Thursday, December 15, 2011

Using Google for Course Management

I now use a variety of Google platforms for course management: Google Sites, Google Docs, Google Groups and Google Calendar. I have set up a dummy site illustrating how I use these. To view the site, simply send me an email at and I will add you to the site.

I never used Blackboard, so I can't say how doing this compares. I used Moodle for many years, but my students reported that it was cluncky, slow to load, etc. I found it aesthetically difficult and extremely difficult to use in the sense that doing one simple action took several clicks and dialogue boxes.

Alternatively, if you are at least somewhat technically savvy, Google is aesthetically nice, easy to use, and has very simple, clear privacy settings.

Some provisos: 1) users must have a Gmail account, 2) you must use privacy settings to be compliant with copyright, FERPA, etc 3) you have to invite folks across all of the platforms you use rather than inviting folks in one simple step for all.

In the coming weeks if folks are interested I will detail exactly how I use the individual platforms, e.g., Google Docs (for syllabi, assignments, quizes, etc.) Google Groups (for discussion fora), and Google Calendar (for scheduling appointments).


  1. Hi, Becko,

    I'm very much interested, especially as I grow more and more tired of Moodle (though very appreciative of the labor and thought that go into it...) .

    Two quick questions: (1) Are you concerned about having so much that's tied to Google? For instance, do you discuss privacy/publicity/ownership of personal information with your students?

    (2) I've read in more than a few places that Google's Apps suite rates poorly on general measures of accessibility to people with disabilities. See, e.g., here:, but see also Google's discussion of accessibility here: . Have you had students who had challenges using the Apps suite?

    -- Vance

  2. Thanks for this, Becko. I'm interested in learning more about how you use Docs and Calendar.

    Since I'm not using much of the functionality of Blackboard, one of my end-of-term projects has been to move my courses over (from Blackboard) to gApps. One of them is here ...

    I've embedded the syllabus and gradebook (spreadsheet) and also my Calendar so students can see when I'm busy (but it's not set up to allow students to add themselves to it. Do you do this?); otherwise it's materials distributions.

    I haven't used Docs for paper submissions and feedback, though I know a colleague who does. Any experience with that?

    Related: Since my college's Blackboard contract is up at the end of the AY, I just did a bunch of research on using gApps either by itself or with a variety of custom LMSs which are integrated to with gApps (gApps for Education, that is). You can take a look at:

    Blackboard is clunky but it seems to be staying ahead/up with other LMSs, which, as they add features to match Bb, are rising towards Bb's price.

    - Cathal

  3. Great questions Vance. The course site is open to all and only the students in that class and I have no grade information available through the site. So it has the same level of privacy as Moodle. I didn't know about the accessibility issues and that is very important to me. I have not yet run into problems but I can anticipate that I will. It looks like Google is taking this seriously, which is good to know:

    Cathal - your site looks great! During busy times of the year - especially during advising time - I use the Make Appointments feature in Google Calendar so that students can sign up for a time slot within a specified time period. It works pretty good. I don't use Google docs for paper submissions and feedback. But once I find an iPad app that really allows me to mark up a paper, I can see transitioning to that. Any suggestions?

    I don't have a gradebook on my site just because while Google has privacy, it is not behind the school's firewall and so the registrar would not be happy with that level of security regarding student data.

    Thanks for the research on LMSs! That is really helpful.

  4. I've used google docs for all sorts of things. My students submit all their papers there because it's so easy for me to make comments.

    This last semester I used it to post articles (because I use historical texts — Mill, Kant, Plato, etc) in the public domain. I was able to highlight aspects of the text that are important and to put comments in the margin to explain specific passages. Also, I gave students the ability to post their own comments and they'd post questions about particular passages and I'd be able to go in and answer the questions (or other students would).

    I've also just learned (as in a few hours ago) how to link from one location in one document to another location in a different document and already I'm thinking of ways to make use of this.

    I have yet to find something that I want to be able to do that I'm not able to do on google (of course this just may be a lack of imagination on my part).

  5. "I've also just learned (as in a few hours ago) how to link from one location in one document to another location in a different document"...

    jmc, how do you do that? (i.e., how does one do that?)

  6. It's annoyingly easy ("annoying" because I wan't able to figure it out on my own).

    Let's say you have two documents: A & B. And you want a link in B that, when 'clicked' on, take you to a particular spot in A.

    You go to that spot in A and insert a bookmark ('insert' on the pulldown menu to "bookmark" that is near the bottom). Then when the bookmark is in the text, you click on it and you'll get two options ('link' and 'remove'). If you click on 'link', look to the (now new) web address in your web browser. Copy that web address and now go to B where you are going to insert that web address as the url for the link.

    So, you go to the spot in B where you want the link. Go to the pull down menu again and insert a link. Paste in the web address that you've copied (that's the web address of the bookmarked spot).

    If I was clear in my directions, that should work.

    This is going to seriously revolutionize the material that I give my students.
    Go to the

  7. That is so super cool!

    How do you do comments on Google Docs?

    I'm still doing comments by hand, in part because if I type my comments I make too many of them!

  8. Making comments is just "insert" comment....or do, on a mac, < option > < command > < m >

    It's very efficient for me since I type much faster than I can write. Also students can get the comments immediately *and* they can respond to comment within the comment. One thing to make sure you do is change the 'notification options' on the comment link in the upper right corner.

  9. I use blackboard and have been satisfied with it, though learning about all of these features of google sites will make me revisit it. However, I've been thinking about using google site/documents as a way to share pdfs of readings and course materials with other instructors teaching our intro philosophy course. Has anyone tried this?

  10. Becko - Thanks for pointing out that 'Make Appointment' option. The apps are being improved all the time!

    I'm interested to hear from anyone who has used (or intends to use) gApps for any of the functions that Blackboard and other custom LMSs make easy but which *could* be replicated, roughly, on the current gApps.

    For example, has anyone tried using Sites as a wiki? And graded the students' work on it?

    Thanks to all.

  11. You can also use Coursites ( which is a free Blackboard platform that has all the features of the Blackboard course management system without needing a licence through your institution. You invite students to join the course, there is a fully functional gradebook, discussion boards, you can post lesson. And, since it's all in one package it might be easier than using several Google platforms.

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