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Google Classroom vs. Canvas (MyMCPS Classroom) by Shoshana P.

Before school closed, the bulk of our work was in lessons directly from our teacher, on paper, or in discussions, simulations, and fun activities. Almost all of it relied on seeing our teachers every day. Now, in distance learning, every single piece of information has to be written out, as well as presented in Zoom sessions and videos. Teachers have had to choose between two online learning platforms: Google Classroom and Canvas (also called MyMCPS Classroom).

During this stressful and unusual time, both teachers and students have had to adapt. While many teachers have worked tirelessly to adapt to a new platform, many teachers have been unable to and been forced to use the learning platform they were already most comfortable with. Besides, teachers have varying levels of knowledge and comfort with navigating online platforms in general. I can only give a student perspective on this topic.

Many of us started using Google Classroom as early as third grade, or whenever our elementary school had enough Chromebooks to incorporate online activities into our lessons. We know how to navigate it, with its simple structure of a continuous stream of announcements and assignments. However, despite using Classroom for years, it isn’t designed for online learning the way Canvas is.

The sheer amount of extra information needed to explain work when the teacher isn’t there to help can seem overwhelming when announcements are just piling up in a continuous stream. If a teacher isn’t using the Classwork tab to organize assignments, it’s easy to scroll past a project or quiz that’s jumbled in with Zoom links and announcements. When using the Classwork tab, students have to navigate back to it to find each assignment. There’s also no way for teachers to give feedback and allow students to resubmit, since you have to un-submit the entire assignment and then it will be marked as late.

Many teachers have been using Canvas to prepare us for high school, but it is still much newer for students than Google Classroom. There are many features in Canvas, which make it harder to adjust to but also much more adaptable to online learning. To create engaging online lessons, teachers need to build in different types of activities, and they also need to include live sessions. Canvas allows teachers to incorporate live Zoom meetings, discussions, videos, documents for students to edit, and automatically graded quizzes all into their course, and then they can organize each task using the Modules feature.

While teachers using Google Classroom can create assignments with documents prepared for each student that are easily accessible, any other type of assignment requires linking to an external site. Even presentations and videos have to be linked rather than embedded. To have class discussions, teachers have to use sites like Padlet, and for online quizzes teachers generally use Google Forms. Overall, Google Classroom is designed for use in a physical classroom, with a teacher to go over assignments one by one. While the simple structure is perfect for this setting, online learning simply requires too much information to dump onto a single platform with minimal features.

One thing both teachers and students have had to do this year is adapt. And if we can, switching online platforms might be one of the most important ways we can adapt to this new way of learning.

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