Google Classroom Opens Virtual Doors

Google has officially opened the doors of its Classroom tool to anyone with a Google Apps for Education account.

The tool was originally announced on May 5, timed with Teacher Appreciation Day, as a way to keep teachers and students connected, making it easier to give homework and offer feedback. Since then, more than 100,000 educators in 45 countries have given it a try.

"We did user research, and what came to the forefront was the fact that teachers were spending a lot of time doing things other than teaching," Classroom creator and Google product manager Zach Yeskel, a former high school math teacher, says. "The goal of Classroom is to make the things that should be simple, simple."

Classroom is a content management system that allows teachers to easily post homework assignments, provide feedback, and add or remove students from their classes. The service is available in 42 languages and is free for schools that take part in the Google Apps for Education suite.

Why focus on classroom management when so many other technology issues are in existence? An education team for Google spent a year working with teachers around the globe, finding out what they needed help with the most.

"It was clear they had a lot of technology that helped with other problems, but there was still an opportunity for us to solve a real problem in classroom organization," Yeskel says.

The system is just another aspect of Google's efforts to get schools to use its services in place of another company's, such as Apple, reports Frederic Lardinois for TechCrunch.

Chromebooks have become an increasingly popular laptop choice within schools, accounting for one-fifth of all mobile computer purchases made by schools, with school-related apps and textbooks easily purchased for students through Google Play for Education.

Classroom creates an even more convenient flow of information for schoolwork, as students can open their Chromebooks, write a paper with Google Docs and submit them on Classroom, keeping all their work in one network. Once submitted, Classroom will keep track of assignments, which it automatically sorts into Google Drive folders.

Teachers enjoy the freedom from paper, and the ability to grade papers as students finish the assignment, rather than all at once.

"If a student handed in an assignment early, I could grade and give feedback as they finish. It actually took the ‘man, my grading pile is so overwhelming' feeling away," praises Heidi Bernasconi, a biology teacher at Clarkstown Central High School North in New York.

The tool is merely the foundation of what is to come from Google, writes Issie Lapowsky for Wired.

"We think there are some foundational pieces that needed to be put in place before we can tackle those problems," says Yeskel, adding that the company is currently in talks with some third party developers. "Classroom is just the beginning of what we hope to do."

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