I discovered Google Classroom while preparing to give my first tutorial classes in University College Cork.The e-learning tool seemed like it could help me foster a few helpful teaching habits.One of those habits: consistently giving students a platform which allowed them to express themselves, in a format they were confident with. Classroom, a social media-styled application with a content-centric ‘news feed’, looked like a teaching resource aware of its audience.
I considered that my audience – four groups of first-year students – might feel particularly remote from their new, seemingly stuffy academic environment. Similarly, higher workloads and expectations invariably pushes study beyond an hour or two of class time. Building a resource which reflected the interests and the needs of students with Classroom was an appealing prospect.
Classroom, being independent of Blackboard and other academic student resources, is a less intimidating space for students to access and engage with their class material. Its layout is much more visually inviting and intuitively navigable. The topic categorisation system does away with labyrinths of folders and sub-folders. When a resource is added, it can be tagged with its subject matter and quickly retrieved.
This familiarity, coupled with the ability to create and add students to individual class groups, extends the informal and secure atmosphere of a tutorial into an online space. If a student finds contributing in class difficult, due to nerves or uncertainty about a topic, Classroom offers another way for them to participate once they feel more ready.
From a tutor’s perspective, Classroom is a great place to store lesson material. Apps such as Google Drive are easily accessed through the platform, while a sharing function allows for quick cross-posting into multiple class groups. Teacher groups can also be created, making it easier to share notes and standardise materials in class. At the end of the semester, it is also possible to deactivate and archive a class group, reducing clutter and confusion for tutors and students. Finally, the app receives regular updates and fixes, meaning that it won’t lose functionality over time.
Impact of Classroom
So far, I am encouraged by my experiment with Classroom, and students seem to feel the same way. In a tutorial survey, all respondents identified it as a useful resource for tutorial and essay preparation.
My primary use for Classroom was as a shared folder for class news, comments and resources. I chose to limit my use in this way, as I felt that adding obligations to the first year student workload would be unfair. In that sense, with an expanded lecture or tutorial remit, there is potential for a more involved use of other apps in the Google family. Peer reviews, class reflections and pop-quiz assignments are all easy to facilitate and monitor with the use of Google Docs or Forms.
Making Classroom part of my tutorial preparation, even in the limited scope outlined above, has had a positive effect on my organisation and my approaches in tutorials. Students have also responded to it well and introduced it into their preparation for tutorials and class. With that in mind, I would be intrigued to see the results that a wider trial of Google Classroom would yield within the university.