How I Use It
I cannot believe Google Classroom made its first appearance only two years ago. This incredible LMS (Learning Management System) from Google has thoroughly changed how I teach and how my students learn, communicate, and collaborate. Classroom has also helped me become virtually paperless, as students can upload all projects and assignments to Classroom. The beauty of Classroom rests in its versatility.
Since I teach at a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) school, every tool in the Google Suite is connected to Classroom, and every student and teacher has access to these GAFE tools. Thus, notes I create in class with Google Docs are effortlessly uploaded to Google Classroom. I can post notes that any student can view or that students can edit, or I can make a copy for each student, which will be delivered to their Google Drives. When I post notes, I can make use of one of Classroom’s new features, called Topics, which allows me to organize what I post by topic. When a student wants to see every document, video, or file I have uploaded related to The Canterbury Tales, for example, they merely need to click that Topic and Classroom collects them on one page. A second new feature, Annotation, allows me to use my iPad to make notes on documents before I return them to students -- all online.
Classroom allows teachers to adjust settings within the platform to give students the chance to communicate via streamed messages. In my classes, this gives students the chance to post news items related to class; to post found evidence, from the real world, of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors; and to post public and private comments when they need clarification on a topic or an assignment.
Many third-party apps and platforms are integrated with Google Classroom, (see a terrific list of some here: http://www.shakeuplearning.com/blog/20-awesome-apps-that-integrate-with-google-classroom/), which further increases the value of Classroom. Even without integration, anything with a URL can be linked to your classes within Classroom, so the only real limitation is teacher creativity (I am a huge fan of EDPuzzle and using it to post videos with built-in formative assessments to Classroom). Finally, teachers can archive classes in Classroom at the end of the year in order to re-use and improve upon lessons and materials from previous years.
Google Classroom has changed the way I teach, and I cannot say enough about it. It allows me to communicate with students outside of traditional class times; and it allows my students to collaborate with each other on projects, find notes, videos, and files relevant to class at any hour, and send me messages right when they need answers. My view of Google Classroom is that it becomes what each teacher or student needs it to become. Classroom’s versatility allows teachers to use it with third-party apps, making lessons and materials accessible to students through a variety of mediums, which really helps non-traditional learners. You can use Classroom if you adhere to a flipped or blended class model, as well, since teachers and students can post just about anything to its stream. At the beginning of each year, my students receive a code and they join my classes in fewer than five minutes. Classroom is intuitive, easy to use, and accessible to all students.
I am not completely blind to where Google Classroom can improve, however. In terms of grading options, Classroom is limited. You can assign grades /10 and /100, but unless you use Annotations, the chance to give more feedback just isn’t there. At our school, Classroom is not integrated with Plus Portals, which we use to communicate overall grades to parents and students. Thus, an extra step is necessary to transfer grades. I am willing to go this extra yard, though, since I prefer Classroom so much to Plus Portals. I would also like to see Google add a method by which I could group students in Classroom, so I can fine tune collaboration and creativity grades even further. Finally, students, at times, have trouble uploading and submitting documents. Usually, they simply miss a step, but there are times when perhaps better instructions could be available (although I usually provide these myself so students don’t miss anything).
Fortunately, Google Classroom is constantly evolving, and the fine folks at Google are more than receptive when it comes to teacher feedback. Many of the additions to Classroom in the past two years, in fact, have come from teacher suggestions. If you use Classroom, I would encourage you to give feedback whenever you run into something that doesn’t work as you would like it to for yourself or your students.