November 6, 2013

Google Sites for Student Web Publishing

I got some great news today (see embedded G+ post below for details) which was very affirming for me as a writing teacher. In both of my classes - Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics - the centerpiece of the class is a writing project that the students work on all semester: the Storybook. Each student chooses a topic of interest to them and then invents a way to collect and retell some traditional stories related to that topic (three or four stories, depending on the student's own preferences). Instead of me trying to explain the projects, just take a look and you can see for yourself what they are like: Myth-Folklore Storybooks and Indian Epics Storybooks.

With just a few exceptions, the students use the free Google Sites website tool to publish their Storybooks. When I first started teaching these classes over 10 years ago, the students published these websites in their university-provided webspace, using Mozilla's Seamonkey Composer to create the pages. Sadly, my university turned out to be an unreliable host for such projects, and on a terrible day in August of 2010, just a few days before the start of school, campus IT deleted without warning hundreds and hundreds of past student projects, and when they were done, my archive of over one thousand projects was almost completely gone. I cried for hours; it was the single worst setback I have ever experienced as a teacher.

Luckily, I had already started experimenting with Google Sites at that time because it had proved to be a convenient solution for students who did not have access to a laptop computer of their own and who were relying instead on computer lab access instead. So, starting in that Fall 2010 semester, Google Sites has been the tool of choice for almost all my students. The sites belong to the students, published with their own Google accounts (we do not have Google Apps at my school). Fortunately for me, the students are proud of their projects and almost all of them leave their work online. As a result, I once again have an archive with several hundred wonderful projects for the new students each semester to explore! This archive of student work is the single most important body of content for my classes, and I am very grateful to Google Sites for making it possible for my students to share their work this way.

Of course, as I learned in 2010, nothing lasts forever, and if I am lucky enough to keep my job for yet more years in the future (as I certainly hope to do), I know that, sooner or later, Google Sites will either disappear or morph into something else... and that's fine! And maybe it will turn into something even better! Meanwhile, I just hope I will get more warning when that happens - and any warning at all would be better than no warning, of course. But somehow or other the students and I managed to survive that awful business back in 2010... and the one good thing about such a bad experience is that I feel confident that I can really overcome any obstacle in my digital path in the future. :-)

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