Sunday, August 7, 2011

Google Sites increases sustainability of student organization websites

When I was handed the position of Webmaster for our Student Development Organization, I had to request access to the university's FTP server with my Blackboard user ID. After a day or so, an administrator finally granted me permission to our student organization's designated webspace. To modify our current site, I would have to download an HTML editor and an FTP client. Furthermore, our URL would always be long and unappealing (

In the late 1990's, free webspace on the university's servers might have been an appealing offer, but unfortunately even the latest upgrades to their content management system have not kept up with the user-friendly features of Google Sites.

An important feature of any student organization website is sustainability. By this, I don't mean how "green" the page is, but how easy it is to hand down to the next cohort of students. Rather than submitting a request to IT to have them grant administrative access to a select portion of their FTP server, we have a simple login to our Google account that hosts online documents, a calendar, email, and website - all for free!

When it comes to the design itself, Google Sites offers amazing features that allow you to easily embed Google documents, forms, and calendars directly on the pages. Webmasters need only know how to operate a word processor, because all of the tables, columns, and wrappers are adjustable with a slide bar - no coding required.

Google Sites increases sustainability of student organization websites

Because of its ease of use, Google Sites increases the chances that a student in the next cohort has the know-how to keep the site going.

Google Sites increases sustainability of student organization websites

It seems that student organization webpages go through generations, as capable webmasters come and go. I was able to find 3 past generations of my own student org's page, each created and maintained by a different student. Undoubtedly, each student created a page as they saw fit, using the tools they were familiar with. When they left, the site left with them. Hopefully Google Sites can break the cycle, because there are no original files located on a personal hard drive, the interface is simple and inviting, and Google provides adequate support for common problems and questions.

I suppose only time will tell if my own Google Site lasts more than one 'generation' of transitions, but I have high hopes. And I'm not surprised to see more and more student organizations, programs, and offices creating their own sites on Google.

What I learned: Don't re-invent the wheel, just Google it.