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Google Classroom (google.com)
250 points by diegolo on Sept 29, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 140 comments

I think the public educational IT system should not be outsourced to the private sector, where schools completely lose control of the data and depend more or less on the good will of the company. University courses should not be organized by Facebook and pupils should not be forced to use IT systems of non-trustworthy companies like Google, which earn money by profiling their customers. Maybe my view is too German, but I think of education as an sovereign function of the state, where everything (theoretically) can be controlled by the citizens (yes, I know that this is some kind of optimistic). We should teach kids to think critical about centralization of data and knowledge and show them how to manage their digital lives with free and open tools which respect the users rights.

I work in IT at a major Canadian University. I hear what you are saying, but the solutions provided by universities IT departments are usually sub-par to completely not useful. There have been attempts in the past to partner with other schools and develop solutions jointly but are often cost over run disasters.

It is really hard to attract any top development talent, or even try and convince current employees to stay up to date with current trends. Lots of development teams are stuck in old waterfall mentalities on huge java stacks.

We have laws that protects students data and doesn't allow us to host student or even employee information on U.S. servers. Provincial laws and mandates handed down from deans because of the Homeland Security Act hinder the use of any sort of SaaS's. It makes it really hard and disheartening to provide and develop good solutions.

I can't suggest someone go use certain survey tools, or use mailchimp to handle a small campaign for example. I am not supposed to promote the use of Google Drive or Dropbox for day to day use with other staff because of fear they will start storing data they aren't supposed to on it. We often end up with sub-par self hosted copies of great applications, but no one wants to use them. Google classroom looks really cool but there is no way any schools in this province would be allowed to use it.

I work at a medium US university and I can say that the thick java stacks and waterfall is a huge part of the sources of headaches in my job.

I've got my team quite agile for a Uni development team but we still face lots and lots of problems with FERPA(US student privacy rules), and trying to work with much less agile internal teams. Most of the rest of the local developers are 40-60 and very resistant to any kind of change. (seriously using .net instead of java was hugely controversial)

Could you or the parent express what you dislike about backends written in Java? I think there tends to be a pretty negative stigma associated with it, but I haven't really seen why. Personally, I've worked with both C# .Net and Java backends, and it's really a horse a piece. Is performance the issue? Security? What is the general dislike of Java about?

Java is a pretty nice language, it's the Java old-school waterfall java developers that bother me. Our IT development unit is a slow dinosaur waiting to be eaten up but no native competitors.

I've waited months for a bug to be fixed because it "wasn't in the schedule". Theres a kind of "sealed lab" mentality where they hold a bunch of meetings to get stakeholder views, and then disappear for 3-4 months and come back with some 1/2 working software that I could have(and a few times have) knocked out as an alpha in 3-4 weeks.

It's the worst aspects of people being "enterprisey" with people who have no performance or profit pressure so they're able to put out crap and if it's better than nothing the admins accept it.

I was just saying it off the cuff as sort of a comment on giant waterfall departments that never create anything great or effective. I don't really have any hate for Java and there is a lot of great software created with it (J2EE was my intro to IS development), just the kind of culture and staff it attracts in this sector. Everyone is in their cubical doing java never innovating anything with no care in the world to ever break out of the status-quo. When they do hire new staff it is usually someone who has been doing that Java at banks or for the government, for 5-8 years and it just continues. Then these people move up into the more senior positions and help cement the culture. Being on more of the web-side it is just frustrating.

Yeah, you hit the nail on the head with this explanation though.

You both raise fair points. I do think the community is typically construed that way, and it's probably accurate to say that a lot of the older Waterfall devs would be a part of that community (or C/C++).

I think when people pick a bone with Java, they are really talking about the community, not the language. To generalize, the Java community is seen as enterprise-y. They often like process and unnecessary complexity.

In my experience .Net has a very similar set of problems and cultural issues, so if those are the two you're comparing, I'm not surprised you don't see much difference...

Depends on the parts of the .net community a lot. There's some really nice parts of the Java/JRE community too so it's not like it a function of the language, its a function of the organizations choosing the languages.

> seriously using .net instead of java was hugely controversial

Was this for a server app or the client side? Because for a server app, I can't imagine any circumstance where this would make sense, since the two are so similar anyway.

At my undergrad, the internal IT department was generally folks who couldn't get full time jobs in technology. Many departmental projects were done by students as projects, and were never updated or supported afterward.

Google Classroom runs on a huge Java stack.

> We have laws that protects students data and doesn't allow us to host student or even employee information on U.S. servers. Provincial laws and mandates handed down from deans because of the Homeland Security Act hinder the use of any sort of SaaS's. Well there is openstack which you can roll your own IaaS after a lot of serious effort. Where I studied in the past would use VMWare heavily to deploy hundreds of OS install. The only reason (people I spoke to since I was sort of involved in that) they couldn't do it was they did not have the incentive to do it. Learning a new technology (rolling OpenStack is not that simple, actually) is very very time-consuming and without the welcome from the top, most people won't even bother to try different technology.

