Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Using Google Spreadsheets & Wix to Publish a Class Portfolio

My two Senior Electives - Dystopian Literature and Science Fiction Literature - are drawing to a close, and students are completing the course by creating their own text. In the mix: short stories, vignettes, choose your own adventures, a musical album, and a board game. Final projects can be found here: Dystopian and Sci Fi

My objectives for the final project:

  1. demonstrate understanding of the genre
  2. go through process of disciplined inquiry and independent development to craft final product
  3. publish to broad online audience 
  4. incorporate student texts into the course final

Students worked for the month of January to construct their final story / text / world / narrative. To help them conceptualize their time and keep themselves organized, they set up project goals and a calendar. Click here for a copy of Sal's planning.

As we went through the subsequent weeks, we spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Information Media Center (If the day begins with T / We're in the IMC!) where students could spread out at tables or use the desktops to go online. We also had access to the iPad carts, which surprisingly few students took advantage of. When they completed some of their process (idea development, outline, etc) they brought it to me to initial and date.

In my effort to fuse objectives three and four, I determined that publishing to a class blog would be the most effective way for students to browse each other's work for the final. I considered Posterous, based on the ease of posting via email (Greg Kulowiec and I used this when doing our Paperless Research Unit), but find the interface unappealing, especially if students are formatting their work in different ways. Greg had used Wix as a platform for a previous project, but I haven't played with it.

I set up a Wix.com account and chose a 'Portfolio' theme, as I wanted to feature thumbnails as 'book covers' that would catch the reader's eye. I needed a picture, a title, and a link for each element.

To collect those three things from my students, I set up a spreadsheet with their names along the side and what I needed across the top.

This spreadsheet served as both a to-do list and a way for me to keep tabs on student progress through the tasks. I used 'conditional formatting' to make it if students wrote 'yes' then the cell would turn green. In this way, I could quickly note which kids were completing what they needed.

Some might suggest using Google Forms as a way to have students submit work, but I find the collaborative feel of this spreadsheet (all of us have it open throughout the period) gives me a pulse of the class instead of empty forms that push information to teacher. In addition, sharing the document allows students to model for each other, easily lean over and ask for help, and gives me a chance to skim over the screen to see who needs help.

I used the board in the room to say that 1) fill out the form and 2) email me a photo for your 'cover photo' - students then did some metacognitive / rubric work while I helped who needed it.

After school, I took on the grunt work of the Wix site, uploading the pictures students sent, labeling them with titles and 'by ___' and adding the link the student had put on the document. While this sounds like many steps, it was actually pretty quick and easy to do. As I went down the spreadsheet, I coded it with colors, comments, and notes about the day's submissions. When I was done, the spreadsheet looked like this:

Thankfully, it took only about 30-40 minutes to get that all organized (I told you - Wix was easy). Some teachers might not be comfortable with the color coding of the chart for all students to see, but I am more concerned about clear communication with my personal organizational mediums. Students can see in real time whether or not I have everything or if they need to fix something - they don't have to wait until I catch them the next day. In addition, no actual grades are ever posted on a spreadsheet like this, as it is for collection purposes only.

A nod to the importance of repetition: 
- students were familiar with virtual submission because of our earlier Pearltrees assignment
- students had enough familiarity with Google Docs to be fairly at ease publishing to the web (before they had just 'shared' with me) and with helping each other when they needed to walk through it

Submitting assignments can always feel like trying to reign in chaos - paper or virtual. This was no exception, as I had absences, missing assignments, and missing photos. However, the extra time I put into publishing this one will have multiple benefits:
          - students can read each other's work later this week
          - next semester, I can use this as our model for our final
          - I can grade these assignments from anywhere with internet access and am not tethered to a pile of papers

While not a perfect workflow solution, combining Google Spreadsheets and Wix was an excellent way to fulfill my objectives for this project.

Again, here are our final sites: Dystopian and Sci Fi

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