This post will highlight some of my experiences with using Google Classroom and why I anticipate using it in almost all my classes in the future. I decided to write this post both to act as a summary of a presentation I made at Wake Forest to other faculty on TechXPloration day and in response to an inquiry on twitter about using Google Classroom in higher ed.
I first made use of Google Classroom last Spring (Spring 2017) in two courses in the Department of Computer Science at Wake Forest University (WFU). One was “Fundamentals of Computer Science” (the 2nd course for the computer science major) and the other was “Parallel Computation” (a junior/senior level elective). Almost all assignments were distributed and collected through Google Classroom.
There are lots of use cases for Google Classroom:
- Assignment distribution and collection
- Maintaining student grades for those assignments managed through Google Classroom
- Providing feedback/commenting on student work
- Collaborative writing with students
- Providing a discussion forum via the Google Classroom Stream page
- Providing links to resources on the Google Classroom About page
- Polling using questions (similar to PollEverywhere, clickers, etc).
- Sending class announcements
Here are the reasons I like Google Classroom (in no particular order).
The first set of reasons stem from working in the “cloud”:
- At WFU, all students and faculty are already using the Google ecosystem (GMail, Calendar, Drive, etc) and Google Classroom integrates seamlessly with that ecosystem. The Youtube and Google Docs integration are quite useful. This also prevents students from having to context switch – jump from their email, to logging into an LMS to find and download a file, to finding that file on their computer to edit it, etc.
- Grades provided to students can be exported to a Google Spreadsheet.
- Any documents that I share as resources (those that are shared “view-only”) can be updated transparently (I can fix typos and everyone sees the corrected version automatically).
- More than one teacher (such as a second instructor or a teaching assistant) can be associated with the class
- Because work is stored in the cloud, it is difficult to “lose” documents (a student’s dog can’t eat his or her homework, and I can’t leave graded documents at home on the coffee table).
The second set of reasons (and the most important in my opinion) is that I feel Google Classroom allowed me to focus on feedback and ongoing dialogues with students:
- The commenting structure (adding comments to submitted Google documents) is very natural. Because I type faster than I write and because I could use copy and paste when needed, I found I was leaving much longer and more detailed comments when typing comments into the Google Classroom submitted docs than when writing by hand on physical paper, and I wasn’t physically limited to writing in the margins or the like. I could also easily add to my comments links to documents, images, and videos on the web that students may want to look at – a task that would be prohibitive when written by hand due to the complexity of many URLs.
- Students are notified when comments are made, and faculty are notified when students resolve or respond to those comments. This led to some of the most powerful (to me) aspects of using the system — in several cases, my comments would spark a discussion (4-5 back and forth comments) as a student and I resolved one-on-one an uncertainty they had.
- It is (somewhat) possible to track if students are making progress on assignments (by opening and checking for last modified dates) and it is possible to comment on drafts of work, not just work formally submitted. Most students indicated they fine with me checking in on their progress and providing “intermediate feedback” on their draft work.
- It is possible to send assignments or announcements to subsets of students, which is useful for supporting personalized learning, group work, handling separate sections of the same class, and other scenarios. Two examples of this I made use of were: sending assignments to just the graduate students in my mixed graduate student/senior/junior course, and sending make-up quizzes to a subset of students.
A third set of reasons is that I feel Google Classroom is resource friendly.
- Students and I do way less printing, saving paper and toner.
- I spend less time collecting and returning documents to students in class.
Things that bothered me about Google Classroom were the following:
- The Gradebook only supports recording grades for assignments actually released through Google Classroom, so it isn’t possible to add something like a “Participation Grade” into the Google Classroom gradebook.
- If the Google ecosystem goes down, Google Classroom goes down (this is very rare though!)
- I’m not sure whether students will have access to their submitted and graded materials after they graduate (since everything is in the Google Ecosystem provided by the University) unless they download and print materials out.
- Students can unsubmit documents at arbitrary times (after you’ve started commenting). This isn’t too much of a problem since you can see they unsubmitted it, but it leaves the door open for some problematic cases. For example, you grade person A who gets a high grade; before you get around to grading person B, person B unsubmits and makes a change to look more like person A’s work. This can be resolved by just making sure to check for whether the work was ever unsubmitted or unsubmitted after the original deadline. If it was, one can see the document revisions
- Google Classroom works best with Google documents, so if you have data in other types (Microsoft Word for example), it is best to convert them to Google’s types of documents first.