You really don't need a lot of horsepower to set up a reasonable cloud solution. In fact these days it is so simple that you can do it in an afternoon with the help of tools like https://yunohost.org/.

Maybe this is asking too much from Google but maybe they could provide some accounts which only back up data to Canadian servers?

Many Universities already use stuff like Blackboard[1] which for the most part is TERRIBLE (at least how I remember it in school.) These pieces of software are already around, and if anything competition in the space will hopefully make things better.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackboard_Inc.

My University uses Moodle, which is also TERRIBLE. I do all my grades and such in Google Docs, since Moodle is a UX nightmare. Something as simple as entering grades in Moodle requires a lot of clicking around for each grade. We have multi-page documents describing how to perform even the most basic tasks, they require constantly clicking and going to new pages of indiscernible icons. Menus are impossible to navigate without help.

Moodle is such a terrible thing to happen to the education ecosystem.

It's free/open sourced, meaning that every education system with a budget finds it appealing. Once implemented though, the organization will need to spend buckets of money to design, roll out, and maintain Moodle.

What you end up with is organizations installing Moodle, rather than some higher quality, equal-cost education software they should have installed from the beginning.

> I do all my grades and such in Google Docs

You upload all your students grade information to an external private company? Which university do you work for where this is allowed?

It's probably not allowed, but I think apps for education actually includes a promise from google to obey FERPA.

Tragically, the larger the organization, the more likely computers are to increase manual labor and repeated data entry, rather than reduce it. In the days before automation, you'd have simply written a letter on a piece of paper, in a second or so per student. I am not surprised to hear that "designed by committee" results in replacing something fast and easy with a long complicated process.

It is totally allowed BY having a separate ID system. If no one can ID the student then no one would gain the information.

But as far as I know, Blackboard (or Moodle or Sakai or...) data is stored locally at your institution, not housed on a Google server somewhere. I think the data mining possibilities are much lower in that case.

I'm all in favor of disruptive competition in that market, mind you! But I don't think it's easy.

Not true. Blackboard has a cloud offering. Plus, many competing products also rely on centralized servers.

What little information I can find, indicates that Blackboard is self-hostable, and that the "hosted" option they provide is actually an extra service.

The argument is against a solution that has no possibility for self-hosting and maintaining control of data. That they offer a hosted/SaaS option is irrelevant, because they also offer a regular self-hosted solution.

My university used a combination of Blackboard and Moodle, both of which are terrible. Your memory serves you correctly.

Non-trustworthy seems a fairly harsh assessment. I've not seen evidence to ever make me think Google isn't trustworthy. I may not be happy with what they do with my data, but it's not like they've somehow broken their promise to me in any way, we have an understanding. I get use of their services, they get information about me.

Why the distinction is important is because if they stated publicly that they weren't gathering a specific type of data (and I felt they weren't legally compelled to lie by a government), I would trust that statement.

But you are talking about your personal social contract with Google, and looking over this perspective you are right; but in the end you can choose; The problem is when we take that to education, its a collective social contract, intermediated by a third-party, not a personal student choice.

The OP is right to be concerned; once we are ok with intermediation of the social contract; we are no longer in control; we loose power, and even of we dont agree or dont trust the provider of goods or services; we cant do anything to stop them, and thats whats wrong.

Its a small detail, but a very important one!

Dont accept intermediated social contracts anymore, in digital age, we can all have our own private, self-determined social contract, and that can be enforced even on our democracies and fundamental rights

You seem to implying some position of mine towards the larger discussion based on my statement, which wasn't my intent. Whether I trust Google to do what they say and whether I think they are appropriate for the task being discussed, are not necessarily the same thing. There are other factors of importance, as you pointed out.

Do you trust Google to remain just an adware company forever?

Or will they (a) sit on your children's data for all of their life and (b) within a decade or two break out of the adware niche with Google Services for Health and Life Insurance, Google Services for Banking and Credit, Google Services for Human Ressources, and Google Services for Law Enforcement?

Not a lawyer, but the Google privacy policy does seem very nice to the student here: http://www.google.com/policies/privacy/#nosharing

This is to contrast it with the privacy policy of other systems like Canvas: http://www.canvaslms.com/policies/privacy-policy

Selected out of context quote from the Terms of Use: "You warrant that the holder of any worldwide intellectual property right, including MORAL rights, in Your Content, has completely and effectively waived all such rights and validly and irrevocably granted to you the right to grant the license stated above." Caps to add emphasis.

That sounds like a pretty standard and necessary clause; it's not assigning "moral" right to Google, it's asserting that you have the right to be controlling the content's licensing in the first place.

