What is Google Classroom?

Apple iPads in high school classroom.

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Google Classroom is a learning suite for schools that can be added to Google Apps for educational users. Google provides a free edition of Google Apps to educational institutions, and Google Classroom leverages that installation by turning Google apps into a communication suite for students and teachers. 

Providing schools with email accounts and document storage is one thing. Students and teachers need more than that. Classes have assignments, announcements, and grades. They need a self-contained environment that can be used for secure classroom communication and document exchange. That's where Google Classroom comes in. 

Google LMS

Google Classroom is essentially a learning management system, or an LMS, that leverages Google Apps for student and teacher collaboration. Google Classroom was developed after a lot of user demand. Learning management systems are expensive, and many of them are difficult to use. The field is dominated by Blackboard, a company that grew in part by purchasing much of its competition.

Google Classroom allows schools and teachers to create virtual classrooms for sharing and communicating in a secure environment with the members of the class. Depending on administrator settings, teachers may create classes or have those classes bulk created for them. 

The teachers can then share assignments and materials either individually or to this restricted group, and the interface allows students to track individual progress. This is standard for an LMS. Because it's leveraging Google Apps, assignments and materials are organized into Google Drive folders. 

Users receive email notices for new activity, such as comments or assignments being turned in. 

Administrators have control to either enable or disable Classroom as part of the standard Google Apps administration console (for Google Apps for Education)

Grading for Assignments is handled by a submit button that passes the docs back and forth. A student creates a paper and then "turns it in" to the teacher, which disables his or her editing access to that doc but keeps the view-only access. (It's still in the student's Google Drive folder.) The teacher then marks up the document and assigns a grade and gives it back to the student, who can then resume editing. 

Teachers can also post announcements and offer public or private comments. When grading work, teachers can highlight specific text fields and offer comments, much like the revision process in Microsoft Office. 

Parent/Guardian Access

Schools can elect to allow parents or guardians access to summaries of student activity. That means that instead of full access as if they were a student, parents are let into the classroom to check student progress. Parents can then receive an email with missing work, upcoming work, and any assignments or communications from the teacher. 

Do you need two parent portals? While many schools already have an existing student dashboard or parent portal, if you have tried to log into it, you have probably seen how clunky and outdated it looks. Many Student Information Systems (SIS) have student view and parent view portals, but the development looks like an afterthought. Google Classroom has a slick and clean interface, so if the teacher is actively using Google Classroom, it's easy to see what you need to keep your child on track. 

Where You Will Find Google Classroom

Google Classroom is more likely to be found in grade and high schools than it is in universities. It is not full-featured enough to use in place of an existing LMS for most colleges. However, that does not mean some universities aren't experimenting with offering Google Classroom, either as an alternative or as a supplement to face-to-face classes. 

Google Classroom is more than ready for brick-and-mortar elementary and secondary schools. Using Google Drive instead of paper assignments means that students can better track their work and will not lose it in their backpacks. 

Assuming Google is working toward Google Classroom use in higher education, one barrier is that most higher education institutions have signed multi-year contracts with existing LMS platforms and have a large library of existing content within existing courses. 

LTI Compliance

One change that might help is if Google Classroom were to embrace Learning Tools Interoperability. This is an industry standard that allows different learning tools to communicate with each other. Google Classrooms is not LTI compliant, and the company has not announced any immediate plans to do so (which doesn't mean that they're not working on it.) If Google Classroom were LTI compliant, it could be used as a plugin for other tools that the school or university was already using, such as their existing LMS or virtual textbooks.  

A student could, for example, log into your Blackboard or Canvas or Desire2Learn classroom as expected, the teacher could then assign a doc in Google Drive using Google Classroom, grade it within Google Classroom, and transfer those grades back to Blackboard, Canvas, or Desire2Learn. 

Join the Google+ Community

If you are a teacher and already have a Google Classroom account, check out the excellent Google Classroom community on Google+

Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Work is a series of Google-hosted products that can be customized and rebranded to the business domain of the customer. Google has long offered a free version for educational institutions called Google Apps for Education.

It's a business marketing decision as well as a philanthropic call. By offering educational institutions free apps, they teach the next generation to use tools like Gmail and Google Drive for everyday tasks, and that erodes Microsoft's dominance in business software offerings. Or at least, that's how it works in theory. Microsoft has been aggressive in counter-offering discounts and student packages and their own cloud-hosted app suite, Office 360. Even if Google won converts, enthusiastic young people who use Google in high school don't graduate from high school as managers with purchasing power. 

There are a few key differences between the Gmail and other Google services everyone uses and the way they work for Google Apps for Education. Google has removed ads, and it offers some enhanced security features (as is necessary to comply with US educational information privacy laws. Google Apps for Education services are FERPA and COPPA compliant.