In part 1 of our posts on the Google Classroom Updates 2018 I looked at the biggest upgrade, the new Classwork page as well as the ability to copy your classes. This week I am looking at the other big Google Classroom Update, the marking shell. I will also discuss some of the smaller updates. But first, let’s talk about the issues with the new updates. One of the biggest dangers developers face is to keep on adding new features without ever discontinuing anything because they don’t want to upset users. The result is a mish-mash of features with often overlapping features. So I think Google made the right decision by discontinuing certain features like the About page. While lots of people were using the About page for a number of uses, its purpose was never very clear. But in the process, the ability to do some tasks was lost. I am not sure why they took the About page away before they were ready to add a “resources” feature to the Classwork page. I also believe that there must be some new features in the pipeline for the Stream because, at the moment, it seems rather useless to me.
Google Classroom Updates 3 – The marking shell
I have a confession to make, even though I use Google Classroom every single day, I very seldom assign tasks to be handed in on Classroom. There are two reasons for this. The one is that as a maths teacher most of my tasks do not lend themselves to be done online. The other is that I find marking and commenting on assignments in Classroom to be cumbersome and time-consuming – yeah I have said it. Luckily Google listens to what teachers say and improve and the new marking shell is a vast improvement.
In the past, if you assigned a Google Doc, you end up opening 30 tabs, reading them, commenting and closing, that is a lot of clicking. Now when you click on a learner’s work, it opens in a “marking shell”, the Google Doc is automatically in editing mode and you can click from one learner’s work to the next without closing the tab at all.
But that is not all. As part of the marking shell, you now have a comment bank, and this is huge. Before we look at the how let’s just pause for a moment at the why. There has been a big move in education to rather give learners feedback while they are busy with an assignment than at the end. Any teacher who has spent hours crafting careful feedback only to have learners look at the mark and ignore the feedback will tell you that feedback after the fact is seldom useful. But for the longest time, the only feasible time for feedback was at the end. Google Classroom has changed that. Since you can access their assignments from the moment they have started, you can give continuous feedback, and it is for this process that Google added the comment bank.
When you are in the marking shell, select a word or paragraph that you want to comment on and click on the “+” on the right-hand side. You can add custom comments, or you can type “#” and a dropdown with the comment bank will open, and you can select the appropriate comments.
Just a side note, like most things in life your learners will have to get used to this process. I just gave my grade 8’s a project on Classroom, with the idea of implementing continuous feedback. It has not been two weeks and I haven’t been able to give any feedback, because they are leaving it till the last minute. Next time I will give them provisional deadlines to streamline this process.
Google Classroom updates 4 – Miscellaneous
The miscellaneous upgrades never get a high score from me. They tend to make things neater or easier but doesn’t really have a huge effect on my life.
Firstly all the people involved with your class are now collated on one page, that includes co-teachers, students and parents/guardians. It never made sense to me to have students on one page, co-teachers under the About section and the parents/guardians hidden away from sight.
Another small but useful upgrade is creating a proper settings page for each class, that you can access through the settings cog, like in all other Google products. This is where you will now find the CLASS CODE as well as change whether students can comment and post in the class.
One of the reasons why I seldom invite my colleagues as co-teachers to my class is that I want to spare them the email deluge that happens whenever learners hand something in – and for the same reason I prefer not to be a co-teacher in any classes. Over the years Google has given teachers more control over the notification they receive. But while I want to receive some email notifications for my own classes, I want to receive no notifications for other classes. With the new updates, you have the option to mute certain classes, so that you do not get notifications at all.
The last small change that did frustrate me for a while is that the back arrow in the top left-hand corner is now replaced with the classes name that will take you back to the stream. Since the browser already has a back button that will take you to the previous page, it never really made sense to have another back arrow there.
Change tends to be a frustration, but it is also a reality of our life. As Alice Keeler recently commented on Twitter, I want my technology to become outdated, because that means that I have something better to work with.