Google Apps as LMS and PLE

This article will talk about how to combine the free edition of Google Apps to set up a synergetic LMS for your teaching practice, dealing with lecturing, content creation, collaboration and assessment. With the correct approach, it’ll work as an effective PLE, as well.

In the digital era of Education, Learning Management Systems are delineating themselves as good allies for the teaching practice, providing a canvas to place contents, PLE curating tools, a secure environment to work in, different collaboration modes, activity control systems and several ways of assessment.

But, what LMS would suit you best? That depends on your needs, your audience, your digital abilities, the LMS’s complexity and your budget. There are multiple options, as Moodle, Edmodo or Google Classroom, among many others.

This article is going to focus on the free edition of Google Apps. During the last years they have been put to an enhancement process, and, nowadays, they can be effectively used for educational purposes. To do so, they have to be synergistically constellated to create a consistent and coherent system. If you aren’t familiar with them (or don’t know how to use them), have a look at Google’s documentation:


Google offers plenty of tools for free. Check the following list with some interesting uses:

Sites: barebone of our LMS.

Blogger (and Sites): student portfolio, webquest holder, wiki, blog, collaboration space for PBLs, course’s diary, students’ reflection area, open canvas, bulletin.

Calendar: appointments with students and parents (and assistant teachers), course’s events (exams, deadlines), notifications (sudden problems, schedule changes) and tasks (homework).

Gmail/Inbox: communication, tasks, groups, reminders, pen pals.

Drive: cloud storage.

Docs: content production, real-time collaboration, multiple viewing modes (edition, revision, view), peer review, wikis, handbooks, translations, research (through its integrated tools), functionality extension through add-ons.

Sheets: student lists, grades, peer review, rubrics, charts, inventory, tracking, simple database.

Slides: lectures, presentations, screencasts, storytelling, comics, flashcards.

Forms: exams, surveys, classroom check-in/out, registration, summary of results, data collecting from experiments, activity report submission, appointments, requests.

Drawings: cliparts, graphical organizers, storyboards, mind maps, diagrams, timelines.

Hangouts: online lectures, screencasts, meetings, tutoring, lesson recap.

Google Search ( information search, dictionary, Math solver, service locator...

Google custom search (

Groups: communication, forum.

Google+ communities: social interaction, research, sharing.

Keep: check-lists, notes, voice and video notes. This tool is really useful to jot down ideas that pop up during the day (mainly using the mobile app).

Tasks ( tickable tree-structure tasks, to-do lists.

Youtube (and Youtube teachers): documentaries, students’ video activity log, dramatization, screencasts, Khan, EdTed. Online video editing.

Google Fonts. url shortener, stats.

Maps and Earth: geography related activities.

Stars: astronomy/astrophysics related activities.

Translate: translation for international students and parents. Included in Docs.

Website translator: Sites shows a link in the bottom right corner for translation. Blogger has an ad-hoc widget (or you can insert it manually:

Picasa: activities with pictures (infinite possibilities).

Bookmarks and web search history: logging of your web activity in Google for work improvement.

Analytics: student behaviour inside your LMS (Blogger has its own stats, but both can be combined).

Trends: term popularity, search trends.

Chrome: offline working, multiple profiles, activity recording, tool integration, bookmarking, applications, extensions. alternative tools (

Android and Chrome Apps: there are tons of them for educational purposes.

Common cloud features:

1- The Google tools have been developed to work on multiple devices (laptops, tablets, phones...).

2- Some of them have mobile applications, as Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Calendar, Chrome, Google+ or Analytics. You’ll find Chrome apps for the same purpose, as well.

3- Some apps let you work offline (go to the Chrome market and search for Google offline apps), as the ones under Drive (and remember to download and install Drive’s app).

4- Docs, Slides and Sheets add real collaboration capabilities, e.g, editing a document at the same time by up to 50 people.

Continued from Stages on the next page.....


When approaching an LMS you’ll see: the setting-up, utilization, and enhancement stages. Besides, there are two important aspects to take in count: the pedagogical aspect of your teaching practice, and the technological one. For the first you can read my previous article (


A picture’s worth a thousand words. Check this site I’ve created to support this article: You can see an LMS example implemented with Google Apps. Let’s see the how-to’s:

Create a Google Site: later on you can save it as a template for others to use it.