It wasn't to Google, it was to another company: Canvas. Also, what the hell is a moral right anyway? How is it different than any other? It just seems really scammy to me.

Look it up and post back. It's not a weird scam, it is standard copyright law regarding who can claim authorship of content.

The section you quoted just means that the user is promising not to post pirated content to Canvas

> Also, what the hell is a moral right anyway?

In the context at issue (copyright law): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights

If I remember correctly, Google does not use its classroom clients data for profiling purposes. Even in that case, I think that education should not be locked down to a particular vendor and that it would be a very good use-case for open source solutions. I fear that it is not realistic in the near future though.

Cannot agree more with this. Open source software is a perfect fit with public institutions. I don't understand why any government uses proprietary platforms. It would be cheaper and far more effective to hire a dozen open source devs to cater a particular platform to the public's needs, and have it be open and free to use forever. Developers aren't that expensive compared to software licenses for thousands of machines.

As I understand, Germany and many European countries are heading in this direction.

Coming from recent experience in EdTech, and also as a recent grad, this is a little idealistic.

> It would be cheaper and far more effective to hire a dozen open source devs to cater a particular platform to the public's needs, and have it be open and free to use forever.

Unfortunately, not many people in Higher Ed are technologists. Even hiring devs to work on open source tools isn't a good solution since most are inept at managing technology. The result of this kind of thinking is Moodle and Sakai, LMS's that have faded and failed. They're terrible to use and incredibly outdated. Horses, Camels, Committees, and all that.

On the other hand, Instructure makes a LMS called Canvas, which is open-sourced under a restrictive license. It's a Rails app on github. The tech is as much of a joy to use as anything in EdTech. They also have an impressive salesforce and have grown remarkably fast. They're due for an IPO soon.

While I agree that Open Source can form part of a good solution I think there needs to be a distinction made between proprietary software that the institution controls, and proprietary SaaS solutions like Google offers.

E.g., In the 90s and early 2000's Novell had a big presence in Universities/etc, providing network systems such as eDirectory (their Directory Services stack) Groupwise (email) etc. Yes these were proprietary, but they were also controlled by the customer - if you wanted to switch to OpenLDAP or AD or whatever, you could dump your whole Directory Services tree to LDIF file(s) and import them elsewhere. If you wanted to migrate from Groupwise to something using MBOX or even to Exchange, there were tools to do so, and there was never any need to worry about "well what happens with the data?"

I have no problem with a school or government using proprietary software, so long as the data created remains in the institution's hands, and is in a format that can be easily read by or exported to alternative formats.

I absolutely have a problem when educational institutions say "yeah we're going to use this solution for email because it's free" - the students have no fucking choice, and there is little or no consideration given to how the company uses the data.

Experience from Denmark: when public institutions make it-systems they almost always fail.

The "exam submission system" for primary schools failed completely the first two times when the pupils was sitting the exam.

The police completely cancelled their new it-system after spending $90 million.


So when the (Danish) public sector makes stuff that's worse than BLACKBOARD, it might for the time being be the least of the evils to outsource it to the private sector.

Oh man - government agencies, in many cases, the least equipped to "hire a dozen open source devs".

Think about how many local governments and school districts they are - they couldn't possibly hire developers and manage the development and customization of open source platforms when they can barely keep their own IT running correctly.

In fact, that's a huge driver for the adoption of SaaS in local government - IT is such a scare resource. School districts often have only a handful of IT people for thousands or tens of thousands of students - they certainly couldn't afford to hire developers to customize, nor do they have the skills to manage them.

I understand the open-vs-closed concerns, and agree that open source is better, but SaaS is a godsend for local government.

I've been working on KnightOS [1], which is like Unix for calculators. I'm hoping to use it as a platform upon which to evangelize open source software with students. Maybe we should have more open-source investment in more parts of the student life? You just have to pick something to improve and get started.

[1] http://www.knightos.org

I agree too but there are non-technical problems. Educational institutions regularly spend money on software when some CS students could do it better and cheaper over a summer. The people making these decisions are non-technical and risk averse.

> when some CS students could do it better and cheaper over a summer

And then move on, leaving an unmaintained chunk of code that, while possibly better than the third-party software, instantly becomes a liability of unmaintained code. There's a reason why contractors have a bad reputation in the industry for the code they deliver. It's only developers that know they'll have to live with their work for the foreseeable future that put thought and effort into maintainability.

The only way that your "CS students over the summer" plan could work is if the University put a ton of effort into bootstrapping an open source community. Even then, it's doubtful they could create something that would be appealing enough to work on. Academia has a contractor-like reputation for producing code bases that are mostly only intelligible to the sole developer that worked on it.

Personally, I'd put my money on a non-profit third-party organization like Khan Academy to be able to design something that gets traction. They know the space, have world-class engineers and would be able to generate enough PR to start a community around a tool that they open source.

This times one billion.

