Sebastian Sardina’s use of Google Sites is one of the most creative I have seen and it is terrific to have such an example within RMIT. It is an attractive and efficient portal for second year computing theory students, and as we shall see their feedback seems mostly very positive about it.
Sebastian began with Google Sites back in 2012 putting content both into Blackboard LMS and Google Sites at the same time, to compare how they performed. After 6 weeks he was just using the Google Sites and has never looked back. In 2013 all content goes into Google Sites which is linked from Blackboard. “Blackboard was just too unpredictable and it was good to find something else that was a compatible decision with the RMIT offerings”. Sebastian also received some help from IT services to set up a forum in Google Groups.
Sebastian has put a lot into his Google Site. There are countdowns, weekly polls, a word of the week, the course Gantt chart to visualise progress, a video of the week from Youtube, and staff profiles. It is worth having a good look around the site to see how extensive it is, and yet simple, to navigate. Students can subscribe to the page to get notifications of updates, either in real time or weekly updates if they wish. There is also a page with all the lecture recordings, slides (done in Google Presenter), assignments and solutions.
The google forums have everything in terms of features, compared with the Blackboard forums which were very limited, for example not allowing in-line commenting. Google forums enable easy composing including in-line commenting. The best thing about the Google forums according to Sebastian is the email reply capability. Students can choose to subscribe to all updates or get daily summaries or just go to the forum if they prefer. With email subscribing replies can be handled immediately from any email without any logins. It becomes faster and more efficient for everyone. Sebastian (or the students if they choose) can label forum posts within their gmail to file forum activity.
For Sebastian it means “ I can reply on the fly. It means I can work on the train using my phone and be communicating with students. Responsiveness is so important.” Students are required to participate as teams for tutorials and receive points for participation which Sebastian tracks in a spreadsheet. They also love it: “having the forum on google i found i used it a lot more than other courses too because it linked to my email.. it was also much easier to post questions/comments”. Sebastian received many feedback responses similar to this one.
“With Google Sites I can do in 1 hour what it used to take me 3 hours to do in Blackboard. My time, and that of my team, is just too precious” This is even with Sebastian having to manually enroll 150 students into the Google Site. “It’s very easy to start a new area and it is fast to upload content.” As well the Google Site is instantly copyable if Sebastian wants to share the course platform structure with a colleague or creating a fresh shell each semester.
Some of the assessment is done using Google forms within RMIT. This collates results with student numbers into a Google Spreadsheet. Sebastian can then instantly compile data from multiple sheets for final assessment scores, which can then be fed back into the Google Site.
Even during lectures Sebastian is using Google Forms for engagement, with a 2d barcode in his slides providing a link to the form.
Students can download a barcode reader on to their phone, point it to the screen and the poll comes up in a browser. Results can be instantly fed back to students mid-lecture.
Do the students like what Sebastian is doing? Mostly they love it. Each semester Sebastian polls his students as to their preference for using the Google Site versus Blackboard. Typically about 75% say they prefer Sebastian’s Google Site. Of those that don’t like it (around 10%-15%) the reason is that “they are already using Blackboard for the other courses”, which is a bit like prefering to just have to visit just one building in a multi-building campus. In future Sebastian plans to run the poll at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the course. I think the result by the end of the course will be a lot higher.