Create a page-structure; decide what suits you best:

a: Types of pages:

  • Web: general usage, perfect to embed multiple things.
  • Announcements: blog-like, great for news.
  • File cabinet: similar to Drive storage.
  • List: log-like, useful to communicate updates, changes...

Home: make it an announcements-page and publish your recent activity, welcome message, important news, etc. This is valuable if you plan to have multiple subjects.


Subject-home: similar to the previous home, but focused on the subject.

Check-in: it might be useful to make your students check-in (and out) if you are going to ask them to stick to the agenda. Forms will do the trick.

Contents and resources: embed other tools by Google (using the insert menu), or embed tools from outside (check this collection: Due to Google’s policy some elements can be seen as a threat, and they’ll be discarded automatically. In that case you’ll see a notification message.

Collaboration area: create a web-page for each of the elements in this sublist. Inside the page embed or link to the correspondent element.

  • Wiki: shared Doc/Slides.
  • Chat: Hangouts.
  • Forum: Groups.
  • Database/glossary/data collections (for those familiarized with Moodle): Sheets.
  • Peer review (this will be explained later, and it can be placed here or in the assessment area).
  • Google+ communities.

Assessment area: as in the collaboration area you can create several web-pages.

Work submission: sharing through email, uploading to a Drive folder, sharing a link, or blogging.

Exams: Forms, collected on Sheets (include formulas to grade).

Grade-board: the previous Sheet with the results.

Portfolio: Blogger and Sites are good candidates for such purpose. After your students have created them, they can submit their URLs using a Form.

Survey area: Forms, for opinion and reflection.

Assign permissions (global or page-level): people without proper permissions will be allowed to request them. Remember you can use Groups to ease the job instead of typing all your students’ emails (gather them inside a group, when granting permissions to the group students will be granted too).


  • View: you can see everything, unable to edit Site’s elements. Best for students.
  • Edit: add and edit pages and their contents. Best for assistant teachers.
  • Owner: manage the Site. You.

Multiple permissions: it’s important to take in count that embedded elements can have different permissions. For example, you couldn’t edit a Site’s pages, but you could edit a Doc embedded on it. The same goes for other elements from the outside.

Create a menu: do it manually, otherwise the elements will be ordered alphabetically. And remember, not all pages have to be linked to the menu, they can also be linked to other pages.

Spice everything up with a good design: you have plenty of templates. Remember to tick the option for mobile adaptation (in Sites settings).

Link your Site with Google Analytics.


During this time you’ll do basically four things:

Insert/modify contents: notify you audience of those changes.

Interact with your students, dynamizing your LMS.

  • Your students should keep their blog/site contents up-to-date, including exercises, reflections, and complementary contents curated by them. Make them be protagonists and teachers for better outcomes.
  • For collaboration purposes use real-time and editing/revision modes in Drive, Groups, Communities… and remember to keep them alive.
  • When it comes to doubts, problems, and the like, you might consider to open a discussion thread so other students can help (instead of solving the problem directly).
  • Help your students create clear, tidy and useful folder structures inside their Drives.
  • Help your students to set up their Chromes. That way, they could go on working in case of a wifi blackout.
  • Googling in an effective manner is not so straightforward, so teach them how to improve their searching techniques.

Activate/deactivate elements according to your needs (for example, you can have multiple assignment pages, and make them appear as the course goes ahead).

Be a technological assistant: Google Apps are full of useful features evolving constantly. To make the most out of them you should teach your students key aspects for their daily work.

Bear in mind that ubiquity is key when using an LMS. Picturing your students sitting in front of a computer can be a thing from the past. Youngsters are very dynamic and are really accustomed to wear mobile phones everywhere, so they can find slots of time to read articles, submit opinions or check groups. Thus, be careful when choosing contents, as some technologies aren’t mobile friendly (e.g. Android and Flash).


If you want to better your LMS you have three ways to do it:

1: Observe your daily work and your students’ and improve it accordingly.

