Google Classroom gets a redesign

It’s been a few years since Google first launched Classroom, its learning management system for teachers and students. Today, ahead of the start of the new year in many school districts, Google is launching a major redesign of Classroom that introduces a refreshed look and a number of new features for the teachers who use the service.

Classroom now, for example, features a new grading tool that works not just with Google Docs files but also Office files, PDFs, videos and other file types. And because students often make the same mistakes, teachers can now create a “comment bank” so they can reuse commonly used feedback. Google says this is meant to “encourage thoughtful engagement.”

Teachers now also get access to a new site with training materials to bring them up to speed with how to best use its services.

The new Classroom now also features a new “Classwork” page where teachers can organize their assignments and group them into modules and units. It’s now also easier for teachers to re-use previous classes and collaborate with others to design their classes. And because things can get noisy, Google is adding to Classroom some digital well-being features for co-teachers that allows them to turn off notifications for specific classes.

A Google spokesperson also told us that Classroom is getting extended support for Google Form quizzes (and the ability to put a quiz in locked mode to avoid distractions), as well as some new Chrome OS admin features to help manage devices.

And here is some good news for everybody, too: Google is making some changes to how Docs handles margins and indentations “to improve the overall writing experience, especially when making MLA style citations” (and here I thought I never had to think about MLA style again…). Soon, you’ll be able to use hanging indents and set specific indentations. This feature will launch in the fall.

One day, Google’s Fuchsia OS may become a real thing

Every few months, Google’s Project Fuchsia makes the rounds in the tech press. And for good reason, given that this is Google’s first attempt at developing a new open-source kernel and operating system. Of course, there are few secrets about it, given that it’s very much being developed in the open and that, with the right know-how, you could run it on a Pixelbook today. There’s also plenty of documentation about the project.

According to the latest report by Bloomberg, about 100 engineers at Google work on Fuchsia. While the project has the blessing of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, it’s unclear what Google really wants Fuchsia to be. I don’t think it’ll replace Android, as some people seem to believe. I don’t think it’s the mythical Chrome OS/Android mashup that’ll bring Google’s two operating systems together.

My guess is that we’re talking about an experimental system here that’s mostly meant to play with some ideas for now. In the future, it may become a real product, but to do so, Google will still have to bring a far larger team to bear on the project and invest significant resources into it. It may, however, end up in some of Google’s own hardware — maybe a Google Home variant — at some point, as that’s technology that’s 100 percent in the company’s control.

It’s not unusual for companies like Google to work on next-generation operating systems, and what’s maybe most important here is that Fuchsia isn’t built on the Linux kernel that sits at the heart of Android and ChromeOS. Fuchsia’s kernel, dubbed Zircon, takes a microkernel approach that’s very different than the larger monolithic Linux kernels that power Google’s other operating systems. And building a new kernel is a big deal (even though Google’s efforts seem to be based on the work of the “littlekernel” project).

For years, Microsoft worked on a project called Singularity, another experimental microkernel-based operating system that eventually went nowhere.

The point of these projects, though, isn’t always about building a product that goes to market. It’s often simply about seeing how far you can push a given technology. That work may pay off in other areas or make it into existing projects. You also may get a few patents out of it. It’s something senior engineers love to work on — which today’s Bloomberg story hints at. One unnamed person Bloomberg spoke to said that this is a “senior-engineer retention project.” Chances are, there is quite a bit of truth to this. It would take more than 100 engineers to build a new operating system, after all. But those engineers are at Google and not working on Apple’s and Microsoft’s operating systems. And that’s a win for Google.

Google’s new ‘Grab and Go’ project helps business loan Chromebooks to their employees

At Google, the company offers a ‘Grab and Go’ program that allows employees to use self-service stations to quickly borrow and return Chromebooks without having to go through a lengthy IT approval process. Now, it’s bringing this same idea to other businesses.

Chromebooks have found their place in education and a number of larger enterprise companies are also getting on board with the idea of a centrally managed device that mostly focuses on the browser. That’s maybe no surprise, given that both schools and enterprises are pretty much looking for the same thing from these devices.

At Google, the system has seen more than 30,000 users that have completed more than 100,000 loans so far.

While Google wants others to run similar programs (and use more Chromebooks in the process) it’s worth noting that this is a limited preview program and that Google isn’t building and selling racks or other infrastructure for this. As a Google spokesperson told us, Google will give companies that want to try this the open source code to build this system and advise them through the setup and deployment. It will also engage with partners to help them build the hardware or set up a ‘Grab and Go’ as a service system.

Employees who want to use one of these ‘Grab and Go’ stations simply pick up a laptop, sign in and move on with their day. When they are done, they simply return the laptop. That’s it. Easy.

That’s not quite as exciting as Google building and selling racks of Chromebooks, but this project is clearly another move to bring Chromebooks to the enterprise. Specifically, Google says that this program is meant for frontline workers who only need devices for a short period of time, as well as shift workers and remote workers.

Google launches a Chrome OS tablet for schools ahead of Apple’s iPad education event

Chrome OS has been a pretty ideal spot for Google to stake its various plays for the education market. The cheap, bare-bones Chromebook laptops have been light on complexity and heavy on connectivity. The company hasn’t had much in the way of options when it comes to touch screen devices, however.

Today, Google announced its first education tablet designed with Chrome OS. The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 will be the first such Chrome OS tablet for schools to land in kids’ hands. The device itself is a pretty standard 9.7 inch 2048×1536 tablet that will retail for $329, the same price as Apple’s entry-level iPad.

Being a Chrome OS device, these will integrate easily into the IT systems of schools with a Chrome education license and will give students a device they can easily pass around and jot notes on with stylus and touch controls. This could potentially fill a hole where Apple’s iPad was much better positioned.

The announcement is especially notable given Apple’s education event set for tomorrow. Some are expecting the event to highlight the iPad’s strength as a student computing platform while the company may announce new products and changes to its education-focused feature set.

The tablets also will enable students to jump into educational AR experiences given their handheld form factor and Google’s upcoming rollout of the Expeditions AR platform on the devices, which the company promises will allow students to visit the Great Barrier Reef, the Colosseum and International Space Station.

The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 will go on sale to educators this spring.

Chrome will soon mark all unencrypted pages as ‘not secure’

 Google’s Chrome browser will soon flag every site that doesn’t use HTTPS encryption. Starting in July, with the launch of Chrome 68, Chrome will mark all HTTP sites as ‘not secure’ and prominently highlight this in its URL bar. Over the course of the last few years, Google has strongly advocated for the use of HTTPS to help keep your browsing data safe from anybody… Read More