We’ve got first access to Google Classroom — check out Google’s take on the VLE.
Classroom is Google’s attempt to pull together all of its services in a way that makes sense in the classroom. Google Apps has been massively successful in education, but until now there was no way to organise users into student groups, documents into lessons, and no consistent way for teachers to share or mark work.
Google Classroom addresses this by creating a central hub from which teachers can build lessons, hand out assignments, and get feedback from students.
A VLE done the Google way
The Google Classroom interface is sparse, but not in a minimalist way. Opening the Classroom home page feels like staring into an abyss, it’s immediately clear that there simply isn’t much here yet, and exploring the options menu only confirms this. Compared to mature products like Edmondo, Google Classroom is extremely limited. That’s undoubtedly going to change, but in it’s current form Google Classroom provides only the bear minimum of features.
Classroom lets you create classes, build student groups, and share and mark assignments, but that’s about it. So why would you use Classroom? Well, it’s free and it’s Google. If your school is already embedded in the Google Apps ecosystem getting your teachers and students into Classroom is just a button click away. Google Classroom may be limited, but the potential is huge.
How to enable Google Classroom
You can sign up for the Google Classroom trial now, but Google promises that every school will have full access to the web app by September 2014.
If you’ve already got access to Classroom it can be enabled from the Google Apps Control Panel as you would any other Google App. It’s listed as a core app, which means Google will provide business level support, which is great.
I don’t know whether it’s because I registered for the trial, but Classroom was enabled by default for all users in my Google Apps domain. This didn’t cause any major issues, as the chance of a teacher finding Classroom without instruction is unlikely, but a little warning from Google would have been appreciated.
How does Classroom work?
It’s simple really. Google Classroom lets teachers create a class, assign a group of students to the class, and then set and mark assignments. Feature rich this is not.
The Classroom UI follows Google’s minimalist theme, in fact the current design appears designed more for a tablet than a desktop. The slide in navigation menu, and the huge expanse of white space all suggests the designers of Classroom were targeting the iPad rather than a desktop web browser. That’s probably a great idea for teachers wanting to go mobile, but does cause some inconsistency between Classroom and other Google apps like Drive, and Gmail.
Creating a class
Creating a class is really simple. Just click the + button and you get the option to create or join a class. Interestingly, there’s no way to differentiate between a teacher and a student, so every user can both join and create classes. This open dynamic is more suited to higher education where the boundaries between learner and tutor is less defined, and allows students to collaborate without the need for a teacher to moderate a lesson.
Assigning students to a class
There are two ways to assign students to a class. The first is to share a unique class code, which is essentially a password that students can use to join your class. The second is to manually assign students to your class. You can assign students by searching users in your Google Apps domain, from your Gmail contacts, or from users on your Android device.
You can also create groups of students — for example, an English class, or a Geography class — which can be then used later on to create new classes or distribute assignments to multiple groups of students.
Each class has a page dedicated to it which shows notices and assignments for the class, the students assigned to the class, and assignment due dates.
You can post an assignment to a class by sharing a document or file stored in your Google Drive, through a link to a web page or Google Site, with an attachment, or by embedding a link to a YouTube video. You can assign give the same assignment to multiple classes, and also set a due date, and even a time after which the students will not be able to submit work.
Once work has been submitted — and you can see which students have and haven’t submitted work — you have the ability to mark the work, return it to the student for further changes, or email the students more information. The very American “grading” system is completely numerical, and a little more flexibility would be appreciated to match school mark schemes.
All submitted work and documents for the assignment are stored in a folder within the teacher’s Google Drive, so everything is automatically organised and easily accessible. No more shared documents strewn all over your Google Drive, everything is kept neat and tidy for you.
If you’re already using Google Apps for Education and are looking for a quick and easy way for teachers to better organise their online work, Google Classroom is a basic but effective web app. In its current form Classroom doesn’t do a huge amount, but it does support core functions which make sense in the context of a classroom.
There’s so much more to want here. I’d like to see the ability for multiple teachers to manage classes; I’d like more customisable marking schemes and some way to centrally record marks; I’d like more flexibility in how assignments are set and submitted; and I want more opportunity for the student to interact with the teachers.
But the real reason to use Google Classroom is for its potential. What’s there may be basic, but it would be naive to think that this is Google’s ultimate vision for classroom management. It’s clear that, like so many other Google projects, the company has started out small in an attempt to perfected a limited feature set on which to build in the future.
If your teachers are already embedded in Google Apps, and you’re not using any of the more sophisticated tools like Moodle or Edmondo, then there’s no reason not to try Classroom. There’s massive potential for Classroom to become the central hub of classroom management, marking, and discussion. The basics are here, but it’s what Google will do in the future that should be the focus.
In the future could we see MIS features like student registration, and other classroom management features?
It’s free, so why not take a look?
Have you tried Google Classroom yet? Let me know what you think in the comments!