This summer I waited not so patiently for the arrival of Google Classroom. After watching this video in June, how couldn’t I be excited?
The video is a very good preview of what Classroom is an does. I also like Alice Keeler’s list of 20 things Google Classroom can do.
I have used Google Classroom for my classes since the start of this school year on September 2nd. I have also trained teachers in my district. The consensus among my colleagues is that Google Classroom is a game-changing tool that can be improved. I agree.
How Google Classroom Makes My Practice More Sustainable
Before I discuss how I would improve Classroom, here are my two cents about why it is so useful to teachers. I dislike replying on photocopiers and bringing home stacks of paper assignments to grade. Classroom changes that. As long as you have your assignment ready as a Google Drive file, it can be used to make a paperless assignment. This is through the magic of a wonderful setting called “make a copy for each student.”
This creates a copy for each student they manipulate independent of other students’ copies and your original assignment file. Each student’s assignment automatically goes into a folder that is easy to access.
Clicking “FOLDER” brings you to a Google Drive folder with every student’s assignment. You don’t have to wait until assignments are submitted to look at student work. You can click on any assignment in the folder and look at your students’ work in progress. What a great tool this is! Comment on work and let students know how they are doing before it is due. This reminds me of the scene in Spaceballs where they watch the movie as it is being made:
Room for Improvement
Here are some ideas for how Google Classroom can be improved so it can further enhance the teacher and student experience.
I would love the ability to set a post to be added to the Google Classroom feed at a specific time. This would be similar to setting specific times for tweets in HootSuite. I like to have students with 1-to-1 computers start the class with an assignment placed in Classroom. If I post the assignment too far ahead of the start of class, students can get confused and think it is an assignment they have to complete ASAP. They might work on it before class if they have some free time. I would prefer to put the assignment in Classroom in the night before and have it appear in the students’ feed precisely when class starts.
Before Google Classroom, I used a combination of Moodle and Wikispaces. I prefer to use Classroom but I do miss Moodle’s unit buckets. At present, Classroom is like Facebook or Twitter in that the students see one long continuous feed. I would like to compartmentalize content into different buckets. This would make review and finding things (such as unit projects and unit anchor activities) easier for students.
One aspect of Google Classroom needing improvement is it’s inability to differentiate. There are no tools to have different components of an assignment assigned to different students in the class. Teachers can work around and get creative but this really should be built in. I had pairs working on a presentation and only the presentation owner could submit the assignment. The partner who shared the Google Slides presentation could not attach it to submit the assignment. To these students it appears they have an overdue assignment.
When I helped a teacher in my school’s learning support department, we discovered that two teachers can not teach the same class in Classroom. This is unfriendly to team-teaching inclusion settings.
I am certain Google will address this sooner rather than later but they have not as of yet.
Google Calendar Does Not Talk to Google Classroom
When you create an assignment, you can set a due date and time to the minute. This is nice but it is not synced with Google Calendar. I have to create a Google Calendar for each of my classes. Each calendar is independent of Classroom. How nice would it be if every time I created an assignment in Classroom it automatically appeared on Calendar? My current workaround is putting a link to the class Google Calendar in the “About” section of Google Classroom.
This puts my calendar on Classroom but I still have to create the assignment in Classroom and separately create it as an event on Calendar. These two steps should be combined into one. The one benefit to this situation is that while my calendar with due dates is public to the world, Classroom, with my curricular materials, requires a log-in.
Google Classroom Does Not Talk to Blogger
An English Language Arts teacher asked me how she could use Google Classroom to have students maintain blogs. I investigated and besides the “publish to the web” function in Google Docs, which is not really a blog, there is no way to make this happen in Classroom. Google has Blogger but it does not talk to any Google Apps for Education. I hope that Google integrates Blogger into both Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom.
A Great Tool with Room for Growth
Do not let these needs prevent you from trying Google Classroom. If your district has it, play with it. Do you like all those trips to the photocopier and those stacks of paper needing grading? Do you want to work with students on a digital platform that matches their life experiences much better than antiquated pen-and-paper do? If you answered “no” and “yes” to those questions, give Google Classroom a try.