2: Poll your students about their opinion on the course and on the LMS (use measurable answers to contrast results).

3: Check your Analytics account.

  • Know the amount of time spent in your LMS (for more control try to always  embed your contents in the pages).
  • Know the navigational behaviour.

Based on the collected data you’ll be able to apply changes to your LMS during the course of after it’s completed.



For online lecturing Hangout comes on hand. You can create a recorded lecture using a Slide presentation, your cam and the screen recording option. As you give your presentation you can explain it and create a more humane experience, as your students will see and hear you. Live Hangouts will record everything happening in your screen and cam, and upload it to Youtube. Follow these simple steps to create yours:

  • Go to Google+
  • Left menu, Hangouts.
  • Start a Live Hangout.
  • Share it with: your students, or another gmail of yours to make it "private".
  • Activate screencasting, left menu, second icon, and choose which window will be recorded.
  • Start broadcasting.
  • Start your lecture (up to 8h).
  • Stop broadcasting and the video will be uploaded to your Youtube account.

You’ll be able to see the screencast in context (see my example): or through Youtube:

You can also make easier for your students to give their presentations using this same method, as:

  • They can prepare everything in advance.
  • They can give their presentation at home, without the pressure of the audience.


To gamify means including game elements in non-game contexts to improve users’ engagement. Let’s see some of the elements involved in gamification, and how to implement them:


Points/Leaderboards: create and embed a Sheet page with your students names and their scores.

Progress bars: create several pictures with different stages of a progress bar, as photograms. Keep changing them in the main page as the course goes ahead.

Easter eggs: place strategic links to Forms (in places you want your students to go), so eggs (and whatever they mean for your system) can be reclaimed filling in in the Forms with the correct answers.

Certificates: create your own certificates with Docs, and hand them out to your students.

Peer review

This activity works like this:

  • Create a task.
  • Students will submit their works.
  • Students will be assigned other students to grade their works (peer to peer).
  • Final grades will be calculated (e.g. 75% teacher’s, and 25% peers’).

Despite there isn’t an automated mode for peer reviewing, we can use some homemade way to do the same:

  • Create a Form, students will submit their names, emails and links to their works.
  • Assign peers in the resulting Sheet. You can do it manually or through some ad-hoc script.
  • Create a script to send the link of the submitter to the correspondent peers’ emails (doing it manually could be too harsh, unless your class is tinny), and include a link to another Form for grading.
  • Collect the grades and do the calculations.


Virtual gymkhanas are an engaging resource to mix play and work:

Create a list of challenges: find information with Google Search or solve an equation, locate a spot in Maps, calculate the 50th number of Fibonacci’s sequence with Sheets, collect 25 volunteers’ signatures with Forms, design a badge with Drawings, record a 5 min lesson with Hangouts, edit a 2 min happening with Youtube, score 1000 points with Chrome’s dynosaur, find a picture in an Art Gallery or in the Street Art Project, score km with Google’s SmartyPins, build a house with Chrome, come across an item in Night Walk…

Set up the path.

Create a web-page structure to host the challenges. 

Include Forms so students can submit the results of each challenge.

Question banks for exams

Populating Forms using Sheets is possible through the option: “Pre-filled URL”. Have a look at this excellent tutorial by Alice Keeler:

Virtual visits

Google Maps, Earth, Streetview, Night walk and Art Gallery (even Google Moon, Mars or Sky) are wonderful tools to enjoy virtual visits.

Google Scripts

Even though some Google Apps can be a bit limited in comparison with other LMSs, it’s true that Google allows you to code your own scripts to extend the functionality of its tools. You don’t have to be an A+ coder, but you really need to know:

  • Java/javascript style syntax.
  • Google Apps’ object model (and libraries).
  • Some coding basis.

For more information:

About the Author
Author: Andoni SanzWebsite:
I'm a Computer Scientist working as a STEM Teacher and an Educational Technologist. Google Certified Educator and Moodle expert, I'm immersed in a non-stop research on technology applied to education, combined with the latest pedagogy trends, as blended learning or gamification. Also working on Gamecodization: teaching how to code through game development.

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