Thursday, August 21, 2014

Google Classroom

Unpacking Google Classroom: What it Does and What You Need to Know

by Alan Regan

There has been quite a bit of buzz about Google Classroom for the past several months. Back in May, Google launched a PR campaign and asked interested teachers to sign up for a preview.  It started with a limited set of folks, then in July they started to roll out more and more sneak peeks.  Now Google has officially announced the release of Google Classroom to all Google Apps for Education customers.

What Can You Do With Google Classroom?

Google Classroom is new. As such, it only has a small number of features. If professors are expecting equivalent features to a full-blown learning management system, they will be disappointed. However, Google likely plans to build on this platform and roll out additional functionality over time. In the meantime, what can Google Classroom help you do today?
  • Announcements. Professors can post text announcements that appear in the "classroom" in the announcement stream. The announcement can include a file attachment, link to a Google Drive item, YouTube video, or website link.
  • Assignments. The teacher can create a basic assignment that students can submit for grading.
  • Course Description. In the "About" area, the teacher can post a description for the class, list the room details, and post materials.
  • Email. From the "Students" area, a professor can email individual, select, or all students through Google Mail integration.
  • Invite Students. To populate the class with students, the teacher can "Invite" the participants to join the class.
  • Materials. At the bottom of the "About" area of a class, the teacher can upload attachments, link to existing Google Drive items, link to a YouTube video, or share a website link.
 If you explore or experiment, you'll see that it has a similar feel to Google+ since the main page is the "stream" where postings of announcements and assignments can be found.

So What Is Missing from Google Classroom?

While Google Classroom is interesting to explore, it would be difficult for a university professor who expects more advanced functionality to teach with this tool. Again, it is likely to expand over time, but as of this writing the service is missing some core functionality:
  • No Gradebook. While professors can create assignments and grade each student within the assignment, there isn't a central gradebook to summarize the overall progress of each student.
  • No Automated Course Creation. At this time, there isn't a mechanism to automatically create classes based on official class data from WaveNet.
  • No Automated Student Enrollment. At this time, there isn't a mechanism to automatically enroll or unenroll students based on official school registrations. Professors must "invite" students manually and students must accept the invitation (or join by using a join code).
  • No Plagiarism Detection. There isn't a tool or feature to scan an assignment submission for potential plagiarism. Google is the master of search, so perhaps this could happen in the future.
  • No Sequenced or Modular Learning. While there is a stream where you can scroll back chronologically to past announcements or assignments, and an area in the Abour section to post materials, there isn't a place to create a series of text and media rich content for learning modules or lessons. 
  • And the list goes on...

What are the Gotchas?

With any system, there is usually a set of gotchas or known issues. The key gotcha relates to the assignment process. Actually, it's not as much of a gotcha as a "be sure to be aware" notice.

When a student submits a document to a Google Classroom assignment, that document will transfer from the student to the teacher's Google Drive folder (moving it) and switching the permissions.  The teacher becomes the owner and the student will now only have view privileges. On return of the document to the student, however, the professor's permissions shift, the student becomes the owner (and if the professor wants to edit the document, he or she will need to request permission from the student). So it's key that both teacher and student understand these permission and location items.

Wishlist Items

  • Integration of Hangouts.
  • Integration with Sites (or similar or something new) to create structured learning opportunities.
  • Plagiarism Detection.
  • Gradebook.
  • LTI Integration to plug Google Classroom into learning management systems or visa versa.

If a Pepperdine Professor Wants to Explore...

Google Classroom is enabled on our Pepperdine Google Apps for Education service. Professors simply need to visit, log in with their Pepperdine University Google Apps account, choose "Teacher," and explore away!


In summary, Google Classroom is a basic tool with promise.  It seems perfect for K-12 teachers in schools that don't have a central learning platform.  For higher education, though, it is not poised to replace a formal learning management system. At least not right now.  We'll keep an eye out and see what new features or enhancements Google may roll out down the road.