Sunday, January 21, 2018

The case for Google Classroom

About two years ago, I first shared about some of the awesomeness that is Google Classroom. There are many aspects of it that I really like, of course, but two things stand out to me above all. Additionally, it is important to note that Classroom continues to make additions and modifications that improve it.

I first "met" Google Classroom at a session during the CUE Conference in 2015. At that time, you could only access Classroom if you had a school Google domain, which I did not have. So, I watched and listened and soaked in all that I could without actually digging into myself. At the subsequent West Coast Google Summit, I asked about possible plans to allow teachers who did not work at a Google domain school having access to Google Classroom. I also took back my lessons to my school and began a push for a Google Domain. By the time I returned to the CUE National Conference the following year, my school had established its own domain and my life as an educator had changed.

In fact, prior to the CUE National Conference in 2016, I had my first Google Classroom experience that changed my life as an educator. I had traveled to southern Alabama to meet with educators and to visit classrooms. While on this trip, I posted from and interacted with students from afar. One of the things I love about Google Classroom is the ability to be present from afar.

February 2016. I walked along a beach in Southern Alabama en route to a Catholic School. I took a picture of tar balls washed upon the shoreline and shared them in a post on Google Classroom. With a photo, I posted a discussion question. Students responded. Flash-forward one year and I was at a new school and using Google Classroom similarly. Flash-forward to January 2018 and, again, I was posting to communicate with students while away from the classroom. The absolute best part of Google Classroom is that it does EXACTLY what I want to do and it breaks down the walls of the physical classroom. I can monitor their interactions and mute a student who is off-topic. I can redirect students, if necessary. I can interact with students and guide them and discuss with them. This, my edu-friends, is the most important part of Classroom for me. It breaks down the walls and allows me to interact with students even when I am physically absent from the classroom. My physical absence is rare, but when it happens, it is important to me to maintain a connection with my students. Google Classroom bridges that gap. Whether I am sitting in the classroom, driving down Interstate 10, sitting in a doctor's office, or attending a conference, I can facilitate and monitor  class discussions and post assignments.

The second thing I love about Classroom is the ability it has to integrate across the curriculum. StudySync has done this especially well. Even when it isn't specifically integrated into a curriculum, I can use it facilitate student assignments. I can essentially make, create, and share handouts through an assignment or announcement on Classroom. This does amazing things. It is is not unusual for me to ask my students, "would you like me to create something on Classroom so you have a place to submit XYZ"? Even less unusual is for them to answer, "YES!" And so, I do. I can make copies of attachments from Drive for each student and/or give them editing access to an attachment. I have done this with Google Sheets in the past, for example.

Classroom has changed in the last year or so. We can now make assignments more personal, which assists in differentiated instruction and independent study. We can create assignments that push out to all students or we can select specific students for specific assignments. I used this recently when a student was out for a week in order to personalize her learning since she would miss what we were doing in the classroom. I can reach my students when and where they are. It transcends space and time (I can set up an assignment and have it post according to a schedule I set).

Perhaps the title of this blog post is more than is necessary. Perhaps I do not need to make a case for Google Classroom because you are already using it. Perhaps it would be better titled: Why I love Google Classroom. But know this, it is ever changing, ever evolving, and it is making classrooms places of success and EduAwesomeness. You can accomplish great things. Whether you're a longtime user of Classroom or hesitantly starting to check it out, you will find new and great things within Classroom. As I contemplated this blog post, what really pushed me to write it is that over the past week, I decided that Classroom is arguably my favorite (Google) teaching tool.

Last month, I had diinner with my "adult school chicas." We have all gone on to do other great things and we all four are (now) back in the classroom. We had great conversation about Google Classroom and we are now discussing the possibility of having a simple, personal training session because two of us are using it more effectively than the other two. What tips would you share? What are your favorite aspects of Google Classroom?

Do you want to take Google Classroom further? I suggest following Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler and check out her books including "50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom" and others, available on Amazon.

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