If you’re a teacher or an administrator, you’ve probably heard about Google Classroom. But unless you’ve seen it, you’re probably left wondering what it actually is. How does a “paperless” classroom function? What can you do in this digital workspace? And how do we get the kids to use it?
Google Classroom is a web-based platform that helps you integrate the Google tools you and your students use. It’s your online “homeroom”–use it to create different classes to organize your students, distribute assignments, communicate with students and parents, and reduce the amount of paper you use in your classroom. It’s intended to be used in a technology-rich classroom environment–you’ll find it’s a good fit if you have enough devices for all the students in your classroom to use at once, or close to it. Classroom can really help you take advantage of all those devices and make your digital workflow seamless.
Since you can already share documents and files with students using Google’s built-in collaboration functions, you might be wondering why you need Classroom. The answer is that it’s not imperative–but it does simplify your digital classroom workflow and organization of assignments, and gives your students one specific “home base” for interacting with you online. This is especially handy if you don’t have (or don’t want to maintain) a teacher website, though many teachers integrate Google Classroom into their websites and use both.
Your First Visit
If you’ve never signed in to Google Classroom before, there are a couple of steps you (and your students) will have to go through. You’ll want to ensure that your students are logged in with their school Google accounts, and that they choose “student” when asked to choose their role. (Don’t panic if you have a jokester who selects “teacher” – just let your IT administrator know after class and they can fix the problem. Both students and teachers can join classes in Google Classroom, so you’ll be able to continue introducing the tool without leaving that student in the dust!)
Once you’re logged in, use the plus sign at upper right to create your first class. Name it carefully – consider adding a year and semester or other grading period to differentiate it from other classes you’ll create this year. Your class page will have three tabs across the top: Stream, Students, and About. Your Stream is the chronological “feed” of things you post for your students to see. New assignments will be at the top unless you choose to bump an older one up. Assignments, announcements, and questions (quick polls) will appear here. The Students tab lists your roster of students and permits you to customize some options, such as allowing students to post on your Stream, changing or displaying your class join code (more on that in a moment), and entering the emails of your students’ guardians so they can receive automated summaries of class work each week. The About tab is where you can add a co-teacher and post a syllabus, class expectations, links, or other persistent information.
Add Your Students
To add students to your class, visit the Students tab. You’ll see an option to “invite students” via email. This works if your students have email enabled in their school Google accounts, and if they know how to check the email. However, it’s usually easier to spend about 15 minutes of class time to get everyone added at once. You can easily talk students through the process of navigating to Classroom (check the App Launcher which looks like a grid or “waffle” in the upper right-hand corner of almost any Google page, or send them to classroom.google.com and have them set a bookmark using the star in the omnibar). Once there and signed in, they’ll click “student”, click the plus sign, and enter the join code you’ve found on your Students tab. Click the small triangle next to the code to display the code in large print on your screen for students to view.
To create an assignment for your students, be sure you’re in the Stream tab. Click the large plus in the circle at bottom right, select “Create assignment”, and follow the prompts. You can add directions, add a topic to the post to help your students filter posts from different subjects or units of study and add videos, documents, links, or pictures, and more. You can also choose whether attachments are copied and distributed to each student for editing or posted as read-only. You also have the option to choose to assign the work to an entire class, several class sections, individuals, or groups of students.
Behind The Scenes
Google Classroom saves student work and assignment templates in your Google Drive. You’ll see a folder named “Classroom” appear in your Drive once you start using it. Feel free to look inside this folder – but please DON’T move folders or files into or out of this folder! Putting a file in the Classroom folder doesn’t upload it to the Classroom interface, and removing files from the Classroom folder can really confuse the “robots” that make Classroom work –you’ll find that student sharing permissions get messed up in a hurry. Resist the temptation to move files around in that folder and you’ll be fine!
While Classroom has come a long way since it was introduced in 2014, there are still some features you might wish were a bit stronger. As of this writing, Google Classroom’s gradebook does not directly interact with several of the most frequently used gradebook systems. There are workarounds–Google Classroom grades can be exported to a .csv (spreadsheet) file for import into another system–but it can be inconvenient to make your gradebook “play nicely” with Google. Be sure you understand how to export grades before using it. Here’s a list of some student information system programs that do interface directly with Classroom’s gradebook.
Classroom for iOS/Android also has some features not available in the web version of Classroom, like marking up PDFs. If you use mobile devices in your classroom, or if your students have their own smartphones, you may want to familiarize yourself with how these mobile versions of Classroom work.
There’s currently no way to view a “student view” of work that is assigned to students–unless you have access to a student account so that you can log in and see what it looks like. It’s a good idea for you and colleagues to join each other’s classes so you can get familiar with the workflow from a student perspective and give feedback to your peers.
Classroom is a great tool for you to use to take control of your digital classroom. Introduce it to your students with some low-stakes tasks (entry and exit tickets, routine practice assignments, etc.) and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they pick up the routine of checking the stream every day. Spend some time learning your way around it–you’ll be glad you did!
Want to learn more and see a live demo of this blog in action? Join Katherine Livick and CTL for a Professional Development Webinar on Google Classroom on October 18th at 9am PST. Click here to register for this webinar, and to watch all of our past webinars!