Jan 152015
 

Google-ClassroomGoogle Classroom the latest name in a long and unceremonious history of distributed learning platforms. Many people don’t realize that digitizing and delivering curriculum by computer has been around for quite some time. When I entered the education game in 1996, I started off using a program called Pathfinder followed by PlatoNautikosWeb CTMoodleEdmodo… and now Google Classroom. There have been others, but these are the ones I have used.

Some might say this list alone is evidence that distributed learning systems don’t work but I would prefer to look at this list as the genealogy of an evolving technology. In fact WebCT, Moodle and Edmodo are still very much alive and well, and now Google Classroom has just joined the party.

So what pray tell has Google Classroom brought to this party that the others don’t? Well… Nothing really, at least from a classroom teacher/student perspective there isn’t anything special about Google Classroom. Its basic function simply allows for the teachers and students to engage in the age-old transaction of Assignment-out & Assignment-in. What Google Classroom does have over other platforms is simply this. Full and seamless integration of its suite of Google Drive applications in a secure learning space.

Certainly, “secure” is a relative term when discussing cloud technologies but as far as data security goes, I would say the Google Vault is probably the safest place for our students data. Of course there is the question of, “who is going to protect the data from Google” but that is another blog post.

With this said, I am sure there are some of you are saying to yourself, BIG FRIKIN DEAL! Google Classroom does nothing that can’t be done in the here and now. Not only that,  it doesn’t add any other functionality over the platforms that already exist… but remember, this is only the beginning.

I can only expect that there will be ever-growing functionality being added to the classroom over time and this is a large part of why schools are jumping on board. Although the other platforms are beyond where Google Classroom is today, Google has the money and the people make innovative improvements that their competitors are not capable of. IMHO

So after 4 months of using Google Classroom, what would I like to see?

Better assignment management – Currently assignment management within the classroom interface is pretty crude. All you get is a long list of the years assignments from most recent assignment on down. This can become a bit cumbersome, especially if you are a teacher that hands out daily small assignments vs a teacher who assigns a fewer larger projects.

What Google Classroom needs is:

  • A flexible system where teachers can group assignments by term and unit, so that the assignment interface is less cluttered and focuses on the unit at hand.
  • They also need to think of their discussion streams more along the lines of a threaded forum or at least make that an option within the classroom set up

More efficient marking interface – The single biggest complaint I have received from teachers about Google Classroom is about how laborious and slow marking is in the Google Doc environment. Some teachers have even resorted to printing out a class set of assignments and marking them old school. This totally defeats much of the purpose of a digital classroom in that we end up going back to paper to mediate the learning transaction.

Google engineers need to understand that teachers can have as many as 200+ students. I estimate that marking an assignment in the Google Doc ecosystem can take between 1 to 2 minutes longer than on hard copy. Those who are not in the know will say “BIG DEAL!… Suck it up you whiny teachers!”. but once you start adding the time up, it is conceivable that teachers will have to spend 200 – 400 minutes more marking a set of assignments in the Google Classroom ecosystem than they did when marking hard copy.

What Google Classroom needs is

  • A dedicated marking interface
  • Quick and easy transitions from one assignment to the next
  • The ability to mark up assignments using a tablet and stylus.
  • Make it so markup and grade can be entered in one window

Classroom design options

Give teachers some options on how the Classroom is laid out. Have the basic functional layout but allow teachers to drop in modules such as Twitter feeds, YouTube channels or a Resource Library. I am going to venture a guess that may be in the works as the classroom is already a two column design and the left column is rather bare, just waiting for something to occupy the space.

Grade Book

Embedded into the Google Classroom is a rudimentary grade system where you can give assignments mark values and drop in the numerical grade earned but to be truly useful to teachers it needs to go far beyond its current functionality.

The grade book needs to

  • Allow for different assignment types and weighting
  • Provide a view that allows teachers to see and edit all marks over the year
  • Basic analytics such as class average, missing assignments, due dates

I am sure there are dozens of other things Google engineers could consider as they improve Google Classroom but these items are what I would consider most important to teachers.

Conclusion 

Google has done a good job in launching a basic curriculum delivery system. Nothing fancy, just a simple curriculum delivery platform that is definitely not as powerful or functional as WebCT, Moodle or Edmodo. At this point, any institution that currently runs one of these other platforms, have no reason to jump on the Google Classroom bandwagon.

As we look down the road however, I fully expect that Google will begin to introduce more innovative features which will make the Google Classroom the go to platform for running a digital classroom. We can only hope Google recruits a couple teachers to help them figure out the way these features should work.