For many years K-12 schools have explored various options for providing an online component to regular classes. This need for an online environment has recently become more focussed with the move to BYO technologies in schools.
Initially Moodle, and more recently Edmodo and Schoology, have become popular options as LMS (Learning Management System) platforms in schools.
Now Google has entered the market with the release of Classroom.
Which option is best for your school?
Over the years Moodle has become the go-to platform to provide online courses for students in Secondary schools (7-12), following on from it’s popularity in the Tertiary sector (and the lack of any really viable alternatives for K-12 schools). Some Primary schools (K-6) have also experimented with Moodle to share online courses and to distribute associated assignments.
Moodle has been around since 2002, and a big ‘plus’ for the platform has been course accessibility through a web browser – the holy grail of taking your classes to the cloud. However, Moodle requires the installation of a web server on your school network, and someone to maintain this server with the latest versions of PHP, etc, if you are to keep Moodle up-to-date.
Another major drawback for K-12 teachers is that the Moodle interface is way too ‘texty’ for transparent engagement of students. (There are ways around this, but it involves additional work, and depends on a lot of technology expertise by teachers setting up courses.)
The more recently released Schoology (2007) and Edmodo (2008) platforms provide online classroom environments that are far more user-friendly, and don’t require the installation and maintenance of a local server.
In September 2014 Google released Classroom, integrating Google Apps for Education with a class communication and assignment distribution and grading environment.
Classroom is available free for schools that use Google Apps for Education (GAFE).
Although Moodle is a powerful platform, with a vast range of features, most Moodle instances that I have seen in local schools are used for little more than the distribution of resources, and the collection and grading of assignments – ie, the mirroring of existing paper-based procedures.
Google Classroom, used in conjunction with Google Sites, does all of this so much more easily than Moodle, through a much friendlier interface. And it is all neatly integrated with students’ and teachers’ Google Drive, accessible on their various devices – on all platforms. No need for a local web server.
If you are considering options for an online component for your regular classes, Google Classroom is a great place to start exploring…..
The bottom line…..
Moodle is ideal for Tertiary education environments or Secondary schools where there is a need to offer students structured courses in a controlled online school environment.
However, you will need a reasonably high level of technical expertise to get Moodle up and running, and to maintain and update the base Moodle installation – as well as supporting the hardware on which Moodle is installed on your network. You will also need a reasonable level of Moodle expertise to setup and maintain the School / Faculty / Class course structures within Moodle.
Being a ‘local’ server (on your school network), Moodle is attractive for schools with unreliable internet access – a local server is always accessible, and relatively fast. Though flakey Internet access may also impact off-site access to the server.
If your school already makes wide use of Moodle, and teachers are proficient with the platform, Classroom may feel a little ‘light-weight’.
Google Classroom provides a far more teacher-friendly, non-technical environment for K-12 schools, and requires very little maintenance beyond the integration of class structures (which can be automated).
You will need to have enabled Google Apps for Education on your school domain (free), but any teacher in the school can then make use of the Google Classroom platform, with only a rudimentary level of knowledge.
Access to Google Classroom is dependent on reliable Internet access. Classroom also has apps available for popular mobile platforms.
Google Classroom is an ideal entry point for schools getting started with an online learning environment. Although seasoned users of Moodle can no doubt draw attention to advanced Moodle features not available in Classroom, the Google platform is only relatively new and is being regularly updated and improved.
Classroom doesn’t require the installation and maintenance of a server in your school – the only setup required is to register a domain name with Google Apps for Education.
Alternatively, if you are pursuing an online environment for your class, and can’t persuade your school to move down the Google Apps path, or you need a simple discussion and sharing platform only for your individual classes, check out Edmodo.