Saturday, September 13, 2014

Trick Out Your Google Site

Read Sites Tips and Hacks

Some time after Christmas, I decided that I needed to get my act together and really figure out how to use Google Sites. I needed a professional website, and I needed to be able to speak from a position of experience when talking about all of Google's tools, so I set out to master Sites.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

My first version was, admittedly, pretty basic. Nothing fancy, maybe too many colours, things weren't as organized as I'd wanted. I had a plan in mind, but I was having some trouble figuring out how to get to where I wanted to be.

The basics were pretty easy to get the hang of. Once you know where to look for things, it's pretty simple to start getting things to work the way you want. But I quickly realized that there were some limits to sites, and I wanted more.

Fast forward a few months, and I've got some experience under my belt. I've built (shameless plug) to be a hub for resources, thoughts, ideas, and to support and extend what I began with this blog. I've also put together to serve as a resource for the Twitter chat I help moderate (yes, that's another shameless plug).

When I showed them to my friend +Tanya Avrith , her comments were incredibly positive. I think the nicest thing she said was "It doesn't even look like a Google site!" This was a compliment because, if you've spent time on a Google site, it has a certain look and feel. It has typical elements, and there are always things you won't find on a Google site.

I decided to document some of the things I've tried, learned, or implemented on my site. It's in keeping with my open source philosophy that I share how I do what I do. So I started to put together a Google Doc to collect what I've done. It's now 19 pages later, and I still have a few things I want to add (like using Google Webmaster Tools).

If you're interested, take a look at the document. It will keep evolving as I continue to learn new things.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014


If you haven't heard about the issue of Net Neutrality, you need to get reading. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but this is a critical issue to education, democracy and access. If we lose this battle, corporations will have power over content delivery, and we will lose the freedom to publish, and the access that the internet has facilitated since its inception.

Cable companies want this to happen. They want to charge for a faster connection. Here in Canada, they're already doing this to consumers, but now they want to double-dip and charge websites as well. If this happens, get used to seeing that icon up there. A lot.

I don't care where you live - if you're online (and if you're not, how are you reading this?!) then this will affect you. Show anyone and everyone who will listen, government or not, that this is important. I want my children to grow up in a world where freedom of speech and freedom of access to ideas is supported. Corporate power shouldn't extend to what could effectively result in censorship.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The First #GEGMtl Meetup

I can't believe it's already been a week since our inaugural meet up of the Montreal Google Educator Group. It was a great time, and I was thrilled to see the familiar faces that I had missed all summer! In all the fun, I completely forgot to take any photos (oops!) so I'll try to paint you a verbal picture.

We mostly chatted about what we had done over the summer, what was coming up for the school year, and reconnected over a cup of coffee. I had the chance to share what I've been working on with Learning Bird, and to give members a sneak peek at what's in the works for the next big release. I can't reveal much here, but it's exciting.

I also had a chance to talk with +Brent Callahan and +judith white about Smarty Pins. This is a really fun geographic trivia game, but they were quick to point out how it could tie into teaching and learning in social studies. Imagine a trivia game where the questions came from history and geography teachers all over the world! Questions that are tagged not only with a location, but also with a date, with relevant cultures or societies, or event with time periods. Imagine a game that students could play that teachers could tailor to their current unit. Trivia questions that are focused on ancient Rome, or urbanization in Latin America. Imagine a date-range slider that would allow teachers to specify the time period they wanted to focus on!

I know quite a bit about using Google Apps for Education, maps, forms, spreadsheets, and I know a few people (like +Chris Webb ) who are utterly brilliant. I have no doubt that given the time, we could come up with something similar. However, what I really want, and what I'm trying to accomplish, is to have this be rolled into an education-specific version of Smarty Pins.

How cool would that be?!

For our next meet up, I'm looking forward to sharing our first impressions of the school year, the challenges we face (and in some cases, face over and over), and how we can address them in new ways. I have it on my list to get better at writing Apps Scripts, and hopefully I'll be able to create an add-on before the end of the school year. Members of the Google+ community will get a sneak preview and hopefully will be able to help me beta-test it.

Until next time, thanks everyone for coming and making back-to-school a chance for me to catch up with friends!