Let’s Get Googly - a Three Part Series, Episode 3

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Episode 3: A Free LMS? A Look at Google Classroom

Hello DJLN and welcome to our third and final episode of Let’s Get Googly! So far we’ve looked at some great Add-ons in Google Drive and empowered our Chrome browsers with Extensions. If you haven’t seen these posts yet, take a look back to catch up!

Today, we are talking about Google Classroom - a free Learning Management System solution available for anyone in a Google Apps for Education school. Google Classroom is still very new, having debuted in September 2014. It may not yet be as powerful or robust as established tools like Haiku, Moodle, or Canvas, but for teachers who are new to managing their classes online, and whose schools are not yet ready to adopt a paid school-wide LMS, it’s an intuitive and convenient way to get started. As with any technology you choose to use in your class, it should be evaluated not only on its general technological merits but specifically on how well it suit you, your students, and your school culture.

Creating a class in Google Classroom is straightforward, and all of a teacher’s classes are displayed prominently on the front page. Adding students can be done in one of several ways. Teachers can add students one by one, check them off from existing Contacts, or share a class code with all the enrolled students. On many teachers’ wishlists is the ability to upload rosters directly.

What makes Google Classroom stand out from other tools is the seamless integration with Google Drive. Once a teacher creates a new class, a folder is automatically generated in Google Drive, and as each assignment is added, a subfolder is created with the title of the assignment. Teachers can attach files from their own Google Drives to each assignment, and are given the option of having individual copies automatically generated for each student. When a student turns in his or her work, it is routed into the proper folder which make reviewing and grading a breeze. A feature on many teacher wishlists is integration with Google Calendar. For now, students can see a list of what is due in each class, but if they want to add these due dates to Calendar, for now they must do so manually.

The Google Classroom team is fairly responsive to teacher feedback given through the interface and also consults with former and current classroom teachers, runs focus groups, and surveys users. Updates and changes are consistently made to the interface. For instance, this January, the mobile app was launched, and is available for both iOS and Droid. Students and teachers can now access the tool on their phones, attach files from other apps like Evernote or Explain Everything, and attach snapshots right to their assignments and discussion posts.

The second big recent improvement is the ability to view all the upcoming assignments in all classes in one convenient box on the left. Instead of having to go into each class individually to see assignments, teachers and students are now able to see everything that is due soon in one spot. This helps students to better manage their time, and enables teachers to see what assignments they need to get to grading for all of their courses. Also in January we saw the addition of an “Archive” option for classes, which lets teachers remove their old classes from their front page while keeping them saved for future use.

One much-requested feature is the ability to add multiple teachers to a class for collaborative teaching and including teaching assistants. There’s a rumor this is one of the next updates we will see, which would be particularly helpful for a blended classroom model in which aides and assistants are a consistent part of the learning community.

If you are looking around at options for streamlining your assignment turn-in process, going paperless, or communicating with your students online, Google Classroom is certainly a great tool to explore. Just remember, with all tools we want to focus on the “why” first and only then on the “what”!