Classroom is Google’s latest student-centered education product and is scheduled to be released this coming fall. After watching the Classroom promotional video and reading about its features and capabilities, I immediately requested an invite to try it out. Millions of other instructional technology specialists, educators, and GAFE school administrators likely did the same. To say there’s a buzz of excitement among educational technology enthusiasts and GAFE fans in particular surrounding Classroom is an understatement. There’s also quite a bit of speculation about the “game-changing” impact Classroom could have not only on GAFE schools, but on education in general.
A Sneak Peek of Classroom:
While the Classroom site does a nice job highlighting the benefits of the product, I was able to learn even more about what it is, what it can do, and how it will benefit students and teachers through watching a Hangout facilitated by Jennifer Cronk and Jessie Lubinksy, members of New York’s Ed Tech team. The Hangout featured Classroom alpha and beta testers Paul Lepore, an 8th grade Social Studies teacher, and Heidi Bernasconi, a 12th grade Marine Biology teacher, both of Clarkstown Central School District in Southern, New York. Clarkstown was approached by Google to try Classroom during the 13-14 school year and their experience is highlighted as a case study on the Google Classroom site. During the Hangout, Lepore and Bernasconi, along with Toni Ann Piscitelli, a member of the Clarkstown Instructional Technology team, answered as many questions as they were legally allowed to about their experience with Classroom. Below is a summary of their conversation:
What is Classroom?
Heidi describes Classroom as a virtual, or online, classroom. It is essentially a website for your class, “but it’s not.” According to Heidi, it’s “a lot better than a Google site.” Classroom is not going to replace Google Drive, rather it connects with a student’s Drive. All of a teacher’s Google and non-Google classroom resources are housed in one, organized spot for students. The product allows teachers to create a paperless classroom. And perhaps the best part, is that it is device agnostic, which I am incredibly excited about. With the integration of Classroom, Burlington students will have the best of both worlds. Their iPads will continue to serve as powerful content creation devices, but students will also be able to access Classroom on their iPads to consume content, participate in discussions, access assignments, receive teacher feedback, and collaborate with their peers. Not requiring schools to use Chromebooks is a great move by Google. However, it is important to note that Classroom will require the Chrome browser to run.
Heidi and Paul’s Classrooms Before Classroom
Both Heidi and Paul are Google certified trainers and are what you’d call Google “power users.” As daily users of Google products, both were using “duct tape methods” for workflow prior to Classroom. Specifically, Heidi would share files with her students via a link on her website or use scripts like Doctopus and G-Class Folders. Heidi stated, rather definitively, that for her personally, Classroom will be replacing her class website and she will no longer be using Doctopus. She explained that Classroom converts a ten step (or more) workflow down to one simple step. She made several references to Classroom eliminating many stressors for teachers, especially those who may not be “Google savvy.” Likewise, Paul had created a Form for assignment submission, a workflow method I’ve also adopted, which he will no longer be using. Paul does plan to keep his classroom website, but only to communicate with parents (hopefully the ability to communicate with parents will be added by the fall). All of Paul’s student communication will take place within Classroom.
The Learning Curve for Classroom
For Google-savvy power users like Paul and Heidi, it took them five to ten minutes with no instructional manual to learn Classroom. There were also non-Google savvy teachers in Clarkstown chosen to pilot the product and these teachers were able to learn it within twenty to thirty minutes of “playing around.” Paul stated that he believes Classroom has been designed to increase the user-base of Google Apps for Education products. It is intuitive for a non-tech savvy teacher, but at the same time, it is powerful enough to meet the needs of advanced users of Google. One of my concerns about Classroom was a launch date of September. But, after hearing about the quick learning curve for all users, those concerns have been alleviated. I’m confident teachers throughout the Burlington district will be able to start using it as soon as it is released, especially since many of them are already heavy users of Drive. Likewise, I believe our students will be able to easily adapt to Classroom once their teachers introduce it.
Creating and Joining Classroom
Teachers will have the ability to create multiple, if not unlimited, classes in Classroom. Heidi and Paul explained the process is intuitive and within ten minutes students were in Classroom and were able to start using it. Teachers will be able to either manually enter students or use a distribution list. By September, it may be possible for classes to be created by the GAFE administrator from the back end. As an alternative to the teacher entering students, students can be given a code (similar to Edmodo) to join Classroom. This was the method Heidi used during beta testing. She started using Classroom in October and by then she had already established her “Google routine” so her students had to adapt to the new Classroom technology. She said it took her students only a couple of assignments to adjust to the new routine and feel comfortable with Classroom.
Discussion in the Stream
Another feature of Classroom that was discussed during the Hangout that I’m very excited about is the ability to have in-depth classroom discussions. The discussion feature is called the “stream” and Paul said it resembles Google Plus. He went on to say that the current beta version of stream puts all student comments in one continuous line with no organization, but that by the release date, the stream should be more organized.
How is Workflow Organized?
Classroom will organize all of a student’s work for all of her classes in one place. Currently, if students have 7 or 8 periods they might have 7 or 8 different types of workflow. For example, some teachers may use Forms for assignment turn-in, while other teachers access student work through clicking through multiple folders. Some teachers will allow students to email them their assignments. Additionally, teachers differ in how they create and share folders and how they distribute assignments, provide feedback, assess, and pass back work. The bottom line is that a paperless classroom can actually get confusing and overwhelming for both the students and the teachers, especially when everyone is doing something different. With Classroom, everything is streamlined and organized for students and teachers. When students turn in their work, teachers will be able to see who turned it in and at what time. Teachers will know whose work is late and how late that work is. All of this information will be sorted for the teacher automatically. Additionally, teachers will be able to provide personalized student feedback in a separate area. Heidi stated her ability to provide feedback was improved and she was actually able to grade faster using Classroom. She said Classroom allowed her to “gain minutes” in the classroom.
Will There Be a Built-in Gradebook? And What About Rubrics?
Most likely no. Currently, there is no gradebook built into Classroom and there was no mention of this feature being added for the fall. However, that means nothing. Google is notorious for rapid change so who knows if the final version of Classroom will have a gradebook or not. That being said, Heidi said that even if there were a gradebook, she would not use it. Her school uses a different product for recording student grades. Heidi would transfer her students’ grades from Classroom and enter them into her school’s grading system. As far as rubrics go, the beta version of Classroom didn’t have rubrics either. Paul said this might be something that Google considers for the actual product, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Classroom: Taking Our Classrooms Out of the Classroom
After listening to Paul, Heidi, and Toni discuss Classroom, I’m even more excited to integrate it into my classes for 14-15 and look forward to introducing it to my colleagues in Burlington. If it proves to be everything it claims to be, Classroom could become the transformational, game-changing LMS of choice for teachers not only in the Burlington district, but from across the globe. Can’t wait for 2014-2015!