Thoughts on Google Classroom a Month into Using it and Training Colleagues

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.”

Screenshot 2014-09-25 at 1.43.30 PM

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.

Screenshot 2014-09-25 at 1.48.29 PM

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.

Delayed Posts
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.

Unit Buckets
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.

Differentiation/Group Work
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.

Screenshot 2014-09-25 at 2.18.15 PM

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.

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Google Classroom a Month into Using it and Training Colleagues

  1. Thanks Tom! This is great info…some of the teachers at my school just started using this. I agree, more than one teacher should be able to access the class for co-teaching classes. I co-teach several reading classes at the middle school level. Thanks for thinking of the students with learning differences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Katie, no doubt. I’m sure Google is working this out now. They have a history of providing what people want. My best guess is they wanted Classroom to launch for this school year so they started with what they had an will add to it over time. Let’s hope sooner rather than later!

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  4. Tom, your room for improvement comments were all spot on! I have asked several colleagues if they had “work arounds” for many of your points!

    The differentiation piece is a big bump in the road for me and I am still looking for an easier way for the students to collaborate without the other student’s work appearing as late. I cannot wait until those items are worked out. Thank you for posting!

    Also, I wanted to pick your brain. Do you know a way to “digitize” the following two traditional classroom situations?

    1. I have students that take modified tests. I print and pass tests out by dealing the modified tests from the bottom. No one notices there are different versions out there. How to do I send a modified version of an assignment to just a few of my learners using Google classroom?

    2. Then, upon grading and entering their scores, I return tests that receive a score under 75% back with a stamp requesting a parent signature. Also, students are required to correct their errors in return for additional points.

    Now with Google classroom, I am at a loss on how to begin that process. I have tried Flubaroo, but it does not email the entire test back, just the student’s original choice, and the correct response, if one chooses that option.

    Keep up the excellent posts!
    -Elizabeth

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    • Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      1) For that situation, Google Classroom is very unfriendly. What I do is I post the regular test to Classroom. For the handful of students I tell them in advance to go to their e-mail, where I have sent them the link for the modified test.

      2) In that situation, you can view the assignment in classroom and put a check next to each student who is below your chosen score. Then click on “e-mail” and it will generate a BCC e-mail to those students. In that e-mail you could let them know they need to have a parent contact you.

      I hope that helps!

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  5. Tom,

    One last pickle I found is assigning Forms. I made a Google Form and created an “Assignment” in Classroom. However, a pop up appeared that would not allow me to attach it. Eventually I did figure it out and the students clicked on the link, but the Done column still remained at 0. I asked around and a suggestion was to make the Google Form an “Announcement” instead. Have you heard about any teacher mention glitches using Forms with Classroom?

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