If Google offers the sort of export tools that they've offered for other services, then I can feel a bit better about their creating critical tools for public education.

I think of Google's place here like I thoughts of Apple's in the world of smartphones -- they are in the position to normalize a new way of learning, which is the largest hurdle that perhaps only a powerful private company can accomplish these days. We can worry about the need to depose them with better tools if/when the need arises :)

Data and interface to that data are two different things.

Requiring that data be open and standardized (as far as import-export is concerned) makes sense, requiring that UI to manipulate that data is built by a government-affiliated entity is questionable.

Even if you love government-designed Web sites, there might be someone somewhere capable of building faster, more intuitive, mobile-friendlier front-end.

Came to say pretty much the same thing. This is extremely creepy given the nature of Google as a data munging operation that converts data to ad revenue. On the other hand mikeleeorg makes a good point. In the past competitors where sued out of the water by Blackboard. If Google puts some pressure on them and makes the data easy enough export then a more agile company can have a shot at improving things. That's a pretty long chain of extremely happy accidents though.

The reality is that this data is already out there. Faculty will us whatever is most convenient, and that's never been BlackBoard or whatever the official IT service is. Student grades will end up in DropBox or in a Google doc, FERPA or not, unless there's some sort of auditing.

In my country (Spain) it is most likely illegal to store the students' assignments on a server which does not belong to the University.

Then again, the Univ. at which I teach outsources the e-mail to Microsoft.

I tend to not understand.

And I agree: students data belongs to the University, not to google.

My university outsources the email to Google apps for Education.

Are you suggesting that schools develop their own solutions, over and over again? Some school districts centralize their IT solutions provision, but that's nothing compared to a private company providing a solution nationwide.

Senior at the International Academy here (a public high school in Michigan). One of my classes uses Google Classroom.

I think that Google truly took a "Google Plus" look and morphed that into a website for teachers. I love how it has a clean and easy to use UI. The assignments are on a side bar, announcements are clearly displayed in a "stream". You can easily post a message to your class, and you have access to everyone's email (making it easy to communicate).

Teachers in my school have used three platforms. Moodle, Google Classroom, and Edmodo. Quite frankly, I have come to like Edmodo much more. They're identical to Facebook, but the layout is so much better than the alternatives (in my preference). Edmodo has truly thought everything out.

Crittenden Middle School in Mountain View has switched over to this, we love it. The amount of parent/student/teacher collaboration and transparency is unparalleled.

BTW: they're not using Chrome Books, but some kind of fancy HP Android tablets.

Having experience with it, how do the parents connect in? Our board uses Apps for Education, but I don't have a parent account.

I suppose I could get in the game by using my child's account, but often it is helpful to interact directly with teachers.

If you are not a teacher or student actively using Google Classroom, you should pay attention to the comments from teachers and students here. Or go talk to a local teacher for their impression.

I've been doing that and the general response is overwhelmingly positive. Others have already stated why. I would like to amplify those sentiments:

+ Many alternative solutions on the market are generally considered to be sub-par, such as Moodle, Blackboard, etc. (I personally love the open source concept behind Moodle and have high hopes for them, but their implementation is oudated; fortunately, they know this and are working on it.)

+ Home-grown solutions are generally very poor for all kinds of reasons, including inability to find technical talent, bureaucracy and mismanagement, lack of budget, lack of project management, etc.

+ Google has a strong positive brand with teachers. While privacy concerns are growing, the overall community doesn't have the same stigma with Google that many readers of HN have. Google Apps for Education (GAFE) already had a decent footprint within schools and Google Classroom is piggybacking off of that penetration.

With that said, concerns about privacy, being operated by a separate for-profit, and comprehensiveness of features are great points and present ample opportunities for aspiring competitors. In some ways, Google Classroom just stepped up the game. If this causes anyone to release even better software for teachers and students, that's a great thing for teachers and students.

If this is a Blackboard competitor, that's good news. Google definitely has the bankroll and patent magazine to go toe-to-toe with them, which could open up a lot of options in the higher education space.

Agreed. It has been a few years since I was in college but the Blackboard software had a long way to go but they were the main one on the market.

Would be nice to see some competition to encourage growth.

I doubt it. Blackboard is a full blown Learning Management System (LMS). This looks more like an Edmodo competitor -> pretty much like a Hangouts for Classrooms.

Given the hatred students and many teachers have for Blackboard, it may not need to do as much, if it provides ways to work without a "Learning Management System". Occasionally, the "system" approach gets ousted by something simpler, more general, and more transparent. I'm thinking of Novell's old integrated systems for managing print/file/document sharing, email, accounts, etc., which became less important and integrated into operating systems and supplanted by web-based sharing. So many institutions relied on Novell for that stuff, and then...eventually there were none left.

I have never heard of or used this Blackboard software that keeps being referenced, but I find it hard to believe that Google entering nay market is "good news" for anyone except Google fanboys.

