Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Choosing An Online Class Hub: Google Sites Makes Me Googity Sick

This is part two of a <cough, cough> part series on choosing a class internet hub. My objectives for an online class presence are:

1) Parents should see the class website as an intuitive and easy place to find, retrieve, and review information on class events and learning.
2) Students should want to come to the virtual space to explore on their own.
3) Parents should want to come to the virtual space to explore on their own.
4) The online space should be extension of the classroom where we can come together to discuss ideas, offer and seek help, and expand our understanding.

I hope to use these objectives to guide my decision making, experimentation, and overall process of finding the right online hub for my class. In my experience, the second and third objectives are extremely important, but are often overlooked. They're objectives that intertwine not only content, but design as well.
The guy on the right would agree with me

But they're tricky objectives too. As evidence, I submit school webpages from the district I student-taught in, my previous school, and my current school. These aren't meant to be bad examples. They just don't mindfully take into account the second and third objectives of what I think an online class (or in this case, school) hub should be. So with those objectives in mind...

Google Sites Makes Me Googity Sick
I wanted to like Google Sites when I was first introduced to it. I set up a page, and then, with my heart filled with... blood I guess, I looked forward to choosing a site style. Here is a sample of the wondrous array of choices that bewitched my senses:

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but there are even more style choices!

What better way to attract people to your website than using 8-bit color gradients and generic designs? Who wouldn't be transported to a luscious and magical field of green when choosing the "garden" style? Do you want to spice things up a bit, but still be alone? Then the "Solitude: Spice" style, with its insipid orange header and all white content area is just what the doctor ordered.

To be fair, you don't have to use one of the styles provided in Google Sites. If they have the time and the counter-intuitiveness it takes to be a Google Sites master, they can make a beautiful site like this one:
So I was okay with ignoring the styles and designing one of my own. But how these webpages look is only the beginning of the issues that I have with the application. 
The design of the published page is ugly, but the design of the web editor is clunky and restricting. Traversing from page to page can take an inexplicable amount of load time. Formatting a page can be weird and cumbersome. For example, sometimes I have issues with inserting a simple table, and sometimes I don't.  This sporadic issue with simple formatting is just the kind of excitement I look forward to when I'm updating a web page. But even saving work has caused problems for me. I used Google Sites as E-Portfolio pages for my class in 2010, and there were several times during our updates that Google Sites just refused to save changed content. The children had no choice but to do their work over again.

I'm probably missing something.  Google has lots of developers that should know better, so most definitely I am missing something and Google Sites may be a paradise of rainbows and unicorns. But I need to be proved wrong. The user interface for both the developer and the user are unacceptable for a classroom. Because Google Sites is ugly, difficult to work with, clunky, and counter-intuitive, it breaks my first, second and third objectives to having an online class hub to begin with. I'm not sure there is a worse free website host and editor.

Whether you agree or disagree with me, I would love to know your experience with Google Sites.

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