When the only certainty is change

By Jeremy Cunningham
September 1st, 2016

change management

I drafted the following review of Google Classroom in early August:

In this day and age, one must declare allegiance to one of a handful of corporations for their technology needs.  We have all faced this choice in the last few years as our emails, calendars, phones, TVs, and homes have become more synchronized than ever.  Individuals must go all in and not look back.  I may have been later than some to embrace this tech integration, but that tardiness allowed me to consciously considered three factors as I aligned my tech life:  who is doing things broadly, who is doing things well, and who is doing things that are open to adaptation.  After assessing the marketplace, I aligned myself with Google.  The choice has not failed me as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Drive have become a seamless addition to my world that I am unsure I would be able to divorce from. 

This was the root of my confidence as I began to develop a course on Google Classroom.  I have worked in Moodle and Blackboard before and enjoyed each in their own right.    One of my employers has recently aligned with Google so access to the Classroom came free for myself and all enrolled students.  While I knew learning a new platform would be challenging, I entered the course development expecting an outstanding experience. 

For the first time, my expectations were not met.  The clean look that Google presents in most of its platforms is very apparent, but the page feels minimal and barren.  I assumed the site would be adjustable and that I could add tabs and widgets to organize the work for my class.  Instead, it is surprisingly rigid.  There is a single “stream” which lists all of the discussion questions, assignments, and announcements in order of creation.  Ironically, the single stream has the inverse effect of a clean presentation.  It feels cluttered and chaotic.  You can adjust the order manually, but that’s a daunting task to do with a full assignment load.  There are other work-arounds with this issue, but that’s the problem.  Finding a work-around to a basic organizational issue for the class was not what I expected. 

I continued to work with Google Classroom throughout August while I revised and polished my post.  Then, before publishing, Google responded to my, and most likely others’, complaints.  They updated the Classroom.  I signed in one day and found my problems solved.

This whole experience is the perfect example of the shifting landscape of EdTech.  Platforms are always adapting to student and instructor needs.  I would like to think the complaints lodged on Google’s Help Forum dictated the change.  To work in a system that gets updated monthly in major ways without disrupting current content is an amazing reality.  It gives hope that the ideal online experience can be created because change is so easy to apply.

Yet, this ability to change also intimidates me.  To work in a system that can be easily shifted reveals the true lack of concrete foundation in the EdTech world.  Nothing is permanent or certain.  The landscape is subject to constant variation.  I am not saying I want to stick with a bad system; I am saying that I would like to have some certainty in the work I am creating.  But perhaps that’s the trade we make for the hope of the ideal experience.  To seek that ideal is to demand constant change.

About the Author:

Jeremy Cunningham

Jeremy Cunningham is a part-time instructor at Washtenaw Community College and Cleary University where he teaches composition and communication coursework. He also teaches English at Mason High School. He holds degrees in literature and education from Miami University, Eastern Michigan University, and Michigan State University. Outside of work, Jeremy dedicates his time to his wife, Darcie, and daughter, Ruby.

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