Google has an atrocious history of entering a market with commercial and open source options, obliterating them all with "hosted, free" solutions, feeding all the new data into their already massive profile building infrastructure, and often, shutting it down after a few years, after the previous solution providers have all had to shut shop because they couldn't compete with free.

Do you have an example of that sequence happening (other than Google Reader)?

google voice. google browser sync. google send to phone. google wave.

then there's a list of things that are STILL around but have stifled competition anyways: gmail (hopefully people might get behind mailpile but i doubt it), gtalk (again, we have to wait another decade at least before a sensible IM standard is used), G+ (how many in the tech community have moved from one company (facebook) to another (google Plus). Just because they haven't axed a product like they did with reader of voice doesn't mean they won't misuse their power. Look at all the features they've removed from google maps because "mama google knows best". And no one dares to compete with them.


How does this stifle competition? If people use Gmail, it's because they think it's better than the alternatives. There aren't even network effects in play, since it's just email.


...is now called Hangouts, and is a flagship product.

>G+ (how many in the tech community have moved from one company (facebook) to another (google Plus)

Um... not me, for one, and certainly not for non-professional contacts. G+ is a ghost town.

> G+ is a ghost town.

G+ is very much not a ghost town....

Except for wave, all those things are still around aren't they? Send to phone got rolled into browser sync, but the functionality is still there.

And Wave did not drive out any competitors. It tried and failed to open up a new market (perhaps competing with email).

Google Voice is still around. Browser sync is built in. Send to phone, I don't recall what that was. Wave is built into the browser, too, iirc.

I believe the GP meant Chrome to Phone which was one of Google's first examples of using push messaging. It's still around and usable. [1]

[1] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.and...

the firefox version of it was axed. you have to use chrome. perhaps chromium can be hacked to work with the service, idk, haven't tried.

gvoice is still around but it was axed a few times (talk with google voice users in canada, it was start and stop and start again)

send to phone was a firefox feature. it was axed. the functionality is now only available in chrome.

wave isn't built into the browser, it was axed. but as others have pointed out it wasn't my best, most shining example

I use as few of Google's services as possible so I don't have a list of the top of my head no, but the extensive list[1] of products they've shutdown should give you a hint. One article[2] I found has analysis of service shutdowns and states that 1 in 3 things Google buys or creates gets shutdown.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Google_products#Discont...

[2] http://bgr.com/2013/05/07/google-services-shut-down-study/

7/10 businesses fail in a few years. Google's record is pretty good. Especially for paid products

If I was a teacher, there's no way I would use this... privacy concerns aside, there's nothing to suggest that Google won't suddenly shut it down in two or three years when whoever is maintaining it gets bored of it, like Google has with so many other projects.

This concern would not make a whole lot of sense for teachers. The matter of fact is that the stability and longevity of this service is far more certain than the typical length of LMS contracts in school districts or the length of time that certain online educational platforms manage to stay relevant with current technologies.

Why would a teacher worry about something that might happen 3 years down the line? You only need this to work for a particular term or semester.

Because learning new products each semester or term is a PITA? Just imagine how long books last in a curriculum, there is nothing that iterates quickly in education. A question though is do all teachers use the same software in a school or is it all ad-hoc?

It's not really new products very semester, is it? We're talking about an unlikely event that might happen sometime in future after a few years.

A lot of professors have adopted Piazza is a relatively short time because it offers real benefits. And you could make the exact same argument about the longevity of Piazza.

I think we ought to applaud anything that makes life easier for educators because the reality is that most academic software, or at least blackboard which seems to terribly popular and is what I've used extensively, is a terrible mess. I'm not dismissing the concerns about privacy and longevity but they seem to putting potential future problems ahead of real present benefits.

I have a younger brother in high school that has to use Google Classroom/Chromebooks/Google whatnot. Ask him anything through me.

What I've heard so far:

- It sometimes acts weirdly

- When it emails an assignment, the full text of the assignment is put in the title, resulting in comically massive titles.

- Using it at the same time as a personal gmail account is strange/not fun

- It doesn't have as many features as Edmodo (what the school was using before)

I got into the demo over the summer, and I was pretty underwhelmed. They list the features on the front page there, and that's exactly what they have. So in other words, you can manage a feed of assignments ("X is due on Tuesday", "Here is a link to a video!") and some very simplistic google docs control. I really expected something on the level of Canvas or Moodle, but it's clearly just a few convenience features for running GAfE.

My thoughts exactly. I am in charge of Canvas at our school, and we are deploying Google Apps for Ed. next year. Not thinking of using Classroom at all - at least not with the current feature set.

On the other hand, at my school we ALREADY have a lot of teacher using Google apps with their students. The clever ones have been able to cobble together something decent using gmail, google drive, calendar, etc.

