Using Google Sites in a Renaissance Art History Class

This past semester (Spring 2017), I decided to experiment with Google Sites in my Renaissance art history class. Originally I planned to have students create an Omeka exhibition, as I’ve done in the past, but in the spirit of adventure I decided to mix it up. I wanted to experiment with the new Google Sites myself, and I decided to once again assign my students a project that was modeled on Smarthistory essays. Just before the semester, I had also re-read Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis’s essay about mentoring students to use digital technologies in art history and archaeology. Pepperdine students already have accounts synced to Google Apps, so I decided to create a semester-long project that students developed around an object they viewed at the Getty Center or LACMA. The assignment asked them to develop a Smarthistory-style essay around this one object. All the essays would appear as separate pages on the same Google Site (Renaissance Art).

 

I’ll write another post that details the assignment breakdown in more detail, but for now I’d like to focus on my students’ experiences with Google Sites. During their final presentation, I asked them to spend time reflecting on the project process, especially their time using Google Sites. I was curious.

My students unanimously agreed on a few pros and cons of Google Sites.

The pros:

  • easy to use, with drag and drop abilities
  • looks nicely polished at the end

The cons:

  • little ability to individualize font size, color, type
  • difficulty sizing images (either too big or too small)
  • color palette is limited
  • formatting for all pages must be the same (when one student changed the format, it affected all of their pages).
  • too much focus on Google products/software (go figure)
  • inability to add a blog feature

Overall, it was a wonderful learning experience for us all. I enjoyed seeing their progress over time. Even when they felt limited (and frustrated!) by Google Sites, I appreciated their honest feedback. Their final projects were impressive, and they unanimously stated that this was an exciting project that built on, but differed from, traditional art history papers. They noted that they appreciated learning more of these skills and tools, even if Google Sites makes it very user-friendly. They don’t often experiment with making websites, and they noted that this was a skill they felt they needed when they graduated. One student said they were “really intimidated at first, but by the end I felt really confident with my new skill set.”

Even if I decide that Google Sites is too limiting for future classes, I still think this past semester’s experiment was a great success. Students enjoyed it, as did I. I can’t wait to see how my Fall semester class does with the new Omeka project I’ve developed!

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