How to use Google Classroom: 5 tips

Along with Google's Teach from Home resources, the tips in this guide can help teachers leverage Google Classroom for effective learning anywhere.

A guide to using Google Classroom
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Teachers have moved courses online as schools, colleges, and universities closed campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic. This switch tested many teachers' capacity to adapt material and methods while at home--often with other family members--during the pandemic. Fortunately, schools that use G Suite have access to Google Classroom, a cloud-based system that helps teachers create and manage classes, classwork, grades, and communication with students. 

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Google created a new site, Teach from Home, specifically designed to help teachers adjust to online courses. The site offers links to tutorials that help teachers gain proficiency with various G Suite teaching tools. The following tips are intended as a supplement, based on many years of teaching with online tools.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

1. Google Classroom supports sequenced learning for anyone

Especially during a time of remote-only work, Google Classroom along with G Suite apps, can support learning needs for all sorts of organizations. Any organization that uses G Suite may use Google Classroom: It's not limited to schools. Classroom makes a viable option to help an instructor guide any group of people through a structured series of topics and tasks. While a teacher will often use Classroom with a set of students, the same system can be used for professional development efforts as well.

2. Understand context 

Seek to understand student context before you try to convey content. Students may be dealing with challenges not typically present in a school classroom, including children of other ages in the household, adults who may also be home, as well as a physical environment not necessarily designed to support learning. To the extent possible, take some time to make sure you understand the context and circumstances of each of your students.

3. Enable offline work

Adjust assignments to allow students to work offline, since not every student will have access to an internet connection at home. Pew Research studies show that "15% of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home."

Allow access to materials that may be downloaded, instead of streamed. For example, you might record a video (e.g., with Hangouts Meet) then upload it to Google Classroom, instead of linking to a video on YouTube. Similarly, you might provide an article you want students to read as a PDF or Google Doc, rather than a web link. 

If you plan to teach with a particularly long text, explore an EPUB version, which gives the reader more control over fonts, font size and line spacing. A student may download and store items including a video file, a PDF, or Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides to Google Drive for offline access.

4. Verify that an assignment can be done on a mobile device

Ideally, you also would check to make certain that each assignment can be completed on an Android phone, iPhone, or in Chrome on a laptop. For example, most assignments that require the use of Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides should work well, since those apps not only work well in a browser, but also are available to install on Android and iOS devices.

Currently, the features of Docs, Sheets, and Slides vary slightly by platform. For example, support varies for add-ons (in Docs, Sheets, and Slides), drop-down lists (in Google Sheets), and inserted audio or video files (in Google Slides). Not every feature works exactly the same way in every G Suite app on Android, iOS, or Chrome on the web, so it helps to test new assignments and tasks.

If you don't have access to test your assignment on the three platforms (i.e., Android, iOS, Chrome), contact your school's tech support team. A well-run IT support department will likely be able to schedule time to help you verify that an assignment can be completed on each platform. 

Note: Even if your organization provides a device to students, I encourage you to create platform-neutral assignments in order to maximize the possibility for students to complete a task, regardless of the device. Remember to check assignments for any third-party apps you use, as well.

5. Join the conversation on Twitter

Thousands of educators who care about online engagement and education share resources every day on Twitter. Google encourages people to use the #teachfromhome hashtag, but there are also many excellent resources with other hashtags, such as #distancelearning, #edtech, #remotelearning, and #mobilelearning, among many others.

Are you using Google Classroom and G Suite tools to teach remotely? What other tools do you use to teach online? What other tips or techniques do you recommend to help people teach and/or learn from home? Let me know, either in the comments below, or, of course, on Twitter (@awolber).

Also see

Screenshot of Google Classroom class ("5 Google Classroom tips") with each of the 5 point covered in the article listed as an Assignment in the Classroom interface, surrounded by a green chalkboard and yellow border, which suggests the Classroom logo.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic (Screenshot: Google Classroom)