Google Classroom streamlines what they were already doing. And it will allow some less-technically-savvy teachers to do some of the same things.

And I think it has a strong sell for just that - It has good features now, I just want MORE features. I'm hoping this is just the start of something bigger.

What are the missing features that your school needs? I'm not sure how things work at primary and secondary level, but I used various LMSes at university over 7 years and never found any use for features beyond the ability to download lecture notes.

As much as I would love for educational institutions (and government in general) to fund open source projects to solve their needs, that doesn't seem very realistic right now. Maybe when startup culture becomes the norm. The people who make decisions about technology purchases in education are, in my experience, non-technical and highly risk averse. They pay absurd prices for outdated software. There is little pressure to create a better product. I have to use Moodle for my teaching, and I'm sure anything Google creates will be far superior. This was at the top of my startup ideas list, but I'm glad someone is working on it.

The problem with open source software in academia and education is the price. The cost of hiring a developer to maintain and support a piece of software is more often than not far more than the cost of a software license from a company that provides decent quality support and customer service.

I never quite understood why everybody thinks storage should be in the local server and cannot be provided by a private company.

IMHO, storage is a commodity.

Would you argue that schools need their own power generators because otherwise they'll be submitted to private companies? Should schools also have their own satellites and internet connections?

If the data is sensitive why not just encrypting it when is stored the same way we do when we need to transmit something over the wire?

Now, from the school POV I think if they go for a private solution they should demand open standards (avoid being locked in) and appropriate SLAs.

Because if all the computation is still happening on the remote server then that remote server has access to whatever encryption key was used. That defeats the whole purpose of what you're suggesting. Which means you have to shuttle the encrypted data to some private server, decrypt it, and then operate on it which means you might as well just host it locally. The only way this works is if we get practical homomorphic encryption at which point storage truly becomes a commodity and that's when Google loses all interest in hosting that data.

My university has GApps, and also it has a longstanding Moodle platform. Moodle is awful. It's much better than it used to be, but it's still clunky and ugly. If this is Google's solution, I'd like to see it take off. It'd be easy to integrate and switch from Moodle.

I'm also not a big fan of Moodle, but it does have the advantage of being self-hosted and open-source. Moving student data to a cloud provider adds a bunch of legal complexity, at least here (Denmark). I can use anything I want for non-student data, such as syllabi, assignments, notes, lecture slides, and the like. But I don't think I could have students submit formal, graded assignments through a Google cloud product, or put the actual grades there. Relying on a third-party service would also probably be ruled out unless it comes with some kind of deprecation guarantee (e.g. we're guaranteed at least one academic year lead-time for notification of major changes, discontinuation, or fees).

We do use MS Office 365 for email and calendaring, but I believe they (Microsoft) got some sort of stamp of approval from the education ministry first, and it does come with a long-term service agreement (it isn't free, though).

Damn it Google. Over the summer I approached the government of my country to build a simple learning management system since they were about to start using tablets at the secondary schools here. Nothing has been finalised yet but I have a working model.

If they go with what I am working on for them they would be able to run analytics across all secondary schools and they would own their data.

Send a resume to Google.

That's life in business.

Funny. When I lived in the U.S. I was called by a Google recruiter.

I don't see Google besting me here where it comes to the tailored needs.

If you want to use open source software for this, Google has released Course Builder[1] a while back. Caveat: It uses App Engine, as far as I know.

[1] https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/

Personally I'd love to have this as a part of my normal Google Apps. It would be a neat way to create tutorials and documentation for my teammates.

Does it require Google Account for each student?

What if student doesn't want account, and doesn't agree with Google Terms of Service?

Of course it does.

It also requires the institution to have a Google Apps for Education account, which usually means that the University email accounts are all Google Accounts anyways.

I don't know which would be more concerning, Google's terms of service, or the school's acceptable use policy.

Yes it needs.

10 years ago, people would have welcomed this. Today, the brand Google is a red flag for any school that cares about their reputation and any parent who cares about their child's privacy.

It's utterly unsellable unless Google follows the old "evil" Microsoft route and simply bribes schools. And even that won't be enough to counter the shit storm that will hit any school that delivers the privacy of it's students into the hands of Google.

(The link sends me to the Dutch version of this. Google is seriously tone deaf it they think they can still sell this here.)

Google has quite a good history of keeping private information private. Unless I'm mistaken. In anycase, Chromebooks are quite popular in education, and the efficient integration of services at a low (or free) cost outweighs any unsubstantiated privacy concerns.

The reality of Google's brand image is different.

Schools don't buy software based on privacy and the privacy policies of much of the software being used by schools is often worse.

Maybe it won't sell in EU, but you don't need the EU to run a successful profitable business.

"Schools don't buy software based on privacy"

They should do in my opinion. I find it depressing that so many people overlook or dismiss privacy concerns, particularly where kids are concerned.

