Last week I received an “early preview” of Google’s latest offering on the GAFE platform, Classroom. According to Google, it promises to save time, improve organisation, and enhance communication between teachers and students. Announced earlier in the year, a lot of educators are keen to to see how this new product will play out in schools. Classroom will be officially released later in the year.
In the past week I have been playing around with a test class with a few students at my school. I thought it might be useful for others to see and hear about a relatively unknown product at the moment.
*Disclaimer- keeping in mind that this is an “early preview” of classroom, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if further changes were made in the months to come.
Classroom in action
1) Setting up the classroom was as easy as going to classroom.google.com. As the invite was sent to my school GAFE account, it automatically logged me in (as can be seen in the top right corner). At the moment only my account can create classes but it will be interesting to see how soon teachers on our domain will also be given access. On the left of the screen there is a home button and a “hamburger” menu.
2) Inside is a settings button which takes you to your Google profile (which appears to have an integral role for students and teachers within classroom). There is also an option to toggle notifications.
3) From the home screen, clicking the + button will allow you to create a class with a title and description. A “class code” is automatically generated for the class. Users in my domain could go to classroom.google.com and use the code to sign up to the class automatically without being invited. There is a reset function to the code, I suppose in the case that unwanted users who know the code start signing up to the class.
4) The class header image can be changed, and there is a wide variety of various images to use. However, it appears that you cannot upload a custom image.
5) Within Classroom there are 2 main views. A “stream” which shows the activity in the class, and “students”, which allows you to register and notify students.
6) By clicking the “add students” button, a pop-up window brings up your contacts linked to your account. Whilst all users in my domain were searchable, I did have to go digging around for them. The most available accounts for me to select were people that I frequently converse with via email. As contacts were selected, there was an option to add them to a group. Google Groups which were previously setup were also searchable and could be selected. For teachers, it is going to be important to have Groups set up in advance so time is not wasted searching for students!
7) A confirmation appears for the users that enrolled into the class. The email function was also tested. When the icon is clicked, a pop-up window appears.
8) The pop-up is a compose message window within Gmail with the users’ addresses already in the “To:” field.
9) Once users were enrolled in the class, the announcements function was tested. As the class creator, an announcement title and comment can be posted to the stream with an option to attach an image, file from Drive, or an external web link. Users were able to comment to the discussion without requiring moderation. As the class owner I was able to delete the comments if necessary. We tried to add a a teacher account to our test class but the account behaved in the same way as a student and did not have any other privileges (it will be interesting to see if Google allows multiple teachers to manage a class)
10) As well as posting announcements, assignments could also be posted to the class. Along with the title and description, a due date and time can be set. Again, attachments can be made via upload, existing files within Drive, or external web URL’s. I elected to prepare a template in Drive with instructions for completing the assignments. When attaching a Google Doc you are given the options of allowing the students to view the file, edit the file, or making a copy for each student (which was my intention).
11) Once the assignment was set it appeared in the stream with the number of students who have “turned the assignment in” and those who have not. Students reported that they received the documents and had access to a “Turn in” button next to the blue share button in Docs, and used this to submit the task.
12) As students submitted the task, the number of “turn ins” escalated.
13) By clicking on the number of “turn ins”, the submitted files were available for viewing. They could be opened and fully edited as needed. An assessment score could be given to students but only as a number to 100. Students could also send a note along with their submitted task. Reminders could be sent to students who had not yet submitted the task.
14) At this point I noticed that a “Classroom” folder had been set up in my Drive, inside another folder with the name of the class. Of the students who had turned assignments in, their files were appearing in this folder. The folder also contained uploads from the announcements that had been made in the class.
Pros / Cons
Overall I found Classroom easy to use, and I imagine that most teachers would find the same. At the basics, for being able to share assignments and communicate with students it does its job reasonably well, and so would be a benefit for teachers. Google has very cleverly used API’s and integrated Classroom with Drive and Gmail to make everything flow nicely. I particularly like the ability to share the class via a code to avoid the hassle of signing up individual users. Students were also able to move their documents into their own folders within drive without mucking anything up from the Classroom end.
On the other hand I found a few limitations (or perhaps areas for improvement).
- As it is fairly basic, there is not much else one can do besides post announcements and assignments.
- There doesn’t appear to be any way to view student’s progress or give feedback during the task. The only time the document was viewable was when it was handed in. This could be mitigated by asking students to share the file with you once they receive it.
- The feedback score of 100 can’t be edited. It would be nice to have some language descriptors instead, or the ability to assess against a criteria or a rubric (although these could be also embedded into the assignment against a score).
The burning questions…
Can more than one teacher post announcements and assignments? No, at least not at this stage. For me working with teachers as collegiates, this poses a problem.
Will it replace HAPARA? Absolutely not. As an experienced user (and I guess biased user) of Hapara, it offers a plethora of additional functionality when using GAFE with teachers and students that is (currently) not possible with Classroom. Read Hapara’s official line here. Thinking about the way that our school currently communicates and sets assignments for students, which is at the core of Classroom, I would probably stick with the processes we have in place with Hapara than use Classroom. Having said that, if schools could not afford Hapara then Classroom would certainly be of benefit for teachers.