All of a sudden, we’ve lost a lot of control. We can’t turn off our internet; we can’t turn off our smartphones; we can’t turn off our computers. You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it’s not God…Steve Wozniak
Google announced so many updates to their Education tools on Wednesday, February 17, that even the most tech savvy among us are doing double takes to make sure we catch everything.
Many of these updates are exciting, some complicated, and there are still several items I would love to see (scheduling a post for multiple Classrooms, change a document attachment from “students can view” to “make a copy for each student” on an Assignment post, etc.) but there are enough updates here to keep folks happy.
My concern with these updates is this: As more schools purchase Chromebooks for students and teachers (every other tech company, here’s your wake-up call – you lost) due to ease of management (why Apple lost) and cost considerations (also why Apple lost but so did Microsoft), we become more and more reliant on tools created by Google.
Now, Google have placed many of the more useful updates and new tools in tiered pricing offerings that will, if schools choose to use them, stretch already thin budgets.
Are we prepared to pay for these tools? Do we really need all of them? Or are we investing in products because we want to add more surveillance on our students?
Are we interested in using products that help our students learn or products that make it easier to “catch” students not working or cheating?
No, I don’t have answers for these questions. But they do give me pause. And they should do the same for you. As we see more technology updates inspired by the mad dash to remote learning brought on by COVID-19, let’s remember:
Now that I’ve sufficiently ticked a number of people off with my thoughts on educational technology run amok, let’s talk about all those updates!
Buckle up kids, this is a big one…
Google Workspace for Education
First, it was Google Apps for Education. Then came G Suite for Education (which was an awful name), and now after rebranding their business tools, we now have Google Workspace for Education.
Along with the name change, Google have introduced four different tiers of Workspace for Education (previously, there were two.)
- Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals*
- Google Workspace for Education Standard
- Teaching & Learning Upgrade
- Google Workspace for Education Plus*
*Fundamentals and Plus are currently available
This is the option familiar to most folks in education. Formerly known as G Suite for Education, this tier includes all the free apps and their basic functionality. If you already use Google tools in the classroom, this is likely the version you use daily.
Google have committed to keep this free option available and to develop new tools & features in the future. This tier may very well service all of your needs.
The second tier for education customers offers a new Security Center dashboard and centralized security features for system administrators. For teachers, there’s not much here that will affect you in the classroom on a daily basis (at least a first glance).
Also included in Education Standard are new data and insights for usage of Gmail & Google Classroom. If you’ve ever wanted to know who’s using what and how often they’re using it, here you go.
Pricing for Education Standard is $3 per student per year.
Here’s the tier that will pique the interest of many educators BUT we’ll talk about the pricing in a minute and why it makes this option absolutely a non-starter and why the pricing for the next level (Education Plus) will suddenly seem like a bargain.
The Teaching & Learning Upgrade is available to any Fundamentals or Standard district and offers a number of nice upgrades, especially for teachers.
Premium features for Google Meet that were rolled out earlier in the 20-21 school year are available in this tier, such as unlimited recording, breakout rooms, attendance tracking, and polling.
Also included will be access to Classroom Add-ons (coming soon) that will allow teachers to integrate other educational technology tools directly into Google Classroom. The Add-ons Marketplace will allow teachers to choose from tools to add directly (be prepared for those tools to have a cost associated with them as many already do so) and district Google admins will be able to push add-ons to users through the Admin Console.
Teachers will also have access to unlimited originality reports to check student work for plagiarism.
Now, for the pricing…
The Teaching & Learning Upgrade is priced at $4 per license per month.
Read that again to make sure you understand it because it’s different than all the other pricing schemes.
If you only want some folks to have access to these tools, this may be a good option, especially if you are large school district.
But let’s be honest, how many teachers aren’t going to be interested in unlimited capabilities to check student work? I foresee most districts moving up to the next package quickly…
Now we arrive at the tier formerly known as G Suite Enterprise for Education. Plus includes all features from Standard and Teaching & Learning, then adds some more.
You can stream Meets to up to 100K users, search across all public documents in your domain, and build Classroom rosters by syncing with your current student information system (SIS).
Pricing for the Education Plus tier is $5 per student per year.
New Storage Plan
Google domains have previously enjoyed unlimited storage in Google Drive. However, as we saw the storage policy for Google Photos change in the past few months, the policy for storage in education accounts is also changing.
Each domain will now have 100TB of shared storage to be divvied up by admins. Google predicts that 99% of users will not exceed this storage limit. I’m interested to see how long this stays in place before paid upgrades are offered.
