September 4, 2017

By now those of use who work with Classroom regularly, look forward to the US schools starting in August, because it always brings with it some great updates to Classroom. When Google launched its fairly simple platform in 2014, they promised to add features that teachers request. Well, they are living up to their promise.

Like most things in life, everything is not for everybody. Of the three big updates, I am on cloud nine about the topics, have lots of reservations about the email to parents and need some time to make up my mind about annotating pdfs. 

Keep in mind that it normally take a couple of weeks for new updates to be available across the whole Google domain. Just have a bit of patience if you don’t see it yet. 


Update 1 – Adding a topic to your posts.

One of the negatives to Classroom is that a year’s worth of post gets to be very long. I still want to see the learner who scrolls back to every activity when they study for the final exam. Now you can add a topic to every post and learners can use that to extract all the posts on that topic during the year.

There is no set topics, you create your own ones as needed. For maths using the chapter headings makes the most sense, with maybe one or two other ones like, “TESTS and EXAMS” and “INTERESTING LINKS”. But each subject will be different.

This update gives Classroom a bit of a more structured feel, which I think is great.


Update 2 – Annotating pdf’s in the Classroom app.

I am still waiting for the updated app to be available on the South African App Store to try this out. But in principal, I think it is a good idea. I know that annotating pdf’s are at the centre of very heated arguments between teachers involved in tech. On the one hand is the very valid argument that we should not try to recreate paper online. Annotating a pdf is the same as filling the worksheet in on paper, nobody saves time, learners are not more engaged, to be honest, more often than not it is easier just to do it on paper. 

However, when Apple brought out the first iPad, they still added a clicking sound to the camera and the pages of their books still “turned” like real books, because that was what people were familiar with. Six years down the line, we find that tech companies are leaving these features out because people do not need that safety blanket anymore. If annotating pdf’s make teachers feel more comfortable, and that enables them to try using technology more, then I am fine with it.  

Update 3 – Summary to Parents/Guardians

When Google launched Classroom, one of the biggest complaints, was that there was no ‘parent view’. As an answer to this Google have added a summary email to parents and guardians. If your school activates this feature, you will be able to invite guardians, and they can choose to receive a daily or weekly summary of their child’s classes. 

I can understand why parents requested this feature. But as a teacher who has been using Classroom for a while, I am not sure I want parents to have so much access to my class. If I were only posting tests and projects, I would not mind, but I try to post everything we do in class. I am also afraid that such a summary will just enable helicopter parents to take over all the responsibility for assignments from the learners. 

Maybe it is just a new concept that I need time to adjust to. To try it out, I have invited myself and the principal as guardians to Demostudent. Demostudent is an account I created to test all new features (it is also very useful when I do training) so Demo is in all the Classes in our school. For the next couple of weeks, we will receive the summaries and then make a call if we want our parents to have access to that feature. However it seems like the feature is not totally activated on our domain. I can send out invites, but at the moment are not able to accept them. Hopefully it will be released within the next few days. 

Congratulations Google, on improving on an already great product. 

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