Turn in homework by phone? Google's Classroom app says, 'No problem'

Google is making its interest in education known with an app that allows students to turn in homework through their smart phones. But what are the implications of this tech behemoth standing in the back of the classroom?

Alan Diaz/File/AP
Google is spearheading the project #40Forward, which provides funding to help accelerators and incubators support female entrepreneurs.

Teachers are used to enforcing the “no cellphones in class” rule, while students are used to the “text under your desk” method of breaking said rule. Google, however, is setting out to make both those practices obsolete.

Google, the search engine turned technology everything company, just released its new Classroom app, which would allow kids to turn in homework from their smart phone and gives teachers more mobile options when it comes to managing their classroom.

The move marks another step by Google into ed tech, an area in which it has made steady advances, but not always without controversy.

The new Classroom rounds out the Classroom for Desktop app that Google has been marketing to teachers. The Classroom for Desktop app is a class management tool where teachers can collect, store, grade, and archive assignments on Google Drive.

The mobile Classroom app brings students into the system. Students can submit homework assignments through the app and it will automatically create a folder for that student’s work on the teacher’s Classroom app. Students have more options for submitting assignments: they can send an attachment or take a photo of their assignment (so the teacher knows they did it, even if they aren’t in class). They also have access to Google Drive’s content creation toolbox, meaning they can quickly attach Google docs, spreadsheets, presentations, or drawings.

In return, teachers can also send out Google Docs to multiple students, which makes handing out a syllabus or project worksheet much less time consuming (and uses less paper).

Currently, the program is only available for classrooms that use Google Apps for Education, which includes more than 30 million students, educators, and administrators nationwide.

Despite its growing use, Google education apps have previously stirred up questions about the use of technology in the classroom. Last year, several California students sued Google for mining their school Gmail accounts for advertising purposes. Though Google maintained that their education sites were ad-free, the students pointed out that the information could later be used to make a marketing profile of the students and given the students were forced to get an account through their schools, they did not consent to this data mining. Google later removed ad scanning from education-based e-mail accounts.

And though the app has the potential to make classroom life much more organized and efficient for teachers and students alike, it would require a fully connected classroom and students who have ready access to smart phones. This isn’t the reality for most classrooms yet, especially among low-income students. A 2013 Pew Research study found that “56 percent of teachers of the lowest income students say that a lack of resources among students to access digital technologies is a ‘major challenge’ to incorporating more digital tools into their teaching; 21% of teachers of the highest income students report that problem.”

With President Obama calling for “an ‘all hands on deck’ approach,” to solving education’s woes, “bringing together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy and others working together,” private companies will be seeking answers along with the ordinary stakeholders. With its new Classroom app, Google is certainly making its interest in being a part of the next generation of classrooms known.

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