This semester I have been trialling Google Classroom for the first time. I've rolled it out for the basic biology course I teach with my Grade 10 students. I'm still using Moodle as the primary LMS for this course, but instead of having students return assignments via Moodle I'm now using Classroom as the primary productivity platform. Not surprisingly there has been a bit of a learning curve for both myself and my learners. However, there are a number of features - pedagogically, administratively, and aesthetically - that Classroom offers which I really like, and I will outline here.
1. Fostering collaboration
Google Classroom integrates seamlessly with Google Apps productivity tools such as Docs and Sheets. This means learners can work on shared documents with each other in real-time, whether they are sitting on opposite sides of the classroom or in their rooms at home. What's great to see is learners finding out for themselves what works for them when using these kinds of collaborative tools. For example, whilst working on one assignment, I observed one student rapidly typing an answer in Thai into a shared document, while on the other side of the room another member of her group was industriously translating and typing the answer in English.
2. Rapid feedback to learners
The speed and ease with which I can provide feedback on learners' assignments is a really big advantage afforded by Classroom. While students are working on their assignments in a shared Doc they have all ownership and editing permissions for that Doc. Once they submit their work, however, ownership permissions are transferred to me, at which point I can add feedback directly into their Doc. Once I have finished checking all of their assignments, I simply click to return all work and the permissions switch back to the students. This kind of rapid feedback provides a lot of scope for effective formative assessment.
3. Easily keep track of student work
Classroom makes it incredibly easy to keep track of student work. When assignments are created within Classroom, folders are automatically created and named, and all assignments are saved in these folders. There is no longer any need for piles of reports on your desk, or an inbox overflowing with assignments submitted via email. This paperless aspect of Google Classroom is another very attractive feature. Depending on how assignments are organised and distributed, Classroom also offers scope for creating digital portfolios for students in a single, easy to locate place.
4. Students like it
I haven't yet had chance to formally evaluate my students' opinions on their use of Classroom. However, my observations so far suggest that they enjoy using it. They have submitted a number of assignments now, and I have not heard any negative comments regarding it. This is despite, as I mentioned earlier, there being a bit of a learning curve, and some technical issues. For example, there were a few difficulties early on with students creating documents outside of Classroom, then uploading them when they were complete. This causes slight problems with the naming and storing of these files, and also with the transfer of ownership between learner and teacher. However, I think this was mainly due to unclear instructions from me as to how they should go about this, it being a new system for me as well.
5. It looks good
Lastly, Google Classroom just looks really cool! It has a very clear and straightforward interface and, up to a point, it can be customised and individualised, for example by adding your own photos to the top of the page. While this may seem less important in terms of learning, I think it does actually matter to learners if what they are looking at and navigating is aesthetically pleasing.
So, to summarise, I feel that Google Classroom is a useful tool for both learners and teachers. It offers important pedagogical features, such as facilitating collaboration, and enabling the rapid feedback which is so essential for effective formative assessment. It provides teachers with a great way to organise students' work, and the potential for digital portfolios. Learners appear to like it and have taken to it quickly, and as an added bonus it looks good. The next step will be to roll it out for my other classes.
If anyone would like to share how they are using Google Classroom, I'd love to hear about it!