I am beyond excited for the first face to face event for members of the Massachusetts Google Educator Group! Our event is taking place tomorrow, August 28th at 3:30 at the Google Office in Cambridge. Approximately 30 MA GEG members are attending.
We’ll have the opportunity to the tour the Google office and speak directly with members of the Google for Education team. The spotlight products we will be discussing include Google Play for Education and Google Classroom.
I’ve been fortunate to have early access to Classroom, and over the past two days, I’ve been able to share how the product works through a presentation and live demos with my colleagues in Burlington at our annual three day professional development conference. Overall, the response to the product district wide has been positive. There are already teachers and department heads at the elementary, middle, and high school who are going to try it this coming school year. The Burlington Edtech Team has high hopes for Classroom, and although we would consider it to be still in beta, its current features are impressive. Personally, I love its seamless integration with Drive, simple interface, ability to keep teachers and students organized, and ease of use. In fact, there are already many teachers throughout Burlington who have not only created all of their classes in Classroom (it’s so simple to create a class that many did it during my presentation) but our Music Department has created a Classroom to use for professional development purposes. Teachers throughout the district will now have a seamless way to share files and communicate online. My colleague Jonathan Granger, our high school music teacher, set-up his Classroom and already has students completing assignments. The students have had zero training on the product, but even more incredible is that school hasn’t even started yet. Jonathan co-presented with me today and he said to the BHS faculty, “can you imagine, students doing their work while they are still on summer vacation?” It was evident during the presentation that we are both excited about Classroom and I think that excitement rubbed off on many other teachers.
Despite the excitement of teachers to give Classroom a try, it still doesn’t have all of the capabilities they’d like to see, and not everyone is fully convinced to make the switch from their previous workflow. For instance, the ability to differentiate is something the vast majority of teachers would like to see, yet there is currently no way to do this in Classroom. The next big item on teachers’ wish lists is the ability to easily create quizzes and have them graded automatically (Edmodo style) but right now, the only way to do this in the GAFE ecosystem is to create a quiz in Forms and use Flubaroo. I’ve also heard some teachers say they would like the ability to moderate comments before they hit the stream. For me, I’d like the due dates for the assignments I post in Classroom to automatically populate on the shared Google Calendar on my classroom website. I, along with most of my colleagues, would also like the ability to post an entire folder from Drive in the stream, although we do believe that the work around to that is to post the link to a shared folder in Classroom. Lastly, we in Burlington, like other 1:1 iPad environments, really need Classroom to function well on the iPad if we are to adopt it on a large scale.
While it’s important for teachers to “like” whichever digital workflow they choose, it is even more important for the students to function well in the digital environment we create for them. And that’s essentially the number one reason why I like Classroom so much. I think that of all the digital workflows I’ve seen, I used the “duct tape” method of a Google Form embedded to my WordPress site, Classroom will be the easiest for the students. I do like Edmodo as a workflow solution, but the biggest disadvantage of Edmodo, in my opinion, is that it is separate from the GAFE ecosystem. Although it’s simple, Classroom will help teachers be more efficient in terms of distributing and collecting work from students and ultimately lead to an increase in teaching time. I don’t know of any teacher on the planet who isn’t looking for a way to spend more time in their classroom teaching. The bonus is that Classroom also connects students and teachers through online discussions. Finally, the Drive integration allows students to stay ultra organized. And I think the increase in organization could lead to increased academic achievement for many students. Again, is there a teacher on this planet who isn’t looking for a way to help his or her students achieve at higher levels?
While I wouldn’t classify Classroom as a full-blown LMS at this time, I’m confident that the product will continue to improve because of Google’s commitment to education. Unlike many other education companies, it is clear that Google is invested in the education market and is listening to the feedback of educators. They really are paying attention to what we are saying and I find that empowering as an educator. Our voices really do matter. As an example of this, over the past two or three weeks, Classroom has already improved with the addition of the About page and the ability for teachers to provide students with feedback on assignments the moment they start working on them, well before they are submitted. Additionally, Classroom was originally scheduled to be released later in September, but because of all the teacher feedback, the product’s release date was pushed up and now all GAFE schools have access to Classroom.
As I said, I look forward to the continued improvements and am asking for you to share your feedback on the product so that I may pass it along directly to the Googlers at our event tomorrow in Cambridge. Collectively, we can let Google know what we want and need to improve our practice as well as our interactions with students. It is an honor for me to lead the MA GEG and have the opportunity to connect with many other passionate educators, both online and virtually, so please, if you have tried Classroom and wish it had certain capabilities (parents having access was also mentioned by my colleagues), take a moment to enter your feedback into this one question Google Form.