot get an LMS, don’t have access to Classroom and don’t need all the power of Sites.
When is a Website… Not a Website
After examining Google Classroom, Google Sites, and Blogger, I would like to take a moment and identify some ways where these items can live in harmony in your classroom. Is Google Classroom a “website”… not really. Is Blogger a class website… also, not really. To form a harmonious balance within these applications, one must figure out the true purpose of these tools.
Google Sites is a website builder. It provides a free space for teachers to create their digital hubs. A Google site can be broken down by course, or by chapter within a course to hold all of the digital information for your students. To steal a phrase used so many times in the tech industry… a website is your “digital hub” from which all of your content should be linked to. Many teachers notice that YouTube videos come with several ads and distractions on their pages. Through Google sites, you can strip all of the ads and video recommendations and embed the video alone. This is a feature that you can’t do in Classroom. I like to look at Google Sites as my digital book. All of my lessons will be revolving around information that I post on my Google Site. It’s also a place where multiple teachers can collaborate and create one single site for their grade level or department.
Google Classroom can be thought of as your “To Do List.” When setting up my classroom, I use it as a supplement to my Google Site. Whenever I want to link to a video, I first put the video up on my website without all of the distractions and then link to it on a Classroom announcement. It is the extension from which your digital book lies. Let's say that you put up videos and information on a chapter in Sites. Next year, those same links will exist and those same pages can easily be edited or reused as is. In Classroom, you could do one of two things. Either you can retype in all of the details about the video, and assignment or you could hunt and peck through last years steam until you find the exact post and then repin it to the top. That is, of course, assuming that you have kept the same Classroom as you used last year. If you started a new classroom, then your only option is to hunt and peck and then recopy to the new classroom. This method is not going to save anyone any time.
Blogger is neither a website nor a To Do List. It is a great platform where a teacher can set up a place for students to login and post their assignments. While posting these assignments, teachers have the ability to check if students received their information from professional sites or if they were authentic in their writing.
So the question is “Do YOU have a class website?” Are there ways of managing and organizing your class the most effective way? I hope this post shed some light on a very important debate.
About the Authors of this post
Sam Patterson Ed,D. works as a K-5 Technology Integration Specialist at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, Ca. Sam blogs at MyPaperlessClassrom.com and is a host of the Techeducator Podcast. Sam writes about integrating, play, fun and technology in the primary grades and teaching design through puppets in middle school.
Justin Birckbichler is a fourth-grade teacher at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School in Front Royal, VA. He has been teaching fourth grade since 2013, and also serves on his district's autism services improvement team and Google Educator Consortium. He earned a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University. He is also a Google for Education Certified Trainer and a Google Certified Educator: Level 1 and 2. He is a very connected educator, blogging at blog.justinbirckbichler.com, tweeting at @Mr_B_Teacher, and co-hosting the Eduroadtrip podcast. He enjoys a student-led classroom with a high degree of purposeful technology integration, in addition to collaborating with parents to best meet all learning needs.
Robert Pennington is a 7th and 8th-grade social studies teacher at Roton Middle School and Lead Tech Coach for Norwalk Public Schools. He is a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and 2015 ASCD Emerging Leader. Rob believes in collaborating with others to foster conditions that create a highly relational and 21st-century learning environment where creativity is nurtured and student learning is revered.
Jeffrey Bradbury is the creator of TeacherCast.net, TeacherCast University, and Educational Podcasting Today, is a Google Certified Teacher, Google Education Trainer, PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator, speaker, writer, broadcaster, consultant and educational media specialist.