September 16, 2017

If you have never had a virtual classroom, you might wonder what the point of it is. You can do amazing things with a virtual classroom, that will be impossible in only your physical classroom. But to start with the moment you add an online part to your classes and lessons, you need a platform to work from. You can try to manage it via email, but that becomes cumbersome very quickly. The biggest problem is that by the end of the year, hardly any of the learners can find that email that you send them in January. This is where a Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Classroom comes in. In a later post, I will look at whether Classroom is actually an LMS or not, but that is irrelevant at this point.

Officially the definition of Classroom is:
“Google Classroom is a free web-based platform that integrates your Google Apps for Education account with all your Google Apps services, including Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar. Classroom saves time and paper, and makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organised.”

Google Classroom and G-Suite for Education

To say that your school use Google Classroom is actually incorrect since you can not use Classroom by itself. To use Classroom your school have to register as a Google Apps for Education or GAFE school. This involves registering your school domain with Google and each person (both teachers and learners) at the school receiving a school Google Account (Read more about the advantages of two accounts).

Like all Google accounts, this includes an email address, a cloud-based Drive (with unlimited storage), Calendar and access to all other Google Apps. However, unlike a person Google account, an education account gives you access to Classroom. There is no cost to registering as a GAFE school, however you might want to get a professional in to transfer your data from your current email service provider.

The reason why everybody needs a school account is that Google Classroom is locked down to your school domain. That just means that only people with an account from your school can access your Classroom. This provides a very safe environment for both the learners and teachers.

Now you might be asking, “What do you do with a Virtual Classroom?” Well, everything you do in your physical classroom. You give instructions, answer questions, share resources, receive work back from learners and give feedback.

But with a bit of extra magic…

1.  Give instructions in Google Classroom

I have calculated that I save about 2-5 minutes at the end of each lesson because I do not have to finish my lesson in time for them to write down their homework. I post the homework on Classroom every day, so if learners do not have a chance to copy their homework down, they know where to find it. Two minutes a lesson adds up to 5 hours over the course of the year. Also, if a learner is absent they do not need to depend on a friend to write down the homework; they just go to Classroom, and they can stay up to date.

We have also found Classroom to be very effective when teachers are absent. Since you can access Classroom from any device, you as the teacher can post the work for the day from home. It is a lot easier to explain exactly what you want on Classroom than to depend on another teacher to deliver the message.

In subjects like Life Orientation or History where they only have 2 or 3 lessons a week, the teachers have found Google Classroom to be invaluable. If they miss a lesson because of an athletics meeting or a fire drill, they can still post the homework on Classroom (maybe add some more detailed instructions) and the learners stay up to date.

2. Answer questions

If anything is unclear about an assignment, learners can ask it immediately, and any answer I provide is visible to everybody. I made it very clear from the first day that Classroom does not mean I am available 24 hours a day; I will only answer questions during school hours, however often one of the other learners have answered the question before I even saw the questions.

3. Share resources through Google Classroom

Like most teachers, I constantly feel at risk of being swallowed by a mountain of photocopies. Google Classroom enables me to rather share PDF versions of the worksheets with the learners. Electronic worksheets save me a lot of time, saves the school a lot of money and the students can not lose their worksheets. The quality of the worksheets is also a lot higher. Photos are clear and in colour. I can also use colour and pictures to make the worksheets more user-friendly. Since the number of pages is irrelevant, there is no need anymore to squash everything onto one page.
But there is another advantage, in a Virtual Classroom I am not limited to worksheets, I can share photos, links and even videos. Often when we are doing a difficult new concept, I will share a short video to help them with the homework.

4. Receive work in electronic form via Google Classroom

In the same way, that you can send work to learners, they can hand in assignments online. This can be anything from a scanned version of their work to a photo or video. If learners can hand their assignment in electronically, it is possible to give learners a lot more choice when it comes to the format of the assignment. And giving learners a choice is crucial in creating ownership and making learners take a more active role in their learning.
But Classroom has the added feature that you can share a worksheet with the learners that they complete online. While they are busy with the assignment the teacher also has access to the document so that you can give feedback in real time.

5. Give personal feedback quickly and easily

Feedback is one of the most important tasks of a teacher, but if you teach 150-200 kids, it is also one of the most difficult things to do. Often the only time you can give feedback is after the learner has already handed the assignment in, which means the students can not make use of the feedback to improve their work. GAFE allows you to comment on an assignment while the learners are still busy with the assignment which enables them to improve. Another problem with feedback is that there is never an opportunity to discuss an assignment 1-on-1. Google Classroom enables you to give a personal comment to a learner, which is a lot more efficient than a general comment. Before you start thinking about the amount of time, this will take, remember that even if you copy and paste the comments, they will still be more efficient than telling it to the whole class.

I do not use Classroom to give learners their marks, but that option is there. The moment you entered them, the marks are sent to each learner individually.

Have you ever added up how much of your lesson time gets taken up with writing down homework, handing out worksheets, taking in assignments or reminding learners what the due date of their assignment is? We all know that time is a precious commodity in our school, so if you can do all of that online, you will probably be able to have an extra lesson or two. Google Classroom does not want to replace the face-to-face interaction you have with your learners; it actually aims to make your classroom administration more efficient so that you have more time for face-to-face interaction.

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