Google Meet for Teachers
Google is rolling out some exciting new features in Meet to increase usability for virtual classrooms. If you have been using Zoom because you like their breakout rooms or whiteboards, you might consider using Meet this spring. Many of these new features are even helpful to increase active learning in a socially distanced classroom, and they are certainly valuable in a hybrid setting.
Jamboard was added as a feature in September, and this is a gamechanger. In addition to acting as the usual presenter whiteboard, it has great functionality to facilitate collaboration in a hybrid classroom. Our students really love using it for collaborative work. I watched one class create a timeline of art history using sticky notes and adding images straight from Google image search. If you have a lesson planned, you can prepare your digital whiteboard in advance, with multiple boards and then have the class work in groups to manipulate each of the boards in real time. Since the teacher has control over who can access the board, you can toggle on and off student access as they need it throughout the lesson.
Our instructional technologist said to me just the other day, “When Google gets breakout rooms rolled out, I’m going to advocate for the campus dropping Zoom subscriptions.” Indeed, breakout rooms are the main feature that made Zoom more useful to us than Meet. This feature allows teachers to split a class into simultaneous small groups for discussion or collaboration. In the near future, Google plans to add a timer and an “ask for help” option for students to get the teacher’s attention.
Host controls make it easy for teachers to restrict who can share or chat. These are the functions that control access to the Jamboard, as well. Controls on who can join a meeting and when make the environment safer from unwelcome entry.
Raise your hand
We have been using workarounds on hand-raising, so I’m glad to see that Google listened to users and added it as a feature. Located conveniently at the bottom of the screen, the “raise hand” icon makes it easy for students to raise their hands to request a turn to speak or answer a question.
More participant views available
When we first started using Meet last spring, you could only see a few people at a time on screen. Now, you can tile up to 49 people at one time, which makes it much easier to see your whole class's happy faces at once.
It is not easy to keep track of when people enter and leave a virtual class. To help this process, teachers can use this feature to receive attendance reports following each session that include the length of time the student was on the call, including their entrance and exit times. Google plans to add attendance reports to host controls so that you can turn the feature on and off in the future.
Another feature that has long been available in Zoom, polls are a useful method to engage groups. Teachers can create a multiple-choice poll and choose whether or not to show results to the whole class. After the meeting, the teacher will automatically receive an email, which includes an export of the poll data in Google Sheets.
This feature permits either teachers or students to ask and answer questions. Students can upvote questions. The teacher can hide, mark an item as answered, or upvote, as well. As with polls, the teacher will receive a spreadsheet of questions and answers after the class is over.
This setting filters out sounds that don’t sound like voices. Although television and other people talking will still come through, dogs barking and the sounds of the campus grounds crew (who are always mowing or blowing something) should be blocked.
I’m not sure how this one is going to work in K-12, but it is one of my favorite features for adults using Meet. Users can now change or blur backgrounds to help eliminate visual distractions. With younger students, this ability has benefits and drawbacks. Being able to hide the chaos of home from the eyes of classmates might be appealing to many. But I can imagine that fidgety youngsters playing with the feature would cause additional distraction in some classrooms. I have also read reports that children have been alarmed by people and body parts appearing and disappearing when backgrounds are in place. Administrative controls of this feature will roll out over time, so some school systems may choose to disable the function.
Some of these features may not be available in your implementation of Meet. Some (like Q&A and Polling) are not available in free Education or personal accounts. Other features have note yet been rolled out, but Google’s release notes indicate that they should be coming soon.
A final note about bandwidth
My main reason for using Meet is that it now handles my low bandwidth at home much more elegantly than Zoom does. I don’t know what backend change they made, but Meet images are generally clearer than they were in spring and yet it freezes much less often than it used to. On the other hand, every time I have tried to use Zoom from home using DSL, it locks up. I’ve started using mobile data anytime I’m invited to a Zoom meeting.
Like many of your students, I run a Chromebook at home. That means I miss out on the bells and whistles people rave about on Zoom.
Note: I’m not any kind of affiliate for Google or any other link on this page. I just think it’s good stuff.