Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Using Calendar to Give Parents a Peek into Google Classroom

Google Classroom has really made it easy for teachers and student to dive deep into Google Apps For Education; among the teachers I support it has been the gateway into moving away from a dependence on paper and towards more student creativity.  Although Google has been awesome at listening to teachers and updating and improving this product, there has been one persistent question from some teachers: What about the parents?

Google recently added Google Calendar integration to Classroom and it gives us an easy way to let parents see what's going on in Classroom without letting them in.

Before I get into how to do that, however, I want to make a pitch for the other side of this.  I'm going to get on my soapbox for a moment to say why I think its a good thing that parents don't have direct access.  If you aren't interested in that, skip the bullets below and scroll down to the picture.

Soapbox: Why it's just fine that parents cannot get into Google Classroom

  • No direct parent access means that parents and students have to sit down together and actually have a conversation.  One of my objections to LMS and SIS that allow parents to directly get into assignments or grades is that it allows parent to go leave their own kids out of the conversation--not all of them do this, but enough do that plenty of these conversations don't happen until a teacher asks "Did you ask your daughter/son about that?"  The other part of this is the parent taking letting kids off the hook to stay on top of school work and organization.
    One of the things I like about Google Classroom is that parent and child have to sit down together, the child logs in, and they talk about the students work and learning together.
  • Security - The fact that you have to have a GAFE account to even access classroom as a platform means that means that whole swaths of the internet not only don't have the keys to the kingdom, but they cannot even see it.  You can't hack what you can't see.  Second, since the domains are like bubbles, simply having a GAFE account in one domain doesn't mean you have access to any others.  The moment this is changed, even if it was just for regular Gmail accounts, that security is irrevocably compromised. 
  • Since it's strictly for educational use, and not published to the wider world, there is stronger fair-use protection.  As teachers and educators...we are borrowers and thieves.  This is not a criticism nor a condemnation, Igor Stravinsky is reported to have said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”  As much as we should be teaching our students not to, we are ourselves guilty of stealing & borrowing freely from each other, the internet, books, etc.  How we get away with this, largely, is that we do not publish to the wider world, do not profit by our pilferage, are covered by the educational-use tenet of the legal argument known as fair-use.  Anything we put in Google Classroom is covered under this argument, because it's a closed loop.  If the loop is opened, even to "just parents," any protection afforded to our borrowing by fair-use is highly diminished.

Stepping off my soapbox...

With the new Calendar integration, each Google Classroom course you set up gets it's own integrated Google Calendar.  As the teacher, you can find these in your Google Calendar under the "My Calendars" section on the left of the page once you have turned it on in Classroom.  Students will find these in the "Other Calendars" section.  Any assignment or question you put into Google Classroom is automatically added to the calendar.  If you do not add a time to your due dates, they appear as all-day events--the top of the screen in the screencap below.

It looks great on mobile too:


Now all you have to do is make the Calendar public, and everyone can see what assignments and questions have been put into each course.  If you are embedding the calendar into your website, use the customization feature in Calendar's embed tool, and you can add all your Classroom Calendar to one place.  

ALSO, and kind of best of all, anything you add to the course calendars directly through Google Calendar is also visible to students and parents, so you can go beyond assignments and questions. In the example above, I added some multi-day events to note when units begin and end.  You could use that to let parents and student know when picture day is coming, when the big fundraiser is happening, what the dates of the field trips are, really anything.  

And this finally gives us a genuine purpose to teach our student how to use a digital calendar, a pretty necessary college and career skill, and the associated organization skills that go with it.