Google Classroom Pilot Project

iPad screenshot of Google classroom

iPad screenshot of Google Classroom

By Kathleen Power, Technology Coordinator

In the spring of 2014, Google rolled out a beta version of a classroom management system called Google Classroom.  I immediately began to hear the excited buzz of regional technology coordinators, directors and integration specialists who are members of the South Coast and Islands Technology Team (SCITT) as they were starting to test the product.

As a technology coordinator, I hear of lots of options for teachers to get information out to the students. Many teachers use a variety of wiki’s and blog spaces.  Sturgis teachers are using Managebac as well.  Managebac is a student classroom management system written specifically for the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

Having so many options can create an overwhelming scenario for the students because they could have 5 teachers who use 5 different websites.  When a student sits down at night to dive into their homework, they might have to log into all these different sites.

Google Mail and Google Drive, which includes Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides arrived at Sturgis several years before me.  This was good news because Google Classroom is a very simple GUI (graphic user interface, pronounced gooey) of Google Drive.  Our staff already knows how to do most of this! Google Classroom simplifies Google Drive into a format for teachers and students to interact.

Months have passed since my colleagues from SCITT school districts began beta testing Google Classroom and they are now integrating Classroom into their daily lessons with enthusiasm. I’ve heard stories of entirely paperless classrooms, teachers correcting student papers live in the classroom, and grading papers online.  No more missing, lost or dog chewed papers!

I could not ignore the excitement.  As a technology coordinator, I feel it is my job to sift through the barrage of tools and when one jumps out at you that certainly seems to be helping classrooms around the country, I felt it was time for a pilot program.

Politics

Managebac

Managebac

Pilot program: easier said than done because we are already using Managebac, which does similar things to Google classroom.  Would we be spreading ourselves too thin?  Do we use both?  Does this add to the problem that students have of too many sites to check for homework? Does this add to the cumbersome workload of teachers?  Can we get everyone on the same page?

It may seem unfair and problematic to mandate teachers to use a specific software.  So, how about a grassroots trial period with just a few teachers?  Maybe the ease of use and excitement will spread like wild fire!

Well the good news here is that Google Classroom is free to students and school districts.  A handful of teachers had been inquiring about it, so why not try it?  We started out by sending a couple of willing teachers to Googlepalooza, an all day “everything Google” conference at Cambridge Rindge and Latin over February break.

After Googlepalooza, I had a little work to do making Google accounts for the students and talking to teachers who wanted to pilot.  I spoke with two teachers from each campus who were willing to test Google Classroom out with at least one classroom.  These teachers are Jeff Hyer and Creighton Hulse from East and Matt Lee and Eric Hillebrand from West.

Timing

Ibrahim with student

Ibrahim Dahlstrom- Hakki meets with students

Timing is everything.  Two months into the research to get this pilot going, we received a report from Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher at Landmark College in Vermont.  Landmark College serves.  Through a grant from the Tower Foundation, Ibrahim is working with Sturgis Special Ed Departments as a Screening and Assessment Consultant for students who learn differently. During his first consultation visit in December 2014, he was able observe students at Sturgis with alternative learning styles, confer with them one on one and offer suggestions about using technology tools to help improve their classroom production.

After Ibrahim’s visit, he sent Sturgis a report and his findings were right on target with the need we are trying to fill with Google Classroom.  Ibrahim reported that students he worked with are frustrated with Managebac and he recommended Sturgis attempt to move toward more unified technological practices for students.

Here is an excerpt from Ibrahim’s report:

“Finally, I would recommend moving towards some unified technological practices at the school.

I don’t believe this should occur from a top-down manner or should necessarily be imposed on teachers and students. Instead, unified practices should be encouraged through a grassroots adoption of the best technologies as currently being implemented in pockets across the two campuses. To achieve that I would encourage the fostering of a technology community of practice to allow teachers to share their practices with their peers. Ideally, this should include regular presentations during which teachers using technology to support their pedagogical practice share their practices with their peers.”

Two weeks into the pilot program, we decided to meet as a group in about a month so we can discuss how it is going and if and how we will move forward with it in the fall.

