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Pros: Quickly make an attractive website with little guidance; Google keeps adding features.
Cons: Students new to web design might not know where or how to begin; design gurus will want more control and font options.
Bottom Line: With a few clicks, students can design a basic but custom, responsive website that allows for easy collaboration with their peers.
You and your older students will find the most value in Google Sites. Class-related sites let users post daily features and polls, maintain a calendar, and upload assignments. You can also post photographs that document class projects and highlight student accomplishments. Sites can have multiple contributors, making this a good way for students to learn collaboration; projects could include a school newspaper, student club, sports team, or magazine of student writing and artwork. Students can even create websites as assignments themselves, demonstrating their knowledge on a subject. Sharing is a key component of Google Sites, with students being able to share their sites while in edit mode to allow for collaboration. Once published, a site can also be shared with a specific audience, making it easy to keep sites accessible only to those inside your class, school, family, etc.
Though the tool can be used to create fairly sophisticated websites, basic ones can also be created quickly with the easy drag-and-drop features. So even students without much web savvy can use Sites for school or personal needs. Older students will also enjoy experimenting with graphic design and layout -- the basics of web design -- while establishing a place that's theirs on the web. Teachers can create their own templates and then duplicate these template sites as needed, or publish sites that only the teachers and administrative staff can access.
Google Sites helps anyone create clean, functional, responsive websites on any topic. The drag-and-drop editor is easy to use, but there's little design inspiration built in. To start using Google Sites, students log in, click on the rainbow "+" button, and dive right into the design. There's a very brief tour of the interface, and then students are given a mostly blank page with a place to add their site's name and the main page's name. The site's name will become students' default URL once they publish unless they change it.
Options for what to add to the website include additional pages, text boxes, images, documents, and embedded elements, such as videos, maps, calendars, documents, other websites, and more. Students can use one of six section layout templates for images and text. They can create collapsible text areas, automatically create a table of contents from page headers, make clickable buttons, and create image galleries. They can organize, reorganize, and edit most elements, making minor modifications in font, color, background, and other basic traits. There are six built-in themes to choose from that help students create a look-and-feel for their site, and minor modifications can be made to those as well. Additional pages can be created and placed in hierarchies, which are accessible in a menu from the main page. The interface allows for previewing the site at any time; students can see what it will look like on a computer, tablet, or phone.
This new Google Sites incarnation brings a lot of changes from the classic Sites, which is slowly being phased out. Many features, such as sophisticated templates, haven't (yet) been brought over from classic, but Google keeps adding new features as it works to phase out the old version.
Students can really personalize their Google Sites page by creating their own website style, even making and adding their own personal favicon. They can customize their site with logos and use matching colors and style. Staring at a blank page to begin with, though, might discourage some students, but the open-ended possibilities will excite others. Still, most students will eventually need to access the help files within Sites and possibly even the more in-depth help on the Google site itself. Built-in help, though, has plenty of useful information on getting started, creating sites, editing and sharing, accessibility, troubleshooting, and more. As students search for the answers to their questions, they'll also learn about more of Sites' features and can then expand how they use it.
Just by building their own sites, students will learn about the web, about design, and about organizing their material. It's easy to insert links to anywhere on the web, including other pages on their site. Students can search for images to use right in the Sites interface, and results are restricted to those labeled for commercial reuse with modification, taking the guesswork out of image rights. A webpage hierarchy of up to five levels allows for great depth of content, so students can be creative in how they arrange and present their material. More advanced students can set up Google Analytics to track their numbers.