Now that many of us are in back-to-school mode, it might be noteworthy to introduce a new, free product from Google for students and teachers, Google Classroom. Officially launched on Aug. 12, more than 100,000 educators from more than 45 countries had previously signed up for a functional preview starting last May. While Google is well understood to generate revenue through various forms of advertising, all of the components of Google Classroom (including Gmail) will not contain any advertising, but will still remain free for student and teacher use. Google also pledges to protect student privacy by never using class content and student information for any marketing purposes.
There are many “classroom management systems,” also called CMS, available to schools and colleges at all levels. Most of the CMS being used in education are expensive, typically with high-dollar licensing fees; in comparison, the CMS offered as Google Classroom is totally free, and potentially advantageous for cash-strapped school districts and colleges.
While there are inherent differences in the many CMS packages available, this free offering from Google offers basic and advanced functionality and benefits to students and teachers alike. One of the more popular functions of a modern CMS is its capability to collect assignments digitally, without the traditional flow of paper; the “the dog ate my homework” classic will not fly with Google Classroom. This service from Google integrates secured folders in Google Docs (integrated office utilities including a fully featured word processor), Google Drive (cloud storage), Calendar, Talk/Hangouts and Gmail, where assignments and other documents may easily flow in both directions between the teacher and the student. Since all content is date and time stamped by the system, arguments about when an assignment or other communications were sent or received are moot. From the teacher’s perspective, it is immediately clear which students have submitted work in a timely fashion, and the teacher has the immediate opportunity to provide real-time feedback to the student. Efficiency, privacy and security are all enhanced because Google Classroom automatically creates individual Google Drive folders for each student and for each assignment; it is a simple process for each student to see assignments and due dates on an individualized Assignments page. Since this is a two-way system utilizing common, readily available and popular online applications, teachers can efficiently broadcast announcements and other content to the students, and students and teachers alike can easily ask and answer questions with each other. A secured digital grade book is a component in the package available to teachers.
For the teacher, Google Classroom was designed to be easily set up, offering the teacher the option of manually adding students to the class, or issuing students a free registration code that will enable student access to the teacher’s Classroom. During the preview period over the summer, teachers commented on the ease of the setup process, and that it typically only took a few minutes to setup Classroom.
While the integrated Google Classroom is the latest addition to the already well-established set of Google Apps for Education, the Google educational service has already been widely used by teachers, students and staff. According to Google (google.com/edu/apps), there are already more than 30 million students and teachers utilizing the free Google Apps for Education. Google also stated, “Schools get Google Apps 100 percent free.”
According to Google, schools, teachers, and students have already demonstrated great benefits to its many Google Apps for Education users, which have now been enhanced by the inclusion of the Classroom function. Google has determined that the use of this system encourages students’ teamwork by allowing them to work together in the existing Google Docs app; this collaboration can occur in any combination of class time and work at home. From a policy standpoint, school administrators can easily set user permissions for the browsers on classroom computers. Teachers can easily configure whatever app features are desired, and can select security settings appropriate for the individual class. From the student standpoint, countless millions of students are very familiar with the incorporated Google apps such as Gmail and Calendar, meaning that for those students, they are already to use the system with little or no technical instruction. It would not surprise me if many of the students are currently more technically competent then their teachers, and would have no problems with this Google system.
The entire set of Google Apps for Education is accessible from any digital device, regardless of operating system or type, that has Internet access. For those who may not have Internet at home, there are also offline apps available that can be utilized without a current Internet connection.
These Google Apps for Education, and now the incorporated Google Classroom, are not just for K-12 use, but college and university use as well. The Google site at google.com/edu/apps has several case studies from college professors and others as to the efficacy of the system, without the cost of the commercially available and expensive competitors. Among the higher education testimonials is one from Karen Warren, Director of User and Technical Services, Wesleyan University, which states, “Student groups are using Google Calendar and Google Sites to organize activities like the on-campus farmer’s market. And our professors request Google Drive for group assignments and presentations, since it works well across all platforms.” In addition to classroom use, there are other academic activities that have utilized these apps. Wyatt Smith, former president, Vanderbilt Student Government, was quoted as saying, “Our student government team uses Google Apps every day to make Vanderbilt a better place. Google is changing the way Vanderbilt students engage, interact and learn.”
For teachers at all levels who may need some assistance in utilizing these new technologies, Google offers free online training on how to efficiently utilize all of the components of Google Apps for Education as well as Google Classroom (google.com/edu/training). Online “Communities” are also available to teachers as a resource where information can be exchanged, inquiries answered, and utilization tips and hints can help the teacher make better use of the system. For those seeking a form of professional certification, Google offers a free “Google Educator” program at google.com/edu/training/certifications. There are levels of accomplishment and certification available to participants; the Google Educator level requires mastery of four required subjects and one elective. The four required online courses are on the topics of Gmail, Calendar, Docs & Drive, and Sites, all of which are the basic components of Google Apps for Education. Electives include Chrome Browser, Chromebooks, and Tablets with Google Play for Education. Each of these courses are totally online, free, and can be mastered at the teacher’s own pace; an online exam is offered upon the completion of each module. While there may be a small fee for the administration of the certification examination, the classes themselves are free and available online at google.com/edu/training/certifications. Higher levels of certification are available, including Google Education Trainer, and Google Certified Teacher.
The Google Certified Teacher program is a free, two day, live, face-to-face program offered at locations around the world. Domestically, these classes have recently been offered in Atlanta and Mountain View, California, and will be offered again in December 2014, in Austin. Approximately 50 applicants are accepted for each of these sessions, and online applications and other information is currently available online at google.com/edu/programs/google-teacher-academy.
With the universal availability of Google and its free educational products, an exciting new method of teaching, education, and learning has become available. Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom may be ideal for any K-12 school or college that is not currently utilizing some form of digital instructional media or classroom management system. For those schools and colleges already using a competitive system, these free Google products may be worthy of investigation, especially when the institutions are faced with the high cost of renewing existing competing commercial products.
These products from Google are definitely worthy of serious consideration by educators at all levels.