The kids who are asked to use Google classroom have no choice in the matter since the decision is made by the school. That means they must sign up for a Google Account regardless of whether they want one. It's the responsibility of the adults to evaluate the impact of the software they choose. And privacy should be one of the top concerns for anyone evaluating software for educational use in my view.

Google's educational privacy policy [1] is carefully worded to state that they do not mine the content you upload to Google classroom ("Your data is yours"). What they don't state is whether they track the activities of school students and what this actually entails. How is that data aggregated? Who sees that data inside Google? Is the data anonymised? Or is it tied to an individual student?

Given that you must enter a date of birth to create a Google Account, Google is capturing very specific and personal details of thousands, perhaps millions of students. Over time, Google will have amassed a staggering amount of information about the behaviour and activities of these students and will continue to do so into their adult lives (if the students continue to use their Google Account).

If Google isn't tracking the online activities of Google classroom users, why do they not simply state that?

[1] https://www.google.com/edu/privacy.html

Since I volunteer in school science and computer lab, I have observed first hand how schools simply do not have the bandwidth to run any kind of IT. Even something as simple as installing a single new application on all of the lab computers is beyond the teachers of the classroom.

That means most schools pretty much have to adopt some kind of cloud based solution that allows network administration of all of the computers used by the students.

I don't know why Google's privacy policy isn't worded the way you would like, but one reason is probably that wording it in a very strict way prevents any kind of evolution of the software product. For example, if you say "we don't track activities of school students", what does that mean? Does it mean the classroom software can't notify teachers about student behavior problems? Can't show a statistical dashboard for them? That 'auto-suggest' and Google Now-style assistive features (e.g. "You have an upcoming assignment due, and estimates based on your past speed of doing them says you should start today.") can't be offered?

"...if you say "we don't track activities of school students", what does that mean?"

It means whatever Google explains it to mean. Google can either be vague about it, or they can be clear and informative. Google is the one collecting the data. Only they know what is captured and for what purpose. It's their responsibility to explain clearly what they track and record. All of the questions you pose are ones that Google can answer.

I disagree that strict wording prevents the evolution of the software. It might prevent Google from mining user data in order to build a profile of user likes and behaviour. But I consider this type of data capture and analysis to be extend beyond the boundaries of simply improving a piece of software.

Profiling student behavior in the classroom could in fact be used to improve software. Teachers often construct a profile of students. If you go to a parent teacher conference, the teacher will often present you with a dossier of boiled down things your child does well, things they do poorly, and how to improve, and this is often culled from examining classwork and homework.

Giving a teacher a kind of dashboard based on profiling work habits, could be useful for both the teacher and the student.

I think it is better to enumerate what you don't do, rather than enumerate only what you will do.

What I dislike about Google Classroom is students need institution email address for logging in.

Why does that bother you?

I will post for my kids who suffer under the same restriction, that it's yet another email address they don't/won't use, but the admin types will only use it for CYA purposes. So risk adverse administrator sends email to the unused address that its "dress like a hippie day" on thursday and 99% of the students don't check an unused addrs so they never know.

"Obviously" they just need an email forward feature, but of course that would require admin effort for the kids that screw it up or intentionally create mail loops or mess with another kids account, so for CYA reasons that can't be done.

So the net effect is we've gone from a modest amount of paper correspondence to no correspondence at all because the tech doesn't work and nobody is interested enough in the message to fix it.

Another problem is for privacy reasons each kids email looks like "a java GUID"@something.k12.edu and nobody wants to use an address or username like that. ts impossible to remember their email addrs or passwords (they're written down on stickers on their devices) but I think it would be funny if its not "a java GUID" but actually their SS numbers run thru md5 or something even dumber from a security perspective.

As an adult, I have an email address like that from my cable company. I don't even know what my cable company email addrs is, much less its password. I've never used it and never will. God only knows how much marketing spam the cable co has sent to it. Maybe electronic bills too, who knows.

If the student account does support forwarding, would that put to rest all of your concerns?

I think it's a false comparison to say it's like your cable address; a school has a multitude of good reasons for wanting to send email to its students. A cable company has mostly terrible reasons.

It costs more and introduces additional complexity. It would be far useful to allow any arbitrary Google Account to join any arbitrary classroom, and trust that Teachers can do a decent job figuring out who is in their classes.

Why do you feel it would cost more or add a significant amount of new complexity?

Students have their own gmail accounts vs having accounts issued by the school, who is then responsible for them in some capacity. There is also a cost per-account in Google Apps for Education.

But a system where students brought their own outside accounts would have all sorts of other complexities; in fact, I think they would add up to a greater overall workload. Similarly, the alternative would come with its own set of costs, and the fact that schools are expected to sign up for this service, and that they're generally not run by stupid people, would suggest to me that the overall total cost of ownership, including the fees Google charges, would be less than doing it the other way.