Background of Pilot Teachers

Google Classroom 003

Pilot Teachers meet with Kathy Power

Jeff Hyer, a Sturgis East History teacher, introduced Google Classroom to the faculty at East on May 6th at the biweekly faculty meeting.  Jeff Hyer has been running a paperless classroom for several years now.  He has put in the time and work to manually do what Google Classroom automates.  Jeff teaches his students to work online.  He comments and corrects in Google docs in real time and he expects his students to edit and comment back to him online in Google docs.

Creighton Hulse, a Sturgis East Spanish teacher, will be working with Jeff to present Google Classroom to the East faculty.  Creighton also has experience working with students submitting Google Documents online in Google Drive.  Creighton lit the fire under me to get this project up and running!

Matt Lee, a West History teacher, has spent the last four years building his own Wiki website for students to find their assignments and website links.  I thought Matt would be reluctant to pilot Google Classroom because of the time he put into getting his wiki developed.  Although Matt is looking at this with a different perspective from the others, he was very willing to give it a try.

Eric Hillebrand, also a West History teacher, has used Managebac since his he began at Sturgis but has kept an open mind about using Google Classroom and will be able to offer a different viewpoint about our pilot program.

Google Classroom Presentation (1)Google Classroom Presentations to Faculty

Google Classroom Presentation On May 6th Creighton and Jeff presented Google Classroom to the East faculty; on June 3rd Matt Lee, Sarah Martinez and Creighton presented to the West faculty.  I believe Classroom was well received.  The energy at both presentations was positive.  The faculty were engaged and asked excellent questions.  A handful of teachers contacted me immediately after these meetings and are now using Google Classroom.

Google: Developing Technology in Real Time

Google Classroom Presentation (2)Google is very responsive to suggestions from educators who use Google Classroom. An example is how Classroom made it possible to add multiple teachers to each class. The addition of multiple teachers benefits special education teachers who need to be informed of student assignments. Another example is how Google Classroom decided to partner with Doctopus and Goobric add-on and extension to make it possible to attach a rubric to each student assignment.

Many schools including Sturgis use Turnitin, a software program that checks student work for potential plagiarism by comparing it against the world’s largest comparison database. As it stands now, Turnitin can be used from Google Drive. We have read in user forums that Google is working to integrate Turnitin with Classroom. The bottom line is we see Google continue to respond to educator’s requests by providing rapid improvements to Google Classroom.

Faculty Reflections on the Pilot Program

Eric Hillebrand, History – West

Students have mixed feelings about it.  Like all info technology, including Managebac, the students and teachers that take the time to get to know the program well, feel powerful with it and like it.

Right now, the students that had finally come around to learning Managebac feel some uncomfortable ‘pulling’ of them between the two (MB and Google Classroom).  I often hear students say they wish teachers would heavily use one and stick with it.  There is no real admiration for Google Classroom over MB, but some dislike that they have to change.  This feedback comes mostly from the one class I am piloting G-classroom in, but also a conversation with several students in Matt Lee’s class when I subbed for him.

Creighton Hulse, Spanish – East

Google Classroom Presentation (3)This past semester I have had the fortune of helping pilot Google Classroom at Sturgis East. For me it has been an extremely helpful tool. I had been using Google Drive for most of my assignments already so my students were familiar with Google docs. The transition to Google Classroom interface was seamless because it is very intuitive and aesthetically pleasing.

When I create an assignment, from watching a video and commenting to writing an essay, I put it on Google Classroom. What this means is that I provide a link for a document (or video or website) that is already created. If it is a Google Doc then you can have Google Classroom create a copy for each student, only allow students to view it, or allow all students to edit it. When they see the assignment on Google Classroom, along with the due date, they can open the document, edit it, and turn it in. The “Turn in” button is only available via Google Classroom and eliminates any chance that the document is not shared. When clicked, it also alerts Google Classroom and is marked as “completed.”  This allows me to easily see who has completed (in their opinion) an assignment. I can then grade, comment, and send the assignment back.  From the student’s Google Classroom, they are able to see what assignments are due, when they are due, and if I have graded or commented. The organizational feature and accountability that this provides are unparalleled.

