What’s wrong with Google Classroom?

Google Classroom? What’s that? If you aren’t currently a student, teacher, or administrator in a school setting, you probably haven’t heard of it, although you may be surmising that it’s part of Google’s plan to take over the world. (Not to be confused with Facebook’s plan to do that, or Apple’s.) Perhaps you’re right. In any case, Google Classroom is the awkward solution that Weston and many other schools have adopted as a way to post and collect assignments and perform other related tasks.

There actually are a lot of good things about Classroom, but on the whole it’s half-baked. I doubt that Google consulted any real teachers when designing it, although it does get better every year. Despite the presence of thousands of skilled programmers at Google, this product looks like something designed by a student who was interning there one summer.

Here are a few of my complaints, listed in no particular order. I’ll write in the first person, since it’s from my own experience, but of course the issues affect many/all other teachers as well:

  1. There is absolutely no way to format an assignment. I can’t change font, size, style, or anything else. I can’t indent. I can’t insert an image. I can’t insert a link on a word or phrase (I can attach a link to the entire assignment, however). I can’t have a bulleted or numbered list, like this one. I can’t use HTML. (Contrast all these issues with WordPress, which I employ to write this blog.) Maybe it’s just me, but I find these limitations nearly crippling.
  2. Fortunately an assignment can be cloned for use in another class, so there’s no need to cut and paste an entire assignment. But… once it has been cloned, it is automatically split into three (or whatever) separate assignments. If I need to modify an assignment for Honors Geometry, say — a task which I almost always have to do several times for every assignment — I have to do it three times. This may not be crippling, but it’s extremely annoying and leads to errors such as inconsistent assignments.
  3. Although I can post different due dates for different classes/sections (which is fortunate, since they don’t all meet on any day except Day 3 and Day 8), I can’t do it for different students within the same section. When it requires a lot of time on my part to read student work on an assignment — such as a binder check — I may spread it over three days for any given section. But I can’t customize the due dates. (Infinite Campus shares this flaw, among others, but don’t get me started.)
  4. The order in which assignments are posted is severely broken. There are two options, but they don’t add up to the correct solution: The default is that I create an assignment and it appears at the top of the list. That makes sense. The other option is “Move to top,” which does just that. But that’s it. So suppose I need to move an assignment down three positions; the only option is to move the next three to the top one at a time, hoping that I’m doing it in the right order. Or suppose I need to pin something to the top, so it will stay there — for example, an announcement about a test in two weeks or a permanent link to my schedule. Again, it will float downward the next time I post an assignment.
  5. It’s hard to tell what the current, next, and past-due assignments are, although students can set it up so they are notified about what’s due next. We had a much cleaner and more useful system with WestonMath: the software automatically showed the next due assignment at the top, followed by all future assignments in chronological order, followed by all past assignments in chronological order. It did this by checking due dates in the database. Furthermore, it automatically rolled over at 3:00 every afternoon, so that the currently due assignment would move from today’s work to tomorrow’s at that time.
  6. Although assignments are dated in Classroom, announcements aren’t!
  7. Although I can easily tell who has handed in an assignment (which I couldn’t do in WestonMath), there seems to be no access log: if Matilda hasn’t submitted her work, has she even seen the assignment? Inquiring minds want to know.

All of these complaints are from my POV as a teacher. Maybe it’s fine for students. And I’m sure there are plenty of other things wrong with Google Classroom, but seven is a lucky number so I’ll stop there.

But wait!!! There’s an eighth (but that’s OK, since 8 is a lucky number in Chinese):

  1. WestonMath was readable by the world. If a prospective student or parent wanted to look a the assignments, description, and resources for a particular course, all they needed was the URL. But Google Classroom requires access permission and a Weston account. What’s the need for security here? We’re talking about read-only access!

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston