As I have found myself spending a lot of time in a ‘virtual classroom’ of late, I thought I would put virtual pen to paper to create a blog post about this classroom – Google Classroom.
I wrote a little about Google Classroom in a previous blog post where I gave an overview of the complete G-Suite for Education offering, which many of the schools I work with are now implementing, often in conjunction with Chromebook devices.
But this time I wanted to go into more depth on this one particular app, for those who have not experienced it, as for me it is perhaps the most important part of the whole suite. I suppose you could describe it as ‘mission control’ – which brings together the other G-Suite apps in a meaningful way and provides an efficient workflow in the digital classroom. And workflow is obviously so important for technology to usefully support teaching and learning. For me, with over 20 years’ experience of working with education technology, one of the major, repeated frustrations I have faced is just how tricky an efficient workflow can sometimes be to achieve.
We want to be able to distribute digital content to student-used devices, instantly, without having to plan ahead. We need to be able to collect pupil/student work from their devices, and be able to access it, quickly and easily, without having to hunt through numerous folders wondering what on earth the learners had chosen to name their individual files. It’s these simple things that for me make Google Classroom so useful, though it offers a lot more than just that.
Most of us are familiar with social networks where we have a ‘wall’ or timeline, on which we can create posts which people can respond to through comments. And Google Classroom is not dissimilar to this, except it goes much deeper of course, and offers more functionality for education. But central to the classroom is the Stream, which is a feed where a teacher can post announcements, questions and, best of all, assignments. So let’s look in more depth at each of these.
An Announcement is just that. You, the teacher, posts something to tell those in your class.
‘Don’t forget your PE kit tomorrow.’
‘Remember rehearsal after school on Thursday – please get your letters signed.’
Or, a link to a website you want the class to use (that alone will save you time waiting for the class to get onto the right website, although the Chrome extension ‘Share to Classroom’ will allow you to actually push websites onto your class’ devices without them lifting a finger!) You can send out documents via Announcements too, by attaching files or linking to something in your Google Drive.
And members of your class can, if enabled, comment on the announcement. Perhaps ask a question for further clarification.
The Question function enables the posting of simple open-ended or multiple choice questions to the Stream, which class members can answer. A bit like the handheld voting-systems of old, a teacher can create these on-the-fly and watch the responses electronically flow in. And the option is there to mark each respondent’s answer with a score and send it back to them.
But it’s the Assignment function that really offers that workflow I mentioned. When you post an assignment with, for example, an attached Google Doc for the pupils/students to access, an individual copy of the Doc can automatically be generated for each pupil/student and renamed with their name attached. The Google Doc (or other type of file,) when returned to you electronically through Classroom, is automatically filed in your Google Drive, in a folder with the name of your assignment, and so you can easily open this folder to see the work at a later date, and instantly know whose work it is. In fact, whilst pupils/students are doing the assignment you can even open their work and watch them completing it in real time – their letters and words appearing on the page in front of you on your device as the learner types on his/her device. If suitable, you could interact with them as they work, leaving comments in the margin to guide them. And as with Questions, you can mark the submitted work with a numerical grading system and send it back to the learner, whose work will also be automatically filed in their Google Drive.
And of course, this being cloud based, Classroom does not have to be limited to classroom use. It is truly ‘any time, any place’ and the Google Classroom app is available for most popular devices or can simply be accessed via a browser.
It’s important to stress that the ability for pupils/students to make posts and comments on the Classroom Stream can we switched on and off. In my experience, the novelty of being able to post to an online environment for something that relates to school, rather than social use, has led to a lot of student interaction that wouldn’t necessarily be described as inappropriate so much as just pointless. I’ve learned to turn the commenting/posting features on and off as required. Having said that, I’d like to think that this novelty would wear off, and that older learners (my experience with Classroom is mainly in lower KS3) would take a more mature approach. Because actually, leaving the function enabled should encourage learners to ask each other questions, and support each other with their learning. The idea of an online classroom community where peer-support is integral is part of what makes this appealing to me.
Google Classroom does not have to be limited to a traditional class. You could have ‘classes’ for clubs, interest groups, ability groups and more. And within any class you set up, you can easily differentiate and send different posts and assignments to different users or groups of users within that class.
Quite recently, Google made the Classroom app available through standard Google accounts (whereas it used to be only accessible to members of a G-Suite for Education domain.) So, if you have a personal Google account, and wish to explore Classroom, you can check it out at http://classroom.google.com. But it is very important that you do not use this with pupils/students. Actual use with children and young people should only be through a G-Suite for Education domain, with the necessary accounts set up and permissions in place.
Classroom does more. It provides a calendar of due dates for assignments etc. You can send automated messages to parents/carers about their child’s work. You can export assignment results to a spreadsheet. But whilst being very functional, it’s still very simple to use and get started with.
Do get in touch if you would like more information about using G-Suite for Education in your school.