Just when I thought I was ready for the beginning of a paperless new school year, something new comes out and changes everything (this is a familiar refrain with education technology I’m afraid!). This week, Google started releasing the new Google Classroom to all its Google Apps for Education users. If you haven’t heard of Google Classroom yet, check out the preview video here and if your school has a Google Apps for Ed account, check out classroom.google.com to see if you have access yet.
So how does the new Google Classroom affect a paperless classroom and digital notebooks? In the short-term not much, but looking forward I think it’s going to be a game-changer. Here’s a quick synopsis of what Google Classroom can do now (not too exciting), some thoughts about what it could do in the future (potentially pretty awesome), and my current thinking for how use Google Classroom with digital notebooks (feedback appreciated!).
Google Classroom Today
The best part about this first release of Google Classroom is that it makes sharing documents back and forth between teachers and students very, very easy. Similar to Doctopus and Hapara, a teacher can create a document in Google Drive and share it with all their students so they each get their own copy, and all with the click of a button. Students can then edit that document, click to “turn it in”, which switches the editing rights back to the teacher. All the while the teacher can track the documents turned in on a single page like this
The teacher can then make comments and click a “return” button to switch the editing rights back to the student again so they can make corrections and re-submit the document. The student can also see their documents and upcoming assignments easily on the classroom page:
This is a great improvement for paperless educators out there. Not surprisingly, Google Classroom integrates fluidly with Google Drive and Docs, which means you no longer need difficult workflows to manage digital documents or pay for add-ons like Hapara (interestingly Hapara claims that their service is still relevant, but I bet many schools will opt for the free route soon). It’s great for teachers new to digital documents as well because Google Classroom is an easy-to-navigate system for sharing and tracking documents.
But that’s about all Google Classroom can do…. so far. Google is known for rolling out update after update to improve their services, and it’s easy to imagine Google Classroom evolving into something much, much more. Which brings us too…
Google Classroom Tomorrow
I’ve read a few of the initial reactions to Google Classroom, and many people are quick to point out that it’s not a complete Learning Management System (LMS). One blogger appropriately calls it “LMS-lite”. If you’re using Blackboard or Moodle to maintain a class website for students, you wouldn’t want to jump ship just yet, because Google Classroom doesn’t have enough functionality: no customizability for the class page, no online/test quizzes, no gradebook (though the current version has a simplistic grade feedback field that shows you which way the wind is blowing). But who knows how quickly all that could change. Google is currently receiving a growing wave of feedback from new educators using Google Classroom, all of them asking for new updates and features. All Google has to do is meet that demand and I could easily see Google Classroom growing into one-stop-shopping for education technology.
If your school is like mine, you have to manage several technological systems at once. We used to have 5: Atlas Rubicon for curriculum planning, Pearson’s PowerSchool for a gradebook, Moodle for class websites, Microsoft Outlook for email, and Google Drive for collaborative documents. Thankfully, we’ve adopted Gmail now so that’s one fewer system to deal with. But why couldn’t Google eventually do it all? We already do a lot of curriculum planning using Google Docs, each Google Classroom has an “About” page that can be used as a basic class site for resources, and Google appears to already be tinkering with grading systems… The momentum seems to be in Google’s favor, and I know how much teachers would appreciate having to deal with a single solution for technology.
Google Classroom and Digital Notebooks
There’s plenty to get excited about with Google Classroom’s potential, but for this school year teachers may be left on the fence waiting for new features to arrive. A major limitation is that Google Classroom was clearly designed for assignments- documents that have a due date and need to be turned in. In a truly paperless classroom there are many different types of documents that you share, and it will be confusing if all of them are labeled “Assignment” with a due date attached. There’s also no way of teachers customizing the folders that Google Classroom creates for assignments, like if you wanted to create sub-folders for these different types of documents.
So this year I’m considering running parallel systems (yes, I know, ANOTHER system). I could use Google Classroom for documents that are actual assignments, like homework and projects. This would help students remember due dates more easily and also enable me to try out the neat feedback system that Google Classroom has set up. But I will probably still use Hapara to share other types of documents.
Even though running two systems is a pain, using a digital notebook will help students sort out the mess. Inside their notebook, the different Google Drive folders can be inserted to make it easy for students to access everything. The Class Stuff and Lab Stuff pages would have the Class and Lab folders that I set up with Hapara, and the Homework Stuff page could have the Google Classroom folder, or maybe just a link to the Google Classroom page so they can see the assignments on the stream there.
This is obviously not a perfect solution though, so I’m eager for other’s thoughts! Who else out there is using Google Classroom? How is it going?