Google Classroom is now available for Google Apps for Education users. Please note that you must be a Google Apps customer to use Classroom. Google Classroom comes with the tag line More teaching, Less tech-ing. One of the major points of Classroom is the move to paperless. The bullet points include:
- Easy to set up
- Saves time
- Improves organization
- Enhances communication
- Affordable and secure
In the real world, how does this play out? I’ve only had a limited experience with Classroom so far, but here are my thoughts.
Originally, anyone in the district could sign in as a teacher. There was absolutely no way to control this. Whenever a user went to Classroom, the user was asked if they were a Student or Teacher. If they clicked the Teacher button, they were automatically given teacher privileges. This means that anyone could create a class and enroll students. Furthermore, the actual setting was for anyone verified or pending. Thus, once the district administrator went in, students could be rejected. However, if the administrator never checked, the students would always have access. More importantly, the potential for frustration, miscommunication and misunderstanding is huge. Google did pretty quickly add a setting into the administrative counsel to adjust the setting to verified only. This means that users can request to be a teacher, but an administrator must approve them before they are ready to use Classroom. This is largely because teachers are essentially just members of a special Group. This group can now be pre-populated by uploading a csv file. However, this is extra work. We already have all of our teachers in an OU (organizational unit) within Google. It’s frustrating that we can’t just use that.
Google Classroom is simple and appealing in looks. There is a large header graphic and then a two column layout. The left hand column is narrower and holds information (Upcoming assignments, Class code). The right hand column contains the main feed (box to update status and a listing of previous posts). The posts come in two flavors:
This makes it very easy to, well, make and announcement or add an assignment. The feed looks very similar to Facebook or Google+. It is simple to read.
From a teacher perspective, the assignment feed is very powerful. There is one button to click Assignment to create a new assignment. Then fill in a couple of fields (Title, Description, Due), click on an icon to upload an assignment, to add one from Drive, from YouTube, or a link. If the teacher picks a document that is in Google Drive, they can choose how to distribute it to the students:
- Students can view file
- Students can edit file
- Make a copy for each student
This makes it really easy to create a template document and distribute to students. Essentially, Google Classroom creates a shared folder (called Classroom) in the teacher’s Drive folder. Each class that the teacher creates is a folder within the Classroom folder. Then each assignment becomes a folder within the class folder. Each students’ assignment is a file within this folder. This means that if the teacher is familiar with Google Drive, this will be familiar. However, I can easily see this getting out of hand quickly. We’ll need to monitor this.
Classroom and Moodle
The process of enrolling teachers and students is a pretty much a wash. Moodle is easier for us (district administrators) to get teachers enrolled. It also requires no additional attention by us. New teachers are automatically assigned the proper permissions when they are hired and put into an OU. For students, the process is very similar.
In terms of appearance, Classroom wins. It is very pleasing to eye. There are some discoverability issues, as in “What do I click?, but mostly it is very quick to learn and very not confusing. It looks like a 21st century application. Moodle is making strides, but still lags behind. Moodle does present all of the options that you have though.
This is not an either/or for us at this point. We’ll offer both to teachers and hope that they take advantage of both. Classroom seems very limited right now. However, teachers also need to get used to using online tools. The learning curve for Classroom is lower than Moodle. It is my hope that Classroom will lead to teachers wanting more power and options and control. Then Moodle will be a great choice.