Designing Online Learning Spaces using Google Sites


The Horizon Report 2013 refers to the Stephen Downes and George Siemens’ term Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the idea that knowledge production rather than consumption is what drives and connects learners in MOOCs. Our challenge as educators, facilitating learning experiences in online spaces, is to keep transforming the way learners learn.

In facilitating online learning that extends the face-to-face classroom teaching in secondary schools and allows students to connect with each other anytime, anywhere, I have used Google Sites as an online classroom. In this space, students can be authors of their work, collaborators and creators of new ideas. They can communicate with their teachers and peers and negotiate learning to suit their learning pace and style.

In this one space, any course content can be delivered to students and created by students in a variety of ways, such as video (embedding You Tube clips), written work (collaborative writing), real-time feedback, individulised pages where access can be given to specific individuals if / when needed, embedded discussion forums – where students can discuss in allocated groups or as a whole class, or even collaborate with students from  other schools.

These learning opportunities allow students to be self-directed and work in teams, work collaboratively, rather than solely cooperatively, and ideally, become life-long learners.

Some ideas on how you might approach designing online learning spaces using Google Sites are presented below. Please feel free to contribute to this presentation by adding a new slide with your ideas and ways you may approach your online classroom design.


Documenting art practice


Last year, Visual Arts preliminary course students began working on mini bodies of work, as an emersion into art practice and exploration of expressive forms. Some of their processes and procedures often only get recorded in their Visual Arts Process Diaries – VAPDs and I am continually attempting to get them inspired to share some of this great work with the world.

Here is an example of one such documentation; entirely student driven. Please feel free to encourage the students by commenting on their You Tube post.

Transforming Learning: Collaboration and Authentic Task Creation


Teenagers spend a lot of time socialising. Why? Because it is fun. They enjoy talking about what interests them and change company according to their interests (1999 Jonassen, Peck and Wilson).

So, how can schools facilitate learning that engages the socially oriented teenager?

You may be interested in this Authentic Task Design Framework by the University of Wollongong Faculty of Education (2005).

Collaboration seems to be a clear way forward, allowing students to share a common goal, work together and communicate with each other and they can do so easily using various technologies. (Jonassen 2000). Bringing assessment into the picture means that students can learn on ideas and concepts which suit their interests and should therefore be more engaged and motivated to succeed in their project.


An example of a student-centered project which includes many characteristics of authentic learning is the PSYberFest project, currently in progress at nine CEO Sydney schools.

PSY-ber (Privacy and Safety for You) FEST is to be held at Mary MacKillop College, Wakeley in October 2013.

The real-world relevance is outlined in the Event Synopsis:

Students are responsible for creating video-vignettes to showcase on the day, and for running the workshops and learning circles at the event, as well as the marketing and planning of the event.  (Students are defining the task)

Teachers are acting solely as mentors for the event; providing a scaffold of how the day should evolve, facilitating the logistics, and creating the conceptual material (which will act as a justification and foundation for the Project’s existence, while also serving as a road map for the Project’s continuation).

While teachers have been organising logistics around meeting, students have been more and more involved in running Video Conferences to connect with each other.

The philosophy guiding the Project is:

i) students are receptive to ideas and learning opportunities when they are generated by their peers, particularly in relation to cyber and technology safety

ii) students can tell when an event is disingenuously disguised as a student created event, and has an adult foundation or message

iii) there is a need for students to engage with, and search for solutions to the concept of cyber safety. This issue is seen to have generational hallmarks, in that never before has youth been posed with an opportunity to share and connect as instantaneously. The digital footprints created every day by our students will forever follow (or haunt) them, and cyber awareness and ramifications are an essential tool which need to be made available and discussed if we are to continue as responsible providers of the merging of the digital and the educational revolutions.

The project is a complex task to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time.

The Digital Genius Team, in collaboration with invited students from selected schools will put together a series of videos based on digital safety. These will be screened in a ‘Tropfest’ style video screening at the event. Students who created the videos will then workshop those videos with the invited guests. A google site has been launched, as a space for students to collaborate and we will be posting the videos there. Another group will be nominated at the event to host the next year’s event and choose the topics to be on the google site.

Lessons by Students for Students

So, not only will the students be preparing their ‘Tropfest’-style event, they will be also running workshops under the guidance of Dan Haesler, teacher, writer, speaker and consultant. The workshops will be centered around lessons designed by students for students.

Here are some messages from Dan to the students:

You can follow the latest on the project our Twitter conversation on #PSYberFest.

Jonassen, D. H., Peck, K. L. & Wilson, B. G. (1999). Learning with technology: A constructivist perspective. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Jonassen, D. (2000). Computers as mindtools for schools. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Introduction to Google Apps and Collaboration in the Classroom


This week’s Spark Session on the Introduction to Google Apps was recorded and is available on You Tube.

Whilst we looked at Google Apps and their uses, the key focus was on how these tools may be used in the classroom to allow students to be connected, self-motivated and included in designing their own learning. To model and facilitate collaboration, I have also started up a Google Presentation, as a means for crowdsourcing YOUR ideas and enriching our learning. So, please click on the link and include your own slide.

Student Voice: Podcasts as Learner Guides


As a classroom teacher, I continually reflect the way I facilitate learning experiences for the students. Whilst I often feel that nothing is ever perfect enough, that has not stopped me trying to engage students and allow them to connect with learning in a meaningful way.

In this video, I talk about how podcasting can be used in the Classroom, referencing some examples of how I have used podcasting with students, allowing them opportunities to become curators and content creators.

Here is also an example of a student project proposal, submitted on Xtranormal (which is currently, unfortunately, no longer available online – some good substitutes are listed here)


Digital Genius Team @MMCCWakeley


The student Digital Genius team developed at Mary MacKillop College after the introduction of 1:1 laptops to the Year 9 2010 students. It very much became student-driven by early 2012. The inspiration for the team came from the idea of the Genius Bar at all Apple stores. The idea was that at our school library, students could visit the Genius Doc (the name students gave it referencing a the MacBook dock and a doctor, as a someone you’d go to for help when you were not well).  The DiGe Project Team came together, met regularly, solved problems at lunchtimes, assisted with MacBook orientation days for new students and is now the team who supports students and staff not just with technological and Mac-based issues, but more importantly, using technology in their every day learning.

A Genius Doc (Bar) has also been installed in the Irene McCormack Centre (past Library) at the College whereby members of the student team share resources, run Student-Meets (a la Teach Meets), support and assist other students and staff, as well as parents.

Students have also completed the ‘Digital Citizenship Online Challenge’ and have received their DC passports which they wear on lanyards.

They are currently working on a large PSYberFest project together with 8 other schools. You may follow the tweets #PSYberFest

The genesis of the name PSY-ber (Privacy and Safety for You) FEST 2013 came about through the collaboration of the Digital Genius Team under a workshop lead by Dr Doug Ashleigh. ‘PSY’ is a play-on the sound ‘cy’ for ‘cyber, and the popular culture artist ‘Psy’ who produced the music fad of ‘Gangnam Style’. ‘Psy’ also refers to the ‘psychological’ implications involved in cyber safety.