I have been using Google Classroom for a few weeks now and have been both excited and disappointed by the tech behemoth’s initial foray into the Learning Management System (LMS) market.
Google Classroom follows in the Google tradition of being simple and easy to use. It did not take long for my students to get adjusted to the system. The main feature, and perhaps only one that makes it worthwhile, is the ability to create an assignment and have the document pushed out to each student. At Miller School, the other person piloting Google Classroom is our Director of Academics, Elizabeth Brann. According to her, “The benefit that I saw is that it organizes the Google documents, etc. for you so you do not have to take the time to set up multiple folders for multiple classes.” We both recognize other Google add-ons do similar things, but Google Classroom really makes the “distribute, collect, comment, grade” process as easy as I’ve seen it in other Google Drive systems. I imagine it’d be extremely useful in paperless classrooms.
Posting an assignment and grading it was incredibly easy. I also liked having the “comment” function available for each student. I even had some students use it. For example, one student wrote, “That seemed like a challenging question. I hope I did well.” Not extensive feedback, but certainly helpful to know a student’s thought process as they hit “turn in.” Again, I do applaud the ease of the system–the only real hiccup that students had was forgetting to hit the “turn in” button after completing their work. This is really only a minor annoyance, however, since even if they forgot, I could still see each student’s progress within the document.
In terms of frustrations, I was shocked to see how little integration the platform had with other Google Apps. Nothing from Calendar, Plus, and Sites … even Forms could not be embedded and had to be added as generic URL links. The main view for students and teachers is the “stream”, which is organized by date posted. This seems intuitive, but it also makes it hard to see and find assignments when posting an entire unit. (Classroom does mitigate this by putting an “Upcoming Assignments” box in the left sidebar.) The lack of a student view frustrated me; as an early adopter as it was impossible to get a sense of the student experience. I tried adding myself as a student using a personal email but was not allowed (the platform is currently limited to Google Education Apps users). Also, I would have liked to have been able to add assignments that do not need to be “turned in” or “graded”, but that did not seem to be an explicit option. Of course, I would also like to see more of a Moodle-like platform that could house an entire coursepage. It was just too hard to get everything I need to post for students (syllabi, videos, links, documents) onto Classroom in a clear manner. You can easily post certain items (Drive assets, YouTube, etc.) as an “Announcement” but it’s easy for those to get lost within a stream. On this point, Elizabeth had some good thoughts, “The simplicity is an advantage, but typically there are at least two options for viewing the information. If that were possible, it seems that it would address the issue of assignments and comments getting lost in the stream. The image that comes to mind is the display view options for Google Drive.”
My initial opinion is that Google Classroom is an innovative and useful tool, but one that serves mostly as an extension to Google Drive at this point. I’ll continue using it this year, but just to test and use the system. The real question for me will be how this system evolves into the future.