This is one of those times when I blog in order to save something for later or to give myself time to think about something. Apparently, Google Classroom is now a thing. Joshua Kim of “Blog U” in Inside Higher Ed writes about it, or rather, what he wishes it was. Google Classroom combines elements that I have long been combining on my own: Gmail, Drive, and Docs. What is new is how Google automates workflow. In other words, if I wasn’t already using Moodle for my learning management system, the folders and files that I now sort on my own as I have students turn in work via Moodle, would be handled using Drive This is potentially less work, especially for the instructor who is currently toting paper. This is not a LMS, but is really enough for a K-12 public or private school that does not aim to make the entire learning process digital.
At first, I was ready to click that “apply for a preview” link, but thought again and decided not to do it. Moodle has superb upload/download integration for assignments and I can’t see how separating this out and placing all assignments in Drive would be helpful. Thinking about K-12 though, I see some advantages. Students would write all assignments using Docs, thus giving more uniformity in teaching and learning. If a school used this throughout, and that is its intended use, teachers and students used to paper would more easily transition to digital, not a small step, but one that would mean much for the teachers still toting stacks of papers or sorting papers in stacks in the refrigerator, as a former professor of mine did in-between marriages. A good case study to read is that of Fontbonne Hall Academy in Brooklyn.
What is notable in the narratives and sound bytes given is that learning management systems or content management systems are not mentioned. There is a whisper of a mention at time when software that is “too complicated” that ends up not being used is mentioned. Cost is also a factor. This seem to be aimed to the holdouts—schools that either can’t or won’t transition into a LMS or schools that can’t afford a LMS, or think they can’t. Open source solutions like Moodle mean they can, but it also means having someone on-site that is comfortable with the back story: installing it, keeping up with upgrades, and making some decisions about what modules to include for their needs. Paper holdouts are unlikely at this point to have such a person (or group of people). Of course, a real transition to digital literacy would mean that the school as a whole sees the technology involved as all their business, not something to pass over to the IT guy (I guess the IT guy is never a gal). Google is handling the muss and fuss aspect that comes with open source. It is also making a lot of pedagogical decisions for the users, but to be honest, is also limiting what the environment does enough that the big decisions aren’t involved.
Now, I don’t know what using this environment is like and I’m not that likely to find out first hand. I am not the customer for Google Classroom. However, I will be looking for volunteers in my ENG 520 class to try this as an alternative to the usual final project. There are always two or three classroom teachers in the class who, this time, might be willing to give this a shot and document it for the class. I hope they get a chance. It sounds like full rollout will be this fall, and I don’t think the beginning teachers in ENG 520 would have the influence needed to affect a whole-school decision. Let’s hope Google sticks with their usual long-beta pattern so that my writing teacher students get a chance to try this out.