Announced earlier this year, Classroom rounds out the free suite of tools provided within Google Apps for Education. Intended to behave as a sort of portal for Google Docs, Drive, and Gmail, Classroom aims to help teachers “create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with their classes with ease.”
There is little question that technology is a necessary companion to a modern education, but finding the proper fit is a significant challenge. Google isn’t the first organization to offer a suite of educational support apps, but they may be among the most likely to succeed –if for no other reason than they are a known-brand with a familiar suite of tools.
Classroom boasts a feature-set that is hard to resist, including:
- Easy Configuration and Set-Up – Teachers can add students manually, or choose to share a code with their class that allows everyone to join.
- Save Time – By making assignments paperless, the process of reviewing and grading each one is faster and easier.
- Improved Organization – Students are able to see their outstanding homework assignments at a glance, in a single location, with the required reference materials easily accessible.
- Open and Enhanced Communication – Classroom makes it easy for students to ask questions and read important announcements.
- Value – Free to schools, Classroom contains no ads.
- Secure – Google promises that content and student data will never be used for advertising purposes.
When all of these things combine to make Classroom seem a little too good to be true, the only way to give it proper consideration is to evaluate the opinions, experience, and concerns being publicly expressed:
|Outsourcing vs. In-House||Though it is the subject of great debate, it seems that the IT departments at most schools lack the skills and available cycles to adequately create and support a custom suite of educational apps. To this end, subscribing to an external system makes good sense.||With considerable competition for the dollars invested in education, desire to have complete control over these kinds of tools needs to be weighed against the availability of services like Classroom that may not be custom but should be considered good enough.|
|Data Storage||Overwhelmingly, the idea of educational data storage is uncharted territory. Everybody agrees in principle that the security of student data is critical, but few can agree on the best way to ensure its security.||While many believe that schools housing their own data is the only reasonable choice, many experts suggest that the IT expertise available with organizations like Google may offer superior protection.|
|Ongoing Support||When schools relinquish control over their educational systems, they are at the mercy of outside organizations. If a software vendor goes out of business or decides to sunset an application suite, little can be done.||While Google has a history of abandoning projects that no longer entertain them, it seems unlikely that they would sacrifice an entire educational initiative without careful thought and planning. It should also be understood that no solution is future proof: developers that work on custom in-house projects leave or retire, third-party software vendors go out of business or sunset application suites and cease their support, and technology changes… consider that 5-6 years ago, universities would have placed their entire mobile focus on BlackBerry devices.|
|Registration||Using Classroom requires that each participating student has an account with Google.||While it may seem like cause for concern, use of any system would require an account of one sort of another (along with the acceptance of a corresponding ‘Terms of Service’ agreement). It could be argued that Google’s agreements are publicly available and therefore quite transparent.|
|Compatibility||Organizations are overwhelmingly BYOD (bring your own device). Students and their families are no different.||This is one area where Classroom is likely to be the undisputed leader. Google is well-used to the challenges that accompany being cross-platform while accommodating a wide variety of laptops, tablets, and smartphones.|
|Learning Curve||Students have enough difficulty learning the material covered by the curriculum, let alone needing to understand how to use the technology required to consume that information.||Gmail is Gmail is Gmail. By using already-familiar Google tools and technologies, students and parents will enjoy a much shorter learning curve.|
|Cost||Everybody loves a bargain, but those same people tend to misunderstand the difference between cost and worth.||If the system is free, what’s in it for Google? Just like Apple’s strategy in the 1980’s, Google understands that families tend to be brand loyal –getting students on board, gets parents on board. This means more use of other Google products and services, including the sale of more Chromebooks and Nexus mobile devices.|
Pilot projects have been running across North America to mainly rave reviews, but it shouldn’t be discounted that most schools test-driving Classroom haven’t worked with any competing service in the past. Also important is understanding that this is the first release –what is documented now as being underwhelming or simplistic should be seen as a basic foundation. What counts now is how Google moves forward: subsequent versions will need to respond to feature requests while maintaining stability and security.
Ultimately, only time will be able to tell if Classroom is a success. What can be said for certain is that Google is providing a viable solution for schools, teachers, and students… but they aren’t alone in this arena, Microsoft and Apple are also trying desperately to secure their own pieces of this emerging educational market (don’t forget: competition drives innovation).
Jillian Koskie is an experienced software developer, content writer, project manager and usability design expert. With over 17 years in these roles, Jillian has enjoyed applying her skill-set to assist clients and users across a wide variety of sectors including: legal, health, and financial services. Combining these professional opportunities with a love of technology, Jillian is pleased to contribute articles, opinions, and advice to numerous news outlets, websites, and publications.