Another great feature for my class is “announcements.” If I am not expecting an assignment to be lengthy or formally turned in, I can create an announcement. Sometimes it is just a document that I create to generate class discussion, a test review, or a reminder about an upcoming assignment. The students can have notifications set to where they receive an email when I create an announcement as well.

turnitinOne downside mentioned by a few colleagues was the lack of integration with Turnitin.com. I do not personally use this website, but understand their concern. However, turnitin.com is compatible with Google Drive. What this means is that when an assignment is created and finished, since it is “saved” in the Drive in the background (or in addition to) Google Classroom, a teacher can go to their drive and turn in the students assignment from there. It does create an extra step for teachers, but to my mind, since so many others steps are being saved, it is worth the effort.

We have also explored multiple teachers and non-academic classes in Google Classroom. A class with multiple teachers could be a departmental tool for alignment or just a way for teachers to learn from one another. Using Google Classroom for something like clubs or advisory is completely viable, and something I see as very useful. It allows for open communication and a place for all pertinent information.

Jeff Hyer, History – East

Google Classroom PresentationMY PASSION: Combining Technology and student learning is a passion of mine. Google makes this easy. I’ve wanted to do what is happening now seven or eight years ago. I also want to help teachers learn to use technology in a way that makes sense, but most importantly, is easy for teachers to learn. (Ask me if you need help.)

Matthew Lee, History – West

After using Google Classroom for the past several weeks, it’s clear that Classroom offers several advantages over ManageBac, but also fails to deliver in a few ways in which ManageBac does.

Drawbacks

In some ways, ManageBac delivers an experience that is tailored for International Baccalaureate schools.  As Google Classroom is geared towards educators at large, there are a few features that would be lost if ManageBac were to be abandoned entirely.

The first is CAS functionality.  ManageBac makes it easy for students to see at a glance what progress they are making toward their goals.  The page is neatly laid out so students can quickly see how many learning outcomes they’ve achieved, as well as how often they’ve reflected on a particular activity.  It’s also simple for them to receive feedback from our CAS Coordinators, as well as advisors leading those activities.

Secondly, ManageBac integrates seamlessly with TurnItIn.com.  As a teacher, I can create an assignment in ManageBac that is enabled with TurnItIn.com.  When a student completes and uploads an assignment, an originality report is generated in most cases within moments.  Classroom does not offer any connectivity with TurnItIn.com.

Advantages

There are, however, several advantages over ManageBac that Google Classroom provides.  When students first logged into Google Classroom, they were quickly abuzz with continuous remarks about the clean interface, user friendliness, and intuitive nature of Classroom, which shines with Google’s well-reputed polish.  Classroom works flawlessly with Drive, in which is housed a significant majority of the West history department’s classroom resources.  It’s much simpler to make an assignment available electronically, and then to track its progress as students make drafts.

And it’s not simply about the aesthetic quality of Google’s look.  A cleaner, simpler interface means fewer hours lost to glitches and technical difficulties.  In the battle of Android and iOS apps, Classroom was the clear winner over ManageBac, which is notorious for being down for weeks at a time.

There’s also the peace of mind of knowing that Classroom is serviced by Google’s top-of-the-line software team.  As more schools turn to use it, it can only get better and better.  For instance, right now, it’s not possible to link an assignments calendar created in Google Classroom with Google Calendar.  But it’s not difficult to imagine that that would be an easy fix, and if fixed, would mean that teachers, students, and parents, instead of having to check Google for personal calendars, Sturgis’ website for school events, and ManageBac for assignments, could simply subscribe to relevant calendars in one place.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, for the conveniences ManageBac offers, students have said the features lost are not insurmountable.  It would still be possible for a student to track his or her own progress toward learning outcomes.  The school could continue to subscribe to TurnItIn.com as a separate service, checking their website for originality reports rather than having those reports generated in ManageBac.  Likewise, the advantages offered by Google are not impossible to get around if you are working exclusively in ManageBac.  I may not be able to attach a file straight from Drive, but I could create a document, find the shareable link, and include it in a ManageBac assignment using some basic HTML.

Neither is a “wrong” choice for Sturgis.  Both can be effective tools in helping our students stay organized and connected.  Each has its own hiccups and quirks.  In either case, the end game is the same — a tool is no use if it simply sits on a workbench.  Our students need to be trained to make the best use of the resources available to them in order to maximize their access and interaction with the school, as well as their own personal growth.

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