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Classroom by Google shows the power of Google Drive

Classroom by Google replaces paper and demonstrates the power of Google Drive. Andy Wolber explains.

Google Classroom

Classroom for Google Apps for Education replaces paper, simplifies communication, and introduces students and teachers to Google Docs. The service opened for educational use in August 2014.

Students access Classroom assignments, announcements, and resources online. Because of this, Classroom works best when each student has a Chromebook or other device — also known as a 1:1 environment: one student, one device.

Adopting Classroom lightens teachers' loads... literally (pun intended). Teachers no longer have to carry student work scrawled on paper between home and school. Instead, a teacher comments on — and grades — a Google Doc online.

To use Classroom, you need a Google Apps for Education account. If you're a teacher, sign up for Classroom at http://classroom.google.com. Be sure to select "Teacher" — not "Student" — when you sign up. Account capabilities differ: Teachers create and manage classes, while Students join and participate in these classes.

Teachers should create a class for each set of students (Figure A). Even if a particular teacher covers the same topics in two classes at different times of the day, he or she should create a separate class for each session. Posting content to each class separately will make it much easier to track student assignments.

Figure A

Figure A

Create a class for each class session to simplify administration.

Students can join a class in one of two ways. Teachers may invite students individually ("Students" | "Invite") or share an invitation code that allows students to join the class. Share the code to save time: display the code during class, then ask the student to sign in and join.

After joining a class, teachers and students see assignments and announcements displayed in a stream — much like posts on Google+. Each item may contain a title and descriptive text, along with a link to a file, video, or web link. Teachers can also assign a due date (and time) to an assignment.

For decades, conventional classroom assignments worked as follows:

  1. The teacher created an assignment
  2. Each student completed the assignment
  3. Students turned in the assignment
  4. The teacher graded the assignment
  5. The teacher returned the assignment to the student

Classroom replicates this workflow with Google Drive documents:

  1. The teacher creates an assignment in Classroom, selects a Google Doc, and chooses to "make a copy for each student"
  2. Each student edits a Google Doc to complete the assignment
  3. Students click the "Turn in" button when finished
  4. The teacher may "insert comments" and grade the assignment
  5. The teacher clicks the "return" button to hand back the work to the student

In other words, Classroom provides a traditional assignment-and-grading workflow built as a web app with Google Drive. Behind the scenes (Figure B), Classroom duplicates documents and modifies permissions, which allows individual work and grading to occur.

Figure B

Figure B

Classroom manages Google Drive document permissions behind the scenes.

Classroom for Google Apps for Education doesn't replace a conventional learning management system (LMS). As of October 2014, the system has limits: it supports a one-teacher-per-classroom model, offers only whole number grading scales, and provides access for accounts within the same domain (i.e., teachers and students must login with accounts from the same Google Apps for Education domain).

Yet, for some educators, Classroom may be less interesting than Google's other educational initiative to provide hosting for massive, open, online courses — better known as MOOCs. Google and edX.org announced the mooc.org project in the fall of 2013. In the academic world, MOOC.org will likely provoke more discussion than Classroom.

On the plus side, Classroom smartly avoids one challenge that new technologies often face: teacher adoption issues. Adoption issues have always been a challenge. In the book, "A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution," Dennis Baron writes about a 1932 "...study of the educational influences of the typewriter in the elementary classroom":

"...even though children with typewriters in hand may have been ready to write back in 1932, their teachers were not. Ninety percent of the teachers involved in the elementary school typing study had never before used a typewriter."

Classroom demonstrates the power of incremental change: it introduces teachers and students to the power of Google Docs by digitizing a previously paper-driven workflow.

More broadly, though, Classroom demonstrates the power of the Google Drive platform. There's no doubt that Classroom streamlines workflows for teachers and students, but adopters of Google Apps for Work should look to Classroom as a powerful proof-of-concept: a web app with custom workflows built around Google Drive documents. It's a classroom tool... and much more.

If you're in education, have you used Classroom by Google Apps for Education? If you're not in education, have you explored Classroom as an example of workflow built on the Google Drive platform? Tell us your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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