Google Classroom is a form of learning management system (LMS) that pulls in genuinely useful tools that are free and easily accessible on many devices. You've probably already used many of them and that's of key importance here, as most people have used Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, making this Classroom easy to get to grips with. The result is a streamlined offering that makes learning online a clear process for both teachers and students of all levels.
We were in lockdown while conducting this Google Classroom review. The lockdown has meant this system has seen a huge uptake in use as schools and teachers adapt to the new situation. The necessity for remote learning has meant it's had to be adopted more quickly than expected –- making the simplicity of Google Classroom very appealing.
Google Classroom is, at time of publishing, the number one education app in the Apple App Store and the number five free app overall.
Since many people already use a lot of Google's tools and are familiar with how to use Google-based systems, it's an appealing way to transition to online learning quickly, easily and for free. It's also simple enough to use without worrying about needing IT resources to keep it running.
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Google Classroom may be a stripped back LMS when compared to TalentLMS or SAP Litmos, but then it only takes about half an hour to get the hang of if you're used to using the web and Google tools. Yet it still gives educators the freedom to post materials, set assignments and carry out quizzes quickly and easily.
Google might not have made a complete LMS here, but it's cleverly made it open enough to integrate with other suites so that it can deliver more. That said, it does lack some integration with information services and doesn't offer a standards-based grading option at this time.
So is this enough to be worthy of use on a large scale? Here's everything you need to know about Google Classroom.
What is Google Classroom?
Google Classroom is free and open to use, but that's within reason. Google ensures safety and security for students by only allowing you to create a class when your school or university has first signed up for a free G Suite for Education account. This is when the institution can decide which services students can use.
It also gives the body a chance to look at and personalize the privacy and security settings to best suit the groups being taught. This is where accounts are setup for students, since they're not allowed to use their personal accounts to access the services. This limits access to the virtual space, keeping it secure.
Google assures users of its service that it keeps all data secure, there are no ads at all, Google supports compliance with industry regulations and best practices, plus you get clear information about Google's privacy and security policies.
While Google Classroom is less of an LMS, in terms of management, it points out that it is more about personalizing the learning experience of students, rather than managing it. In its words: "Students can learn 21st-century problem-solving and the skills they’ll use in their future careers, with accessibility features that help every student do their best work."
Google Classroom might not be a full LMS but it does meet Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) standards meaning it can be used with another LMS as an add-on. It will also work with other free-to-use offerings like Schoology and Edmodo as needed.
Google Classroom: Features
- Works on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Chrome and browsers
- Google Docs, Slides and Sheets integration
- Create, manage and grade assignments
- Not a Blackboard replacement
Google Classroom is a super easy to access service. It works across – deep breath – iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Chrome and pretty much any other device that can get a browser window running within it. For a growing number of K12 students already using Chromebooks this system is perfectly suited to their hardware and what they're used to doing with it.
When a teacher logs into the service they can see a section for each of their classes, with courses differentiated by colors and banners. Name the class, enter a description, pick the banner image and it's good to go.
Resources can be shared to students all at the same time and they're notified by email. So a teacher can share and annotate a Google Doc, Sheet or Slide and keep track of when students had that distributed. Since you can pull material in from Google Drive this can also be an easy process.
While a presentation can be carried out using Google Slides, the teacher is also able to create a real-world view by using Google Hangouts to see and hear the students for video interactions.
Student interactions can be controlled on three levels: students can post and comment, only comment or only teachers can post and comment. This allows teachers to make announcements clearly, but it also makes it obvious if educators want students to interact with a posting. This applies to multiple teachers as you can have more than one added to a classroom, making it great for assistance.
There isn't an automated roster system but you are able to integrate with third parties like rosterSync using a CSV file. Sure, it requires a manual sync, but then this is free compared to the automated offerings from a dedicated LMS.
As of August 2020, Google announced plans for Classroom to allow for the export of grades into a student information system (SIS) making it far easier to use automatically school-wide.
Google also announced the addition of the originality report feature. This allows teachers to run a check against other student submissions from the same school. A great way to avoid plagiarism.
Google Classroom: Performance
- Consistent connection stability
- Student interaction
- Presentation with Slide and video chat with Hangouts
Google Classroom offers a home page where activity is clearly shown with a feed showing posts students have made, newly added materials, assignments and more.
Three tabs sectionalize the layout with Classwork, People and Grades.
Classwork allows teachers to upload materials, create assignments and quizzes using Google Forms, and they can pose questions.
People shows all the learners and educators, including those who haven't responded to your invitation to join.
Grades is a chart which shows assignments and students where the teachers enters the grades -– which is shared with each student privately. More on that below.
Depending on the settings, students are able to comment on each other's posts which can go a long way to help build a sense of collaboration.
Google Slides could be better integrated as it can sometimes be difficult for a student to navigate between that and a document they're working on. This is a small multi-tasking gripe but is worth giving attention to. When the teacher shows the class how this is done it can avoid leaving the less technically minded students struggling more than those who can work out multi-tasking more easily.
Making announcements is a simple and minimal feature akin to tweets with no rich-text formatting. However, you can attach links, YouTube clips and documents though, so it's very useful yet succinct. These announcements can be tagged with topics to make it even more clear to students.
When making assignments it's easy to select a title, add instructions, add files, pick a grading category (more on that below) or assign a point value and due date.
Questions is another feature that allows teachers to help students engage more. Assign a question to the class or individual students, with short answer or multiple choice answer options. While this pales in comparison to the likes of Blackboard, you can use Google Forms to create self-grading, multiple choice assessments.
When it comes to Announcements, Assignments and Questions the really useful feature is an ability to save to draft, set to publish at a certain time or push right out. This gives teachers the ability to plan and prepare well ahead of time.
Google Classroom: Grading
- Manual grading chart
- Weighted grading system option
Google Classroom uses grading charts to store an at-a-glance marking sheet for teachers. This is also used to share grades with students directly while maintaining privacy so grades from other students aren't visible.
Grading is entered into the chart manually. Automation here, where grades from the assignment doc populate this chart, would be a nice option. Instead, teachers can work with the chart and the assignment open at the same time - more like the real-world with a logbook open as marking happens.
Teachers can create a rubric, with up to 50 criteria per rubric and 10 performance levels per criterion.
For the grading itself teachers are able to create a weighted grading system. Homework could be set to account for 25 percent while exams are another 25 percent and class participation makes up the other 50 percent, for example.
Google does the heavy lifting here, keeping track of the category as the teacher grades individual assignments. There are control options here for how much a student can see of their grades.
Should I use Google Classroom?
If you want to utilize a ready-made learning platform that's extremely simple to set up and use, works across lots of devices and integrates with other tools, then Google Classroom could be for you. It's simply one of the easiest ways to transition online, since many teachers and students will own the hardware to get up and running and the school won't have to worry about IT support.
For teachers, this is a minimal way to plan and carry out lesson resource sharing, assignments and grading. Everything is clearly displayed and easily accessible across multiple devices. There's even Google Hangouts support for live video interactions with the class.
What this is not is a competitor for full LMS offerings likes Blackboard, D2L Brightspace, Moodle or Instructure Canvas. It's more like Schoology or Edmodo, which are also free to use.
At its simplest Google Classroom is the face of G Suite for Education, pulling it all together in one place for easier and quicker use of the various Google tools. While this is a great way to get teaching online, especially in a rush, it's not a full classroom replacement. But if you've got no budget or infrastructure it's hard to beat.