Google Classroom is here.
In the world of Learning Management Systems (LMSs), that’s a statement. It’s like saying, “LeBron James is on the court,” or, “Stephen Hawking is in the lecture hall.”
Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has taken schools by storm, and this is because GAFE consists of free tools that are amazing for completing work. GAFE is a dream for educators everywhere: Students can write essays in Docs. They can take tests in Forms. They can make interactive reports in Slides. They can create graphs in Sheets. They can chat, email, keep a calendar… the list goes on and on.
Did I mention it’s all free? I think I did.
So it’s only natural that Google create their own LMS–and why not? Teachers and students around the world are using GAFE, so it totally makes sense for Google to provide a way for teachers to easily share copies of documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. with their classes. Classroom cuts out other middle men (LMSs) and provides a much needed service, which is the infrastructure that classes need for assigning, collecting, and assessing work.
It must be said that Classroom has a bare bones beginning. There’s no assessment tools (I’m not accounting for Forms, of course), there’s no social media component (although Google+ exists for students who are old enough), there’s no “professional feed” to communicate with other teachers around the world, and there’s no common drive to share stuff with Professional Learning Communities. The lack of these features could look like a weakness, but it’s actually a smart move by Google because one of the things teachers in my school district are telling me is that they love Classroom’s simplicity.
This is not a time to overwhelm teachers. With Common Core, 1:1, new curriculum adoptions, and the plethora of teaching websites and apps available, Google was very prudent to keep Classroom simple. What Google can do now is slowly attract teachers who are already using Classroom as their LMS, while in the meantime keeping an eye on the right things other LMSs are doing. Then, Google can slowly adopt those successful strategies within Classroom, which will delight current users and attract new ones. It’s a logical scenario for Google.
So what should other LMSs do?
It’s a tough question to answer. For the other LMSs that I’ve previously written about, here’s what I’d tell them:
- Don’t try to out-Google Google. GAFE is amazing, and no one is going to create a product that is anywhere close to its rival–at least not soon.
- Carve out your niche. Edmodo has Snapshot, which was a great move; especially with the arrival of Common Core. Other LMSs have their specialties, and those need to be highlighted, promoted, and refined throughout this school year.
- Keep it simple! Teachers are overwhelmed–more so now than ever. Every decision made that complicates a product might as well be a nail in a coffin. Also, keep the interface of your product as simple as possible, and by simple, I mean as few words and buttons as possible. The fewer, the better–follow Google’s lead with Classroom.
- Create groups of certified teachers. And when you do this, make sure they’re really teachers. Teachers can smell non-teachers a mile away.
- Engage teachers on Twitter. Combine your product with Twitter, if at all possible. An alliance with Twitter would be the Holy Grail.
- Show how your product can work hand-in-hand with GAFE. If your product doesn’t work well with GAFE, change that ASAP. You’re not going to create GAFE, so you might as well learn how to dance with ’em.
All of this is, of course, is an extremely simple start.
It’s really important that there be competition in the LMS market; it undeniably benefits the students. Only good things can happen when a lot of smart minds are figuring out the best ways to bring digital infrastructure to 21st century learning.
Everyone who doesn’t have an LMS named “Classroom” has to bring their A game and work hard to attract and keep teachers using their products. As I said before, let the games begin.