Google rolls out a slew of upgrades to improve virtual classrooms

Classroom, Meet, Workspace and more are getting a bunch of updates.

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Cherlynn Low
February 17th, 2021
Google Classroom
Google

Schooling has never been as dependent on technology as it is today. Classrooms have gone virtual, parents have become more involved educators and teachers have grown more familiar with video conferencing platforms than ever. Google is announcing a slew of Education tools today to improve its existing made-for-learning products and help students and teachers navigate online schooling.

Classroom

The bulk of these updates are coming to the company's Classroom service, which is a dashboard (or "learning management system") for teachers and students. The Android app will get better offline support later this year, allowing students to start their work, open Drive attachments, review and write assignments without an internet connection. Photo uploads are also getting improved in the Android app, allowing students to combine photos into a single document, adjust lighting, crop and rotate their images. When using Classroom to edit your assignments, whether you're on web, iOS or Android, you'll soon be able to bold, italicize and underline words, as well as add bullets. Google is also launching a free introductory course on Computer Science called "CS First" and it's available now.

To help teachers catch potential plagiarism, Google is also adding "originality reports" in new languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, French, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Finnish, German, Korean, Malay and Hindi. Later this year, educators who review assignments on Android will also be able to switch between submissions from different students, grade while viewing an assignment and share feedback. There will also be a new student engagement tracking feature to display statistics about which students have submitted assignments and those who have commented on posts. Administrators will soon be able to get audit and activity logs to better understand what happened if the system fails.

Google for Education Classroom student engagement tracking
Google

Those using existing education framework like a student information system (SIS) will be able to better integrate Classroom with those services later this year. Grade Export, for example, is coming to the Aspen SIS and will let teachers export students' grades from Classroom to the SIS, which should cut down on superfluous data entry. They'll also be able to populate and sync class and roster info to Classroom.

Meet

Google already unveiled some education-focused tweaks for its video-chat service at its "Anywhere School" event in August, but it's announcing today new management tools for teachers. First, teachers will soon be able to end meetings for all participants, including in breakout rooms. They'll also have the option to mute all participants in the coming weeks, and in April they'll also be able to control when students can unmute themselves. Moderation controls like screen sharing, chat access and granting entry to the meeting will also be available on mobile devices for teachers in the coming months.

Google Classroom integrations with Meet
Google

Meet will also work better with Classroom, by pulling roster info so only students and teachers in each class will be allowed to join the relevant meetings. Every teacher recognized by Classroom will be granted host status so they can help manage the class. Later this year, Meet sessions that are started outside of Classroom will also be able to support multiple hosts. In a few weeks, teachers will also be able to set up breakout rooms in a Meet session ahead of time as well as get copies of meeting transcripts. Students will also be able to pick skin tones when they use emojis to react in class (teachers can control whether emoji reactions are enabled).

In April, the company is also adding new settings to the Admin console to give school leaders the ability to set policies like who can join calls hosted by their school and whether joining Meets from other schools should be allowed. Administrators now have access to audit logs too, and soon more information will be added to them like external participants' email addresses, to better triage any issues.

Workspace for Education

Google also announced a new Workspace for Education that's basically a renamed G Suite for Education. Instead of offering just two options (Education Fundamentals and Plus), the company is adding a Education Standard version and a Teaching and Learning Upgrade starting April 14th. Those who already have G Suite For Enterprise For Education (what a name) will start to see the new name "Education Plus" in their consoles soon and they'll get all the features of that top tier. New features are also coming to Workspace For Education, including Meet meeting transcripts and saved drafts in Google Forms (availability depends on what edition of the service you're using).

Google Classroom roster sync animation
Google

Of note, Google is eliminating the free unlimited storage it has so far provided to qualifying schools and universities. According to the company, as it's "grown to serve more schools and universities each year, storage consumption has also rapidly accelerated" and "storage is not being consumed equitably across -- nor within -- institutions." The company is therefore moving to a new pooled storage model that it says will impact fewer than 1 percent of institutions. All institutions will now get 100TB of pooled cloud storage shared across all their users. It will go into effect for existing customers in July 2022, and will be immediate for those who sign up next year.

Users won't need to do anything, it appears as if this change will happen automatically. Google said it will contact impacted institutions in the coming weeks to discuss the storage options they might need. According to the company, there are 170 million students and educators worldwide who are now using Workspace for Education. Meanwhile, Classroom currently serves over 150 million users globally, up from 40 million a year ago. Clearly, the need for remote learning tools has jumped significantly in that time, and Google's focus on this area could help make learning a little easier for students, teachers and parents.

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