It is that time of the year again, as the teachers in the Northern Hemisphere get ready to start a new school year, it is time for Google Classroom Updates!
But this year is slightly different, instead of updates we are getting a mini-revamp of Classroom. Don’t worry it is still the Classroom we love, but in the four years that Classroom has been available, the way teachers have been using it has changed and so has their needs. This upgrade is the result of all the feedback teachers all over the world has sent Google over the years.
There are so many updates that I am going to have to cover it in two parts.
You might be feeling that you just got the hang of Classroom and now they are changing it. Not to worry, everything you know about Classroom is still valid, there are just some added features that give you more control.
While Google always times their releases to coincide with the US schools, the timing of this release actually suit the Southern Hemisphere teachers more. At some point in the next couple of weeks, you will notice some of the changes in your Classrooms, but the big change will only affect new classes, so you will have some time to play around before you start using it next year.
Google Classroom Update 2 – The Classwork page
The biggest of the Google Classroom updates that will affect everybody is the addition of a CLASSWORK page. As teachers started using GC more and more, the STREAM has become insufficient. If you have ever tried to find something you posted a month ago, never mind earlier in the year, you will know what I am talking about. People tried to work around it, by numbering their posts or adding topics, but more and more teachers and learners have been asking for more structure to GC. Hence the CLASSWORK page, which allows you to create modules by making use of topics.
Since these modules are based on topics, how you choose your topics becomes even more critical than before. I would suggest that you spend a little bit of time at the start of the year deciding on how you want to build up your “modules” and choose your topics accordingly. If there was one thing I learned while taking part in the Beta test of these upgrades, it is that there is no single “correct” way that you should use Google Classroom and that is the magic of it.
As you can see in the screenshots, I prefer to build my modules around chapters, with an additional one for tests and assignments and if I have a project with multiple parts, that would be a topic on its own. I saw Alice Keeler decided to have a “Today” topic right at the top, with the most current tasks. While I can see the point of having the posts for the day right at the top, I don’t like the idea of having to go back and change topics every day, so that is not going to work for me. Other teachers prefer to have all their quizzes, all their collaborative tasks, all their essays together, this doesn’t make sense to me, but who am I to say you can’t organise it like that. While there is no right or wrong way, one thing you don’t want to have too many topics, nor do you want your modules to get too big, I think you should aim to have around 10 – 15 topics for a year course.
Another big improvement on the Classwork page is that you can move assignments up and down within a module and you can also move modules up and down. If you want something “pinned” at the top of your Classwork page you just post it without a topic and it will go to the top. I am still playing around with the order I want my modules to be in, at the moment I have a few permanent links at the top without topics. Then comes TESTS & ASSESSMENTS where I post information about all tests. (I try to do this at the start of the term so that learners can see what assessments they have whenever they open Classroom.) Classroom place new topics at the bottom of the page, but I prefer to move the current topic/module right below the Tests & Assessments.
So what is the difference between the stream and the classwork page?
- Organised according to topic
- Only Assignments and Questions appear.
- More permanent – post things that learners will come back to.
- Assignments can be moved up and down in a topic and topics can move up and down.
- Can be copied to new class next year.
- Posts are chronological.
- You cannot move posts on the stream.
- Announcements only appear in the stream.
- A notice appears on the Stream when you post anything on the classwork page.
- The idea is that the stream is more fleeting, you should never have to search for something that was posted to the stream three months ago.
- The Stream cannot be copied to a new class.
One thing that took Google by surprise is the number of people in the Beta test that requested the ability to post links and resources that is not necessarily part of assignments. I used to just post that as announcements, but more often than not you want them to appear as part of the modules and announcements don’t appear on the Classwork page. Teachers also used to use the ABOUT page to post resources to they plan to use throughout the year, but with the About page all but disappearing a new solution is needed. Google is promising the ability to add RESOURCES to the Classwork page soon, and I for one can’t wait for it. In the meantime, I just post resources as an ASSIGNMENT and ask learners to Mark it as done.
There are a few things that have gone missing with the updates, for example, you can no longer see how many learners have handed in an assignment or answered a question from your dashboard, you have to open the post. Teachers also have lost their To-Do page where you could see a summary of which assignments have been handed in, at a glance.
How do I get the Classwork page?
Like all Google updates it take a couple of days to roll out to their whole network. For the past month, Google has invited some teachers to be part of beta testing the new Classroom and started the general roll-out on Tuesday 7 August. Most teachers have access to it by now, but unlike the other updates, the Classwork page does not get added to current classes automatically. Any new class you create will have the classwork page, but your current classes will not have it. For my South African readers, I would suggest that you create a sandpit-class to play around with the new features, trying out a few different module designs before you start using it next year.
Google is promising that they will give you the ability to add a classwork page to current classes, but I think that is more for the US teachers who have already set up their classes for the new year and don’t want to wait a whole year to start using the new feature. I would not add a Classwork page to a class that I have already been using for almost a year, it will very likely be messy.
Google Classroom Updates 2 – Copy a Class
A new feature that came as a surprise to me is the ability to copy a class. At first, I was not sure how I felt about it, from a pedagogical point of view I don’t think you can ever use last year’s tasks exactly, No teacher would ever photocopy all last year’s worksheets on the first day of the year and just use them again without giving it any thought (at least I hope no teacher would) so why would we want the digital equivalent of it. But more and more teachers have recently told me the one thing that frustrates them of Google Classroom is that they feel like they need to reinvent the wheel every year. You always had the ability to reuse a post from a previous class, but if your classes get really big, it was often quicker to just create a new post. But even worse I often found that I would do something that really works well one year and forget about it the next year.
If you click on the three little dots in the top right-hand corner of the class-tile, you will see the option to COPY. This will copy all the assessments and topics in the Classwork page, but they will be in draft form, so you can decide whether you want to use them again and edit them to suit your new class. Since the idea behind the STREAM is to be fleeting and focus on conversations, the stream will not get copied.
Personally, I would not make use of the copy feature at the moment, since my Classwork page is not designed properly. I would focus on creating a Classwork page with modules that really works for me in 2019, and then I would start copying it. There is no use in copying something that is not designed properly. I hope the fact that you can use them again will encourage teachers to spend more time on writing the instructions to their Assignments properly.
Just a word of warning, Google Classroom is domain specific, this just means that if you leave the school you will not be able to copy your classes and take them with you. Anything that is in your Drive you can extract to a new Google Account, but not Classroom. So if you have plans to leave your school in the future, you should save your “Great Assignments” somewhere else as well.
Next week I will look at the new grading shell and some other smaller updates that was added.
If you are in the Cape Town/Boland area and you think your staff would like somebody to show them the new upgrades and the finer details of using Google Classroom, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.