Graphic Design & Google Classroom

The more I use Google Classroom with students the more convinced I become that adding graphics and video to Google Classroom instructions and assignments is something all teachers should be doing. The addition of graphical elements to announcements and assignments makes them easier for students to access and understand. This means they expend less energy trying to figure out what the instructions are for a lesson, which assignment to do, and how to hand in work, and have more energy to focus on the lesson/activity. I recently packaged my ideas up into a short presentation for some of my teaching colleagues and wanted to share a few of the tips here (the full presentation can be at the end of this blog post):

I certainly can’t take credit for this particular innovation. Alice Keeler has been blogging about numbering Google Classroom assignments since 2014. What I have found is coding assignments with not just a number but a 2 letter unit code as well makes this practice even more powerful because it gives each assignment in my Google Classrooms a unique identifier like GD#01 (don’t ask me what the hashtag is for, it’s just something I feel obliged to include). This unique identifier makes it easy to refer to specific assignments and organises the assignment folders in Google Drive very effectively.

NOTE: It is important to always number the assignments with the same number of digits if you want them to show up in order in Google Drive. For example, assignment 10 will show up before assignment 3 in Google Drive, but assignment 03 will show up before assignment 10.

Emojis are part of our student’s vocabulary and they are so easy to include in Classroom posts that it seems crazy not to. A quick trip to a site like emojipedia.org  is all it takes to find a relevant emoji that you can copy and paste into any text field in Classroom. Probably the two most useful ways I use them are to make topics stand out more and to draw students’ attention to parts of announcements I don’t want them to miss. I also try to find relevant emojis that reflect the nature of the task being set, like a ✏️ for a drawing task or a 💻 for an internet research assignment; I’m less sure that this is actually helpful. Now, when I look at a Classwork page without emojis it all looks like an endless sea of black and white that I have to navigate, which I suspect is how most Google Classroom Classwork pages look to students. Emojis provide nice visual cues that students can use to quickly navigate to the part of the Classwork page or Stream post that they need.

This is an idea that I am really excited about and I think has particular relevance to online learning. A recent update to Google Classroom means that when you upload an image file to an announcement in the stream it displays automatically as an image. This means that it is now possible to lay out instructions in a Google Slide using all the graphic design tools available in Slides, download the instructions as a jpeg and display them in the Stream. This doesn’t take as long as it sounds. I developed a slide template that I just copy and edit for each announcement and it takes seconds to download the slide image and import it. I have found this a particularly powerful approach to giving instructions about navigating online spaces as I can take lots of screenshots (my favourite screenshot tool is Lightshot) that illustrate what I want the students to do. Anecdotally I have noticed my students seem to refer to my instructions a lot more frequently when they are posted as graphically rich image files.

Technically this is not about Google Classroom, but I think it is relevant as many teachers will ask students to submit their work using Google Slides. I often see the instructions written in a Google Classroom assignment and then a blank slide deck attached for students to work in. This forces students to flip back and forth between the instructions and their work. A better approach, in my opinion, is to make use of the blank space on the side of each Google Slide. The same graphic design tools that work on a slide work beside it, which gives lots of possibilities for how instructions can be added. I tend to default to coloured text boxes and arrows like in the image above, but have in the past also included videos and GIFs when appropriate. By putting the instructions directly next to where the students are doing their work you increase the chances that your instructions/suggestions etc will be read and acted upon.

In my older classes where I have more content to cover I often share my slide decks with students so they can use them as a reference. Slides, however, are a very clunky format for revision as they are difficult to skim and not set up for annotation. So this year I tried an experiment, I shared my slide decks as always, but I also shared the same slides as a portrait oriented pdf with 2 slides per page. I did this using the Print settings and preview tool built into the Slides File menu. As far as my students were concerned it was no contest, they far preferred the pdf slides. Some students even started opening the pdf on their iPads and annotating the pdf slides as we worked through the lesson.

I love video instructions and in my opinion Screencastify is the easiest way to make and share screencast instructions with students. I write a blog post tutorial about it for the teachers at my school back in 2020, and since then it just keeps getting better. Video instructions are empowering in that students can watch them at their own pace, pause, rewind, use close captioning if necessary etc. They also give instructions a visual context, which is vastly superior to written or spoken instructions. As I explain in the image above Screencastify automatically saves all screencasts to Drive which makes for a very efficient workflow when making screencasts and posting them to Classroom.

Here is the full presentation I shared with teachers. It includes other ideas on using screencastify as a feedback tool, setting up units with badges and using a shared Google Classroom as a collaboration tool.

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