My problem is every sem we need to enroll students with the institution email address. In my part of the world (India), this is not something as easy as it may seem. Google apps is controlled by the Admin and the Google classroom is controlled by the teacher. Only very few use Google classroom and Admin is really annoyed by maintaining student email address.

Usually it goes like this:

In-house solutions -> Centralized commercial offering -> Open source installed on premises

Well, I can't even take it seriously, because I fully suspect that 3 to 5 years down the road Google loses interest in the product and decides to drop it. Then all the investment the schools and teachers have made is lost.

If Google didn't have a habit of killing their own products I'd maybe take the time to actually think about their products.

A good way to push the chromebook

Speaking of... I saw this on the Chromebook page "Chromebooks start at just $249 with a $30 management fee per device."

Does Apple or other vendors charge a similar "management fee" to this? Unless I'm missing something, the fees will surpass the per-unit pricing before the first year.

It's a one-time fee to enroll the device in their MDM service, not an ongoing charge.

It appears you are correct, but it seems it was a change from early pricing models:

"It's a big change from the pricing model Google offered with Chrome OS in the past: The first generation of Chromebooks came with monthly fees for business and school accounts -- $28 a month per device for businesses and $20 a month for schools. With the new plan, organizations pay only the single flat fee for the lifetime of each device. "


Another item to take note of is Google's EOL policy for Chromebooks[1]. Assuming the institution depreciates it's assets on a 5-year period, this compares well with, say, a Windows PC/laptop - at the end of the period, the device would have minimal value (as it would no longer get updates). Add in the management fee, and you might favorably offset the cost of having your own WSUS and administrator.

[1] http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/eol.html

in windows world you pay for the servers, exchange, cals for both and on top whatever price for office we haven't even got to hardware yet Chromebooks are cheap.

Things like Windows Server (required for SCCM, I believe), Jamf Casper, and FileWave all cost money.

How does this get around the US FERPA and COPPA regulations?

this looks awesome.


Classroom is something that competes directly with Hapara's [1] Teacher Dashboard product that they charge at $4/student

[1] hapara.com/products/#teacher-dashboard

Why tie yourself to the current state of technology (keyboard, pc, printer), which may be defunct in 8-15 years?

Let the kids learn to use computers but limit it specifically to that. In the classroom emphasis should be on teaching the subject (and let them use pencil, pen and paper).

And I'm appalled that public schools now teach computer skills but have abandoned cursive writing.

Why should schools spend time on cursive? Does it add value for the students? The last time I used cursive for something other than a signature was in elementary school.

Cursive handwriting, when done with proper technique, is faster than block and does not cause hand cramps or wrist pain.

And still much slower than typing. I see insufficient value to learn cursive in a modern society.

Yes, typing is usually faster than cursive. However, most keyboards are not ergonomic and years of use at high speeds will most likely lead to RSI or at least sore wrists. And there are still be plenty of times in life where writing something by hand is more appropriate than typing it up.

You only get RSI if you type vastly more than you could write by hand. As for the times when typing is inappropriate, those are relatively short notes for which cursive is unnecessary. So far in my life I have come across 0 legitimate uses for cursive.

This reads like "technology will change, so don't let kids use modern technology in the classroom".

Why not just keep up with the changes?

If I were selling computers/computer technology then I would want to sell them to millions of children over and over endlessly and make billions of $$. With each new gadget, I'd want to sell all over again. Schools and the current malfunctioning education systems are an infinitely deep money pit for computer vendors/technologists to dip into: parents will toss $$ into the pit so that their children can "keep up with the Joneses'". The only worse set of predators on society are politicians and childrens' cancer research institutes (and, in the latter case, your child will die anyway).

Schools obviously can't keep up with the changes: they've dropped cursive writing so that your child can play tic-tac-toe on a computer. Your son or daughter likely signs his/her name with block letters. If so, your child is, IMO, illiterate and here is your child in 15 years:


(this used to be funny but under the current political administration it has become a clear probability).

Current technology will be defunct in 5-10 years. Children are taught skills that will be as useful as navigating the Commodore 64 operating system. Instead they should learn current technology outside the classroom.

My pet peeve: cursive writing, tied to higher-level cognitive functioning in the brain, is no longer taught:






Trade schools are a great place to learn about modern computing if it's needed for your job. I try to focus my children on whatever their interests are at home. I expect their school to focus them on various general subjects.

In fact, I would argue that children have more to learn on a commodore 64 system than a modern PC. First, it's still a cool piece of tech. Second, it throws you right at an interpreter where you can learn basic computer commands that nearly all PCs share. Thirdly, it isn't going to take up an entire class day to get it operational.

What do kids need to learn on modern systems? How to use office? That can be learned at a trade school or on the job. Teach them how to read a manual and computer fundamentals. Computer fundamentals might include a semester on how to use a mouse and how a computer works, not how to use Google Drive.

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