Learning to Manage Learning – Why I opted for Google Classroom

I read yesterday that Adobe is working on its own LMS, even though there may be already over 600 in existence! This epitomizes the challenge posed to us educators. Finding the „best“ solution for our classroom needs means investigating the offerings, evaluating them, then choosing the right one. In the educational sector there are so many being used that it’s hard, even for connected teachers, to gauge the added value of each, to be able to make this kind of decision.

I myself tried to get my head around two this past year – Moodle and LMS.at (an Austrian LMS), which have a great number of useful features like timed assignments, calendar, grading, course administration, communication etc. LMS.at is visually more appealing to me than Moodle and has the advantage that it is adapted for the Austrian school system. Still both left me with a feeling of „not quite what I need“. Moodle seems to be the number one choice in education and in business, but I checked out many others like Edmodo, Schoology, Blackboard, Fishtree, Chalkup, not to mention the ones that each publishing house seems to build as an accompaniment to their printed or electronic publications. With so many to choose from, it’s important to me to find something with a manageable learning curve for both students and fellow teachers (who may be eLearning beginners), with an attractive UI and with a simple, easy-to-use workflow. I settled on Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom. Here’s why: 

  1. It’s free: Can’t beat free right? I am reluctant to invest even a seemingly small sum in an LMS, no matter how powerful it may be, although I do understand that companies need to make money.
  2. It has a familiar interface: Along with many people, I have been working with Google Drive and Docs for many years, so I’m already comfortable with where to find things and how to use the platform. It’s also something many others already know so I won’t need to convince them to get to know a new platform.
  3. It will continue to evolve (for the better): Google Classroom was officially launched in August 2014 but the Apps suite already has millions of users.
  4. It’s integratable: There are many services that link to or work well with Google Classroom including Duolingo and Quizlet. This is likely to increase greatly.
  5. It’s secure: It is a closed system, restricted to approved users. This is a great plus that will ensure privacy and security for students and parents.
  6. It’s visually clean and looks good on mobile: The UI is uncluttered and easy to navigate around. A plus in my book.

The few downsides are outweighed by the gains I’m hoping to have. After a cumbersome registration process involving proving domain ownership (which took a few weeks) I still struggled to understand simple things like how to add users or how all the different apps are linked to each other. Luckily Google has many helpful how-to guides and there are many dedicated educators like Alice Keeler, who have already produced reams of invaluable tips, tricks and guides on how to use the platform.

Strictly speaking Google Classroom isn’t really an LMS itself, but is an online platform for smart and mobile assignment distribution, submission and grading. It can be used in conjunction with other LMS platforms. Announcements can also be posted but feature-wise it remains limited (others will disagree). But what it does it seems to do rather well, judging from others‘ experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing how my students will respond to collaborating and communicating with the platform, and getting feedback and grading through this system.

Still, there seems to be little published in German or for German-speaking educators, which will mean that I may have to produce guides myself. The handful of educators in Austria using Google Classroom seem to be early adopters. As this will be my first year with the App Suite and Classroom, involving 14-year-old students with little or no experience in eLearning or using an LMS, I hope to be able to make their learning experience more enjoyable and efficient by using Google Classroom in combination with other apps and tools. Wish me luck while I take this plunge!