Why do Teachers Have Such Crappy Tools? Part 1: Why Google Classroom is Junk

Now, into my fifth month of distance teaching, starting the year remote, I am left to reflect upon mounting frustrations. It is 2020 for goodness sake, and we are using barely functional, wonky, non-integrated technology to teach. Governmental policies compound the issue, propagating systemic inequalities in access to technology and education. Schools, districts, and teachers mean well in all of the planning and implementation, but it feels like no one has really thought about how to have a fully functional, integrated, remote education experience.

THIS IS GOING TO BE A LONG-WINDED RANT WITHOUT OFFERING MUCH IN THE WAY OF SOLUTIONS.

Where to start? How about I list my frustrations with Google Classroom, nay, the whole Google suite of “education” tools. Let’s start with an easy one, an issue that has lingered for years with Google Contacts. This certainly is not the tech that breaks the system, but it is a small piece of the broken puzzle. The search function in contacts is useless without partial matches, wildcards, or any other search syntax. I though Google was at its roots a search company. Why can’t I search for email addresses with “21” in them? Adding a bunch of contacts to a “Label” (Why aren’t there groups? Who knows?) is a laborious, one-by-one process, where popup messages change the cursor focus, adding more clicks to a repetitive, mind-numbing activity.

Why Google Classroom? Path of least resistance? No one else can come up with something better? Google is everywhere, so why not?

Try to make a math quiz in Google Classroom. Go on, I dare you! Quizzes use Google forms. That is a problem in itself. Those forms are cumbersome, difficult to edit, and featureless. There is no way to compose something in forms with properly placed graphics and math notation. For math notation, you need to use an add-in like EquatIO. Hey, I like EquatIO. It is a nifty web-based equation editor, why should I have to use it as a kludge to stick equations into a Google form.

Perhaps, Google never thought people would need to use forms to write a quiz. Perhaps, Google shoved a bunch of stuff together to make Classroom and figured, “Hey, let’s just use forms. Why bother writing a real quiz tool.”

If you have a bunch of other quizzes made elsewhere, you are SOL. My thousand quizzes, tests, and practice sheets in ExamView are worthless here. Sure, I can export them for Blackboard or WebCT (which is now Blackboard, anyway). Or, I can save them as RTF or HTML pages. Even Moodle let me import ExamView quizzes. Google? Nope. Start from scratch making a bunch of stupid forms.

There is some nice stuff in Classroom, I suppose. They got the baseline, rudimentary tools done: discussion threads (sort of) in streams, categories for posting assignments, . . . probably other things. Oh, yeah, it is easy to jump directly from an assignment to that particular document in Google Drive, and the permissions are setup correctly when it makes an individual copy for each student. At least I don’t need to do that by hand or use Hapara for that anymore.

Since I haven’t pursued the time sink of writing a quiz in Google Forms, I can’t really comment on the grading and feedback loop with students. Reading numerous troubles and horror stories online, though, was not encouraging.

So, we, you, many people, are stuck with Google Classroom because . . . Google Docs everywhere and Chromebooks. Is anyone using it because it has the features and functionality that students and teacher need?

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