That wraps up the updates for Workspace, please click through any of the links for more specific details. Now, onto Google Classroom…
Google Classroom Updates
While Google have finally admitted that they did not set out to make Classroom a learning management system (LMS), they are committed to updating Classroom to align with how teachers and students are using it.
As discussed previously, Education Plus and Teaching & Learning Upgrade users will gain access to new add-ons for Classroom, allowing teachers to assign work to students using these tools directly within Google Classroom. Admins can also push out add-ons to teachers for use directly. Nearpod and Kahoot are some of the first partners for the new add-ons.
Education Plus users will also be able to populate Classrooms from rosters in their SIS, making the process of Classroom creation and management much easier for teachers. For admins, Classroom audit logs will be available at every tier to help analyze any issues with Classrooms (archived Classrooms, students being deleted, etc.). Standard and Plus domains will also have Classroom activity logs to measure adoption and engagement numbers.
Teachers at every tier will have access to student engagement tracking to monitor how students are engaging with work on Classroom. When did they last log in, when did they submit an assignment, when did they leave a comment, and more stats will be available to teachers.
Students using the Classroom Android app will be able to start working on an assignment if they are offline. Updates will sync the next time the student is connected to the Internet.
The Classroom Android app will also feature an updated camera, allowing students to submit paper assignments more easily, essentially scanning the documents and allowing students to create multipage PDFs of written work.
Teachers will have access to improved grading on the Classroom mobile app, giving them more flexibility and easier access to grade on the go.
Rich text formatting is also coming to Classroom so your posts can now include bold, italic, and underline fonts along with bulleted lists (yay for making instructions easier to read).
Originality reports will now support 15 languages, expanding access to more student groups than ever.
Finally, Google’s CS First computer science curriculum, a free tool for teachers, will be integrated directly into Classroom. Having tried to use this curriculum myself in the past, this integration will be far more useful than the previous process.
Coming soon for all tiers, teachers will be able to “mute all” students during a Meet and control when students can unmute themselves. Also, teachers will be able to end the call for all rather than having to wait to be the last one to leave (hooray).
The integration between Classroom and Meet will be improving this fall. Meets generated from within Classroom will prevent students from joining before the teacher. Only members of the Classroom will be able to join the Meet and co-teachers will automatically be Meet hosts, giving teachers options to have a moderator during Meets.
Breakout rooms get a bit of an upgrade for Teaching & Learning and Plus users, giving teachers the ability to assign students to breakout rooms prior to a Meet using Google Calendar.
Meet will also get improvements to work better over low bandwidth internet connections, something many of us have had to overcome as internet connections from homes are often much lower bandwidth than those available from school buildings.
New admin tools for diagnosing and troubleshooting Meet issues will be rolling out later this year for all pricing tiers and for Standard and Plus users, admins will have the ability to end ANY Meet created in the domain (FINALLY).
Students can already raise their hands during a Meet but will soon be able to add emoji reactions. This serves to increase engagement opportunities even if they are muted during a Meet or simply prefer not to use their microphone.
Lastly, teachers will be able to get transcripts of their Meets, providing another alternative for those unable to attend to receive information.
Chromebooks will be getting updates geared towards education beginning in March 2021. First and foremost (and bad news for some companies), Chrome OS will be getting native screen recording options. Teachers and students will no longer need an extension to record their videos.
40 new Chromebook models will roll out soon, giving schools more options to make the best buying decision. Google have created a tool to help you choose which Chromebook is right for your schools.
Accessibility features on Chromebooks are also getting an upgrade, including updates to Chromevox and other audio and visual improvements.
Yes, there were TONS of updates announced. Yes, I probably missed some things that are important to you or perhaps I didn’t notate which upgrades are available to which pricing tiers. My apologies in advance.
My take from all of this: Google invested in making some much needed updates to their education offerings. They still have a long way to go in the LMS arena but this is the most progress they have made in a long time.
Having said that, I want to revisit my comments from earlier. What is driving these updates, really? What are our actual concerns in education? Are we more concerned about tracking student interactions in Classroom (or any LMS) because we want them to do the work or are we more concerned about their well-being? Are we monitoring for compliance or for concern?
Also, what are the ultimate goals we are working toward? If none of these upgrades help us get there, are they necessary at all?
COVID-19 has given us all more than enough to questions to answer about the future of education. Let’s make sure we’re answering the right ones with the right motives.