Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
Google launched a new app Tuesday that aims to help teachers reduce classroom clutter and trim time spent managing the paperwork side of teaching.
Classroom is the newest addition to the free Google Apps for Education suite. Applications for a preview of the app are being accepted now, and Google’s plan is to continue rolling out access to educators before an anticipated global launch in September.
One of Classroom’s key features is the assignments workflow. Weaving together aspects of Docs, Drive and Gmail, teachers can distribute and collect assignments across a variety of classes without wasting a single piece of paper. The same system also allows teachers to grade work and provide feedback to students in real-time.
By streamlining assignments and opening new communication channels between teachers and students, Classroom could have a huge impact on education, says Zach Yeskel, the app's product manager.
Yeskel knows how paperwork can infest the lives of educators, even outside the classroom. His kitchen table is regularly covered with stacks of assignments waiting to be graded by his wife, a high school English teacher.
“We know all too well that educators end up spending a lot of valuable time doing things other than teaching,” Yeskel said. Through Classroom, he hopes teachers will have more time to devote to doing what they love.
Google worked with thousands of educators from kindergarten through college to study how they teach, what systems they use and how their workflow could be streamlined. Part of what they learned, Yeskel said, was that performing everyday tasks, such as passing out assignments to 30 students and then collecting and grading them, was more time-consuming than it should be. Helping to solve that problem became one of Classroom’s key goals.
“We make something like that easy,” he said. “For a teacher to have one folder that has all of her students’ submissions is a pretty powerful thing.”
Though Classroom is new, Google’s apps have been making headway in schools for years, bolstered by Google Apps for Education’s free price point. This is especially true of school systems that have adopted Chromebooks for their one-to-one device initiatives.
Yeskel stopped short of saying his app replaces the classroom setting. But technologies that empower online collaboration are opening the door to new opportunities for educators on sick days and snow days.
“We have seen the normal constraints that apply to students and teachers being in a classroom every day start to fall away,” Yeskel said.
The virtual classroom is a tech trend already manifesting in some school districts, much to the chagrin of students. As snow piled up in Pennsylvania earlier this year, Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School’s built-in snow days dwindled. In response, educators launched a cyber school day, putting their one-to-one device initiative to work. Teachers delivered up to seven assignments to students at home through their tablets.
The school’s principal said he viewed the cyber day as a test and will study its results for the future.
Like most new apps from Google, Classroom has been running as a pilot program for several months in about a dozen schools nationwide, ranging from kindergarten through college, Yeskel said.
“It’s still early, but we’re all really excited to open it up to more schools and to work with them to make it a great experience,” he said.
Teachers can start signing up this week to try an early preview of Classroom before the app’s global debut in September.