Seems I’m on the hunt for the perfect online home for my classroom.
Last summer I wrote with great excitement about my move to Schoology from a Google Site as the home base for my classroom. I had been using a Google Site for years that had become an excellent archive of my lesson plans, assignments, and resources for my students.
But it had limitations.
It was not a place where I could interact with my students. I had a different site for each course I taught, so I had to move between two or three different sites regularly, depending on how many courses I was teaching in a given semester. Whereas all the google apps for education play well together, I still had to figure out how to organize my drive files and all of my students’ documents–the site didn’t do that for me. And, well, technology evolves but this one particular tool hadn’t changed much and I wondered what more was out there.
(And yes, I do know about the new Google Sites that is coming to us and is already out there in Beta for early adopters. But from what I could figure out about what’s really “new” about it, it won’t enable me to do what I need the online home for my classroom to do.)
So last summer I decided I would step away from Google Sites and try out Schoology, our district’s official LMS. I couldn’t design a fun-looking website for my students like I did with Google Sites, but I thought that the potential for connecting within and beyond my classroom via Schoology was worth the trade off. We could do online discussions. I could extend my PLC beyond the walls of my school and connect with educators across the state and country. And Schoology would help me to keep track of my students’ work–it would let me know for each assignment who had done the work and who had not. This was certain to save me time, right?
Here was the thorny problem: my students write in google docs. It’s the best tool for teaching writing I’ve ever encountered. The revision history, suggesting mode, the collaborative possibilities–all of it makes teaching and learning writing dynamic and alive. So when my students turn in work to me, they turn in google docs. And I respond by writing comments in the margins that my students work with in revision. I needed the system to be able to collect google docs for me. But Schoology cannot do this.
Ok, it CAN collect a google doc, but it essentially takes a photo of it. What you get is not the live document. You get a Schoology-a-fied version of the Google Doc, and the response you do as a teacher remains in that Schoology system with that document, not with the actual live Google Doc where the student will continue working. My workaround was to have students submit, via Schoology, a link to that live Google Doc. This way, the system would help me keep track of who had completed the task and who had not–something I thought would save me significant time.
It didn’t actually save me time. In fact, this system created more time in my work flow. I had to click into Schoology, then click on the class, then click on the assignment folder, then click on the assignment, then find the student and click on the link to the document to read and respond. All that clicking (and waiting for pages to load) was costing me precious time.
Instead, I created a Google Form to collect work from students. One form, all of my students. They would check off which class they were in, what assignment it was, and provide the link to the google doc. All of this would come into a Google Spreadsheet for me that I used as my daily to-do list (I moved records off of the main spreadsheet and onto a tabbed sheet for each class as I completed my work with them so that main page was a list of the things I still needed to work with). I could sort records by student or by assignment or by class. It all worked really well for me. Everything was in the same place.
But there were some frustrations. Most notably was when I would click on a link a student had provided and would get a message that I didn’t have access to the file. This meant that the student failed to move the file into his/her Google Drive folder for class (a folder that I had access to, so anything within the folder I could open up and respond to). Most students did a great job with keeping their work for class in the folder designated for it, but I had a few repeat offenders especially who never seemed to be able to accomplish this one simple task.
My Schoology site for each class became a place to house folders that had things in them–like my weekly lesson plans with links to all necessary resources. Great resource for students if they happen to miss my class or if they want to go back and review something. I stopped posting assignments there for students to complete through Schoology because my one google form had so simplified my work flow with reading and responding to student work. So it was just a website with resources on it, and not a very pretty one at that.
Some time ago I looked at a beta version of Google Classroom. I wasn’t all that impressed at the time so I kept with my Google Site. But now I’m drawn to it. I want help organizing my Google Drive. I want to not have to deal with students forgetting to give me access to their work. I want one screen where I can see all the work I need to review. I want a platform for conversation and interaction among the class. Google Classroom can do all of these things. I still can’t design it the way I always did with my Google Sites–most of the design decisions have been made for me. I CAN add my own image or photo for across the top of the page–I’ll do this. Maybe even a photo of each class? This was not possible in Schoology.
And if I can convince my colleagues to also use Google Classroom, students will have one place to go to see what they need to do for all of their classes. Something that is a huge value for our students as a whole.
Click here for a video about Google Classroom in case you’re curious.
I’ll let you know how it goes. What’s your favorite online home for your class? Got any Google Classroom tips for me?