Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflecting on Google Classroom: Evolving with the Updates

Google Classroom was released in August 2014. In that time, its evolution has provided a platform that not only helps instructors deliver content to students but also create a community in which students can become active participants in learning. Syncing Google Products in one location makes managing workflow easier and also provides teachers with many modes of instruction. Recent upgrades to this platform involve student and teacher notification options, syncing with a variety of other educational platforms, and choices of how, to whom, and at what time teachers push out assignments. The consistent improvement to this free platform has incredible potential to not only improve a teacher's productivity but also create unique and meaningful learning experiences for students.

As my district prepares to officially be one-to-one next year with Chromebooks, I could not be more excited about a few recent upgrades to Classroom and what that could mean for students and teachers alike. What is so neat about the quick evolution of Classroom is that it continues to respond to teacher's needs and makes delivering content to students a more efficient, effective, and accessible process for people with all technology skill levels.

1. Notification controls.

Teachers and students can specify whether they receive notification controls. As educators, we receive an incredible amount of emails each day. For some, Google Classroom notifications can be overwhelming. For me, I find it helpful in managing my workflow and keeping track of students who submit late work. With student absences, these notifications remind me to return to a past assignment and grade makeup / late work. Students can also receive notifications or turn them off as needed. These notifications tell students they have an assignment due and inform them that they have feedback. For several of my students, they express that they like knowing when they have a new assignment or announcement in Classroom. Again, in a fast-paced world, this feature helps keep them organized, but if students find it overwhelming, they can turn it off, too.

2. Topic Feature:

For a long time, the stream of assignments felt overwhelming to me. The topic feature allows teachers to narrow the stream down just a little bit adding topics. I enjoy organizing ideas by topics (or units). Adding topic tags can help students locate key information more efficiently and simplify their list of assignments as needed.

3. Individual Assignments:

For a long time, I struggled with creating group assignments or individualizing lessons using Google Classroom. Being able to select students and assign individual assignments has revolutionized group work and collaboration. Now, I can assign a group document or project to a few students and have them share that document with their peers. Instead of students making a copy and changing share settings with me, I can push specific assignments out to particular students. I can also target students and provide different assignments to students based on individual skill levels. This ability to differentiate learning is straightforward and allows me to meet different students learning needs. It is also easy to track these assignments once they are pushed out because the assignments in the stream list who has received a given assignment. I no longer have to keep track of who has what assignment because the record is kept for me. I love this feature and have seen students respond particularly well to group work using this feature. 

 4. Schedule Assignments:

Scheduling assignments is helpful for a variety of reason. To avoid pushing out too many assignments at one time, I can schedule assignment to appear at a later date in the order in which I want students to complete them. Also, I can schedule a quiz to appear at the onset of class, instead of the morning of the assignment. To avoid students looking ahead at assessments, the scheduling feature allows me to be prepared for class while controlling when students have access to work. Scheduling assignments allows me to stay ahead and organized while ensuring that the timing of assignments is effective for my students. For people who like to plan ahead, this feature is fantastic.

5. Questions

A few weeks ago, a colleague came into my room and wanted to know an easy what to have online discussions with students. Using Blogger, TodaysMeet, Padlet, and other webtools can provide ways in which to have class discussions, but one of the fastest and easiest ways to have a discussion with students is using the questions feature in Google Classroom. Students can post, read, reply, and engage with their peers as quickly as a teacher can post the question. This feature is one that I find helpful when I have a few extra minutes in class. Students like participating in online discussions and the questions are easy to find. Having these discussions through classroom allow students to review these conversations at a later date as well. While I love other webtools for online discussion, using the questions feature allows class learning to stay in one easy to find location for both students and the instructor. 

6. About Tab

The About Tab in Google Classroom has countless possibilities. I like to link my Classroom Agendas folder to Classroom in the About Tab. I have also seen people link a class calendar here, too. Key assignments and links can be placed here to help students access critical information. I am still researching different ways in which to use the About Tab. Like with many features recently added, there are so many possibilities! I am excited to evolve my Google Classroom pages with the product itself to ensure that I am meeting the needs of my students. 

Resources for more about Google Classroom: 

There are a multitude of resources available to help teachers with Google Classroom. It is a bit overwhelming, but people are willing to share ideas. As it continues to evolve, I am even more excited about what this user-friendly product can do to help both teachers and students manage Google products, collaborate, create, and learn. 
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