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Tips for Making Google Classroom More Student-Centred

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

In the past year, Google Classroom software has fast become an instrumental remote learning tool around the world. Bloomberg News (2020) reported that the number of Google Classroom users doubled to 100 million since early March 2020. While there are dozens of other learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Edmodo or UiTM’s own UFuture, Google Classroom seems to be the most popular choice as it is fairly easy to learn and use. Most importantly, Google offers its products for free, compared to others who charge a fee for certain features.

Nonetheless, Google Classroom is not without its criticisms. Khoi Vinh, a Principal Designer at Adobe thinks that the platform is unappealing, slow, not learning-oriented and not optimised for people. He argues that these gaffes reflect how the broader society undervalues education while comparing it to a workplace activity app called Slack which he described as “incredibly feature-rich and filled with small features that let people express themselves”.

While I agree with Vinh on the plain interface look of Google Classroom, I would like to point out that the simpler the app is, the more accessible it is for both students and staff to use especially those with limited Internet connectivity. Its sophistication does not lie within the appearance but rather in its ability in allowing educators to use it complementarily with other tools they are already using such as Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs and so on. As remote learning was quite a novel idea with most educators just a year ago in March 2020, and with the government’s decision of making all classes online during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period beginning early April 2020, we had very limited time and resources to prepare all our materials online but this platform could be learnt expediently within a short time.

In addressing Vinh’s claim that Google Classroom is not optimised for people, I think that this platform should be treated as the means to an end, and not an end itself in our respective classrooms. If the app had been used merely as a tool for storing materials, it would have been fair to consider it as not ideally augmented for students’ learning. However, educators are free to choose how they make use of the platform by integrating it with different tools. I would like to share some ways on how to make Google Classroom more student-centred by integrating a few basic Google tools.

Follow These Tips! Solutions

1. Group Presentation Using Google Meet and Google Slides

For this activity, the students and I went on Google Meet first to discuss what makes a good presentation. We talked about a few speeches that they enjoyed in their lifetime and what made them like the speeches. I went over the subtopics for the day briefly before assigning the students into groups with a subtopic to present. The notes and instructions have been uploaded to Google Classroom before meeting the students online. Then, we all left the Google Meet session as they would then have to get on Google Meet again, this time with their group members. It is during activities like this that I wish Google Meet has a breakout room feature like the Zoom app so I can easily monitor each group’s discussion. During the discussion, the students worked on their Google Slides collaboratively as they were discussing on Google Meet. Google Slides allow simultaneous editing by different users and it is very convenient for in-class group work. After the time allocated is up, everyone joined my Google Meet session again and presented their topics by sharing their Google Slides onscreen.

2. Paraphrasing Practice Using Google Docs

One of the writing skills that I make sure to teach every semester is paraphrasing as students must know how to avoid plagiarism before we get into the full swing of the semester. While most students have been exposed to this skill, many still cannot paraphrase. Ample notes and examples should be provided before carrying out this activity. To check students’ understanding, I prepared three sentences in three columns and made as many rows as there were students. Everyone would get the same Google Docs link and work on their paraphrases at the same time. Each student would be able to see their friends’ answers as they were typing, and this could help the weaker students to see different responses by their classmates and aid them in their paraphrases. After all the students had finished, we would then go on Google Meet and discuss which paraphrased responses were acceptable and which were not.

3. Video Review Using YouTube and Google Docs

For Oral Presentation classes, I try to expose the students to as many speeches as our time (and Internet data) allows. This activity adapted from the TED-Ed website helps to bolster students’ understanding of the theories presented in class with real-life examples. For this activity, students were asked to:

  • Download or open the TED Presentation Rubric given. Look at each of the skills across the top and think about what they would look like, ideally.

  • Turn off/mute the volume of the presentation and watch about 3 - 4 minutes of the Bill Gates presentation by just watching the physical movements (the skills at the top) without listening to the content. Stop the speech and score Gates using a 1-5 rating (1=bad, 5=excellent). They can discuss with their friends before giving their rating but they don't have to have the same rating. The students were reminded to try to be as unbiased as they can, as they may have already known some of the speakers.

  • Do the same exercise with Lomborg and Oliver.

  • Choose one speaker with the body language they most prefer AND one speaker that they least prefer. The students had to give reasons why for each. Answers were typed in the table.

Students were also informed earlier that their answers would be shared with everyone during class discussion. In the class discussion, students were given room for debate as some of their answers contradicted with others. There were no right or wrong answers but we tried to choose the best explanation. A simple class survey I did recently after the end of the semester revealed that 9 out of 15 students who responded commented that they enjoyed this video analysis type of activity the most.

4. Group Presentation Video and Peer-Teaching Using Google Meet

For this activity, students were asked to get into groups and prepare a group presentation based on assigned short stories. As a group, the students needed to delegate the task of finding the following information: Character(s), Plot, Setting, Theme(s) and Moral Value(s) and they were given two weeks to prepare. As the students were presenting, I recorded their presentations on Google Meet and later posted the videos on Google Classroom for everyone in the class to re-watch if necessary. A Q&A session was held after each group had presented to help enhance their classmates’ understanding of the short stories.

5. Role-Play Using Google Docs and Google Meet

The main obstacle that I faced in synchronous speaking activities with students was their limited Internet connectivity. Therefore, I provided notes and examples before any speaking tasks so we will not waste time going over the notes while on Google Meet. For example, in a two-hour class, the students went over notes and example dialogues in the first hour. Students were asked to choose a situation for their role-play and prepare the dialogues with their partners. In the second hour of class, everyone went on Google Meet, and the students presented their role-play. Feedback on students’ language was then given immediately after their respective turns.

Let's Ponder...

A year ago, I would not have thought about the activities we have carried out the past two semesters since the start of MCO. It took a lot of discussions with colleagues and students, online research, and late-night brainstorming to be where we are now. Google Classroom has provided that avenue for me to implement activities for students of different backgrounds, provide immediate feedback synchronously and asynchronously, share course materials and resources and overall, make learning more interesting despite our circumstances.

Despite its limitations, Google Classroom will not go away anytime soon, at least until the next improved app comes along. Our education world has been forever changed by the pandemic, and whether we like it or not, online education is here to stay.

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This guest post is authored by Aileen Farida Mohd. Adam, a senior lecturer from the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Cawangan Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.


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