Google Classroom is a tool that allows educators to create, organize and manage online assignments using Google Docs and Drive. Google officially debuted the product in August 2014 after conducting a beta test with "tens of thousands" of teachers during the spring 2014. At the outset, it was available in 42 languages. Anyone with Google Apps for Education account can get started here.
How Classroom Works
After creating a Class page and adding the student roster, teachers can immediately create assignments. One neat feature during this process is the automated copying of templates. Say a teacher wants to assign a book report and has a template created in Google Docs. Upon assigning it to the class, Classroom will automatically create copies of the document, with each student’s name appended to the name of the file. Every assignment is automatically organized into its own Drive folder for the teacher and a folder is also created for the students.
Teachers can see students’ progress live on an assignments details page and view or comment (but not edit) the document. After the student has submitted the assignment, teachers can assign a grade out of 100 possible points and provide feedback. (Yeskel says requests for other grading rubrics will be considered in the future.)
Not having to deal with paper (and that infamous homework-eating dog) was a time saver to Classroom’s beta users, who reveled at being able to grade work as soon as it was ready. “If a student handed in an assignment early, I could grade and give feedback as they finish. It actually took the ‘man, my grading pile is so overwhelming’ feeling away,” praises Heidi Bernasconi, a biology teacher at Clarkstown Central High School North in New York.
Classroom isn’t limited to the classroom, either: Mary Ann Spicijaric, Principal of Fontbonne Hall Academy in New York, says she and her staff use it to prepare for department meetings. “We set up a Classroom consisting of Department Chairs so we can share the agenda and get comments before the meeting,” she shares.
Classroom currently does not integrate with any other apps, but the team is having “a lot of conversation with developers interested in building on top of Classroom,” says Zach Yeskel, a product manager on Google’s Apps for Education team. Since addressing concerns over mining student information, the company promises "to continue to protect the privacy and security of all of our users, including students, to make sure their information is safe." Yeskel adds: “Because we’re dealing with sensitive data, we’re going to be very deliberate how it gets passed and shared.”
This means that popular requests to sync assignment grades given on Classroom with schools’ online, third-party gradebooks and student information systems may have to wait. (Teachers can currently export the grades as an Excel file.) Another wish, raised by both Spicijaric and Bernasconi, is to be able to sync assignment due dates with students’ Google Calendar.
Joining the Fray
With over 30 million Google Apps for Education users, Google clearly has big ambitions in the education market and will compete with both established companies and startups.
Classroom is hardly the first--or only--tool for managing school assignments; learning management systems like Moodle and Blackboard offer this functionality. Bernasconi says she previously used Doctopus to organize online homework. Hapara’s initial product looked very similar to Classroom, but has since expanded its offerings. (Jack West, Lead Educator at Hapara, outlines the differences between Classroom and his company.)
The search giant’s move in education will certainly have the attention of the industry. In addition to Classroom, the company sees schools as a major target for another line of product: Chromebooks. A recent Gartner report estimates that education sales made up 85% of the estimated 2.4 million Chromebooks (or a tad over 2 million) sold in North America in 2013.
Perhaps Google will be that rare example of the big company with the right combination of resources and customer goodwill that can “disrupt” startups.
Teacher Grade 4, Longfellow Elementary, Compton Unified School District, California
This school year students in grades 4 and up were required to complete a School Climate Survey for the LCAP & LCFF. Our administrator asked us to have the students complete ,using the link provided ,by a certain time. I have only four computers in the classroom and I did not have time to favorite the link in the browser..