I tweeted that a while back, and I firmly believe it: we all lead such busy lives these days that nobody really has the time to learn how to use a complicated new tool. Change is hard, even for early adopters. I’m someone who wants to try new things: I sign up for a whole slew of new tools each month, and yet how many of them actually make it into my everyday workflow? Maybe one or two from time to time, but more often none…
Google gets this, and their design philosophy prizes simplicity over almost everything else. Last year, I handed out a set of Chromebooks for schools to trial. When it came to the evening before they went out to the first school, I panicked because I hadn’t written a guide to help them. After a lot of deliberation, here’s the masterpiece I came up with:
Turn it on… Log in… er… that’s it.
The point is that when tech design is really good, it becomes invisible. I can’t wait for the time that we don’t talk as much about technology: when it becomes as ubiquitous and invisible and unremarkable as electricity. All these religious debates over which operating system or which device is better are faintly embarrassing and the sooner we get beyond that to talking about how they actually help learning, the better.
Anyway, Google gets it. That’s why their approach with their web services is invariably to provide a user experience which as simple as it can possibly be, but no simpler. After all, they need interfaces that a billion people a day could use without calling the help desk.
So it is with one of their latest offerings: Google Classroom. Although it represents an interesting departure from the norm in that it is an education-specific tool, it still adopts the now-standard approach of providing simple generic functionality, and leaving it to others to add the clever, specific extras in the forms of apps and extensions. That isn’t possible now, but I’m pretty confident it’s the way they’ve planned this and that before long the API will be opened up to allow third-party developers to work their magic.
Today, then, we have the simplest-possible expression of a tool which is designed to reduce the burden on the teacher around the whole area of the work that students do both in the class and outside it. In other words, to streamline teacher workflow. It’s not for everybody – if you’re already using an learning management system which allows you to squeeze a lot of value-added data from your student activity, you probably won’t be impressed. However, for the majority of teachers I meet there is an awful lot to like about a tool which:
- simplifies the handing out of work
- makes copies for students
- correctly names each piece of work they do
- ensures that they hand it in to the right place at the right time
- lets the teacher mark it and provide feedback
- returns it to them, and
- allows an iterative feedback loop.
So what does Classroom look like and how does it work? Well, by now there are of course many helpful blog posts and YouTube clips to help you answer those questions and to get you started here’s a link to a great video (bit. ly/uked14nov05) from the ever-helpful Amy Mayer at friEdTechnology:
- Teachers create classes. Students (and other teachers) can join classes. A class might be a particular collection of students (think secondary school), or a topic or subject (think primary school) or even a single student and their teacher (think e-portfolio). The ‘Stream’ is where things appear. The teacher (and, if you want, the students) can post Announcements to encourage or mentor group discussion and the teacher can also post Assignments to set tasks and homework.
- As soon as you’ve set an assignment, there’s a live counter showing who’s handed the work in and who hasn’t. Click on the counter and it’ll take you to the list of students who’ve handed in their work – or those who haven’t.
- Click on each student’s name to see the piece(s) of work that they’ve handed in for that assignment.
- Make comments and suggestions directly on that piece of work if you want using the options afforded by Google Docs, Slides or whatever tool they’ve used to produce the work. Return the work to them with feedback and, if you want, with a mark. They can un-submit and re-submit the work as many times as you allow if you prefer an iterative process.
Behind the scenes, Google creates folder structures in Drive for each class and each assignment and sets the appropriate permissions, which change as work is handed in or returned. It also correctly names the work for each student so that it can’t be mislabelled or put in the wrong folder.
Now, pretty much all of that functionality already existed in Google Drive, but the point is that the teacher needs to know how to do that, and not many do, or have the time to learn how to. Classroom hides all of the complexity behind the simplest-possible user interface. Simple trumps complex.
Paradoxically, though, this has caused some consternation among teachers and students who’ve already become comfortable with Google Drive and have been using it for a while. Classroom takes over the responsibility for organising …
Click here to continue reading the remainder of this article freely in the November 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine
A Google-Certified Teacher and Trainer, Mark is wellknown in this country and abroad as well as online for his knowledge of the use of Google technology and a wide range of other web-based technologies. Mark helps schools become future-ready by working with them on the three essential elements of technology-oriented improvement: Technology, Pedagogy and Culture Change. By helping them embrace and master these three elements, Mark helps schools transform themselves into adaptive learning organisations ready for the modern world. Find his on Twitter at @edintheclouds, at plus. google.com/+MarkAllen and www.edintheclouds.com.