Making clear that it's serious about its foray into education software, Google has pushed out a set of enhancements for its Classroom app, barely two months after its release.
The Classroom upgrade also comes a week after rival Microsoft launched a similar classroom assistance application for Office 365 education customers.
Classroom, announced in May and released in August after being tested by 100,000 teachers in 45 countries, is available to Google Apps for Education customers and taps suite components like Gmail, Drive and Docs.
It's meant to be a tool that helps teachers with basic tasks, such as creating and organizing assignments, providing feedback and communicating with students. Classroom also provides a section for teachers to post information about their classes.
Now Google has integrated Classroom with Google Groups, so that discussion groups can be pre-populated with class rosters, when used in conjunction with the Google Apps School Directory Sync. Another new feature lets teachers download grades for all assignments at once.
The upgrade also gives teachers more controls over their Classroom domain, such as allowing or forbidding students from posting or commenting in the class' collective activity stream. A new option lets students mark as completed assignments that don't involve submitting work to the teacher, such as watching a video or reading a document.
With Classroom, Google is deepening its involvement with its education industry customers by providing a specific application, on top of the horizontal Apps for Education suite. Google had previously relied on third-party ISVs (independent software vendors) that specialize in education software to make apps for the suite, but now it's putting itself in competition with at least some of them.
Microsoft made a similar move with last week's release of OneNote Class Notebook Creator, an Office 365 classroom assistance application which uses OneNote as a front end and is hosted in SharePoint Online.
While it's clear that Microsoft and Google feel they must offer their education customers native apps to deepen the value of their respective suites, it's not clear whether they plan to make other types of software for schools and universities, such as learning management systems, or LMSes.
The Microsoft app lets teachers set up individual notebooks for each student, a common library for class documents and materials, and a group collaboration space for collective activities.
It's meant to boost "classroom efficiency" by, for example, simplifying the collection of homework assignments and consolidating teacher feedback in a single place, according to Microsoft.
OneNote Class Notebook Creator is available at no extra charge to Office 365 subscribers in the Office Store.
Google Apps for Education and the Classroom app are free, while Office 365 for Education has free and paid editions.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.
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