Parents' Ultimate Guide to Google Classroom

Google's free-to-schools organization platform makes it easy for students to keep all their schoolwork in one place -- but it invites privacy and safety risks that parents should keep an eye on.

In addition to textbooks and binders, kids consider Gmail, Google Docs, and even YouTube essential for school. So it's an easy transition to Google Classroom, the classroom-management tool integrated into Google's Workspace for Education Fundamentals, which Google provides free to schools. Classroom allows students to see what's due, complete assignments, post messages, and more in virtual classes set up by their teachers. The fact that it's paperless and offers built-in opportunities for kids to practice responsible digital skills are great bonuses. Your kid may use it for one class, or all of them. In fact, tens of millions of teachers and students use Google Classroom in thousands of schools around the world, making it one of the most popular edtech tools around.

But Google Classroom does invite some risks, including data tracking, potential contact with strangers, and even cyberbullying. While Google has stricter privacy practices for its educational apps, it can collect student data from some of the Classroom tools, such as YouTube, if they're enabled. Google pitches the platform to teachers as "mission control for your classroom" -- and it definitely streamlines homework, remote learning, and organization. But as more schools move toward using Google Classroom, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with its capabilities so you can best support your kid's online learning.  

What is Google Classroom?
Do teachers use Google Classroom to teach live, like with Zoom?
How do you set up Google Classroom?
Can you use Google Classroom at home?
Can I communicate with my child's teacher through Google Classroom?
Can Google Classroom be used for cheating or chatting?
Which other apps and websites can be used with Google Classroom?
What are the safest settings to enable on my kid's Google account?
How does my kid find out about new stuff posted in Google Classroom?
Is my kid supposed to be chatting with their classmates during class time via Google Classroom?
Who has control over the options in Google Classroom: the teacher, students, the principal, the tech coordinator?
If my kid is using Google Classroom, how can I make sure they're not goofing around?
How tech savvy do I need to be to help my kid with Google Classroom?
Does Google Classroom track and collect kids' data? 

What is Google Classroom?
Google Classroom is a class-organization platform that incorporates Google's core products (Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drive, etc.) so students can access everything they need for a class, including homework assignments, group projects, files, and even Google Hangouts to chat with the teacher or the entire class. Classroom is part of Google's Workspace for Education (formerly called G Suite) and includes optional "Additional Services," including YouTube and Maps, which a school administrator can choose to enable as part of your kid's Classroom tools. Google Classroom isn't a learning tool, like IXL, Khan Academy, and other providers of educational content: It's designed for organization and collaboration.

Do teachers use Google Classroom to teach live, like with Zoom?
Not usually. However, Google is offering the premium features of Hangout Meet for free to teachers and students who are at home during the coronavirus pandemic, so it'll be easier to use Classroom for live, remote teaching. 

How do you set up Google Classroom?
Teachers can invite students to enroll in their class in one of three ways: through a link kids click on; an email invite kids can join from; or a code kids use to enter in Classroom. They'll be directed to classroom.google.com, where they log in to access the class (or classes) their teacher has added them to. 

If your school has registered for a Google Workspace for Education account (which they should if they're using Classroom), your kid will have a school account or a Google Workspace account. In some settings, your kid may use their personal Google account to access Classroom -- but they're not supposed to use it for school. In Classroom, each class is private to the people the teacher has personally invited, including the students enrolled in that class and other teachers

Once your kid has joined a class, they can use all the features the teacher has enabled for that class, including class schedules, assignments, announcements, and even teacher "office hours."

Can you use Google Classroom at home?
Kids can access Google Classroom from anywhere, including from their phones, when they download the Google Classroom app. 

Can I communicate with my child's teacher through Google Classroom?
It's possible, though teachers may use another tool, such as Aeries or School Loop, for parent communication. If your kid's teacher wants to use Google Classroom for communication, they will send you an invitation, and after accepting, you will receive updates directly from them, which may include information on upcoming or missing work and announcements.

Can Google Classroom be used for cheating or chatting?
There's nothing to prevent students from opening up other tabs, such as Wikipedia or Google Search, while they're using Google Classroom. Kids can potentially see other students' work within the platform, too. If they're taking a quiz in Google Forms, however, teachers can disable access to other resources using a feature called Locked mode.

As for chatting, yes. Kids can interact with other students and even teachers by text and video using Hangouts or the chat function in Meet. Chatting can be a distraction, but there have also been some reports of kids cyberbullying other students in Google Docs shared for group projects -- partly because it's a place no one would think to look for that kind of behavior. If the chatting is getting out of control, your kid can shut off Hangouts and remove people from a shared document. (To do this, click the Share button and then click the arrow next to the name of the person and select Remove.) If the document was created by someone else and you don't control it, have your kid make a copy and not share it.

What other apps and websites can be used with Google Classroom?Google Classroom connects with hundreds of apps and websites -- called add-ons -- including popular tools like Pear Deck, Actively Learn, Newsela, and many more. Apps integrated into Classroom can provide content, improve accessibility, and give students and teachers additional interactive tools.

Can I check my child's grades on Google Classroom?
No. Though teachers can assign grades using the Classroom service Gradebook, the teacher has to generate a report and email it to you in order for you to see your kid's grades. Your school may use a different tool for grades and other administrative services. 

How does my kid find out about new stuff posted in Google Classroom?
Your kid will receive an email when the teacher posts an announcement. These emails come through your kid's email account, not in Classroom. Classroom doesn't alert you when an assignment is due; to keep track of deadlines, kids need to check the class calendar. 

Is my kid supposed to be chatting with his classmates during class time via Google Classroom?
Maybe. Teachers may assign collaborative projects, such as a group research paper in Google Docs or a group dialogue, where students comment on each other's work. But if the class isn't using the tools responsibly, a teacher or administrator can turn them all off. 

Who has control over the options in Google Classroom: the teacher, students, the principal, the tech coordinator?
An administrator, often the school's information technology manager, sets up Classroom for the entire school. That person is in charge of all the features included in the service, including Gmail, Google Maps, and Drive -- and can turn them on or off. Teachers decide whether or not they want to use these services, and how to configure them for their classes. If Gmail is enabled, for example, teachers can email their students, turn off email notifications, and mute people. If your kid has YouTube enabled in their Classroom account, you'll need to speak to the admin, not the teacher, if you don't want your kid watching YouTube (the admin can also enable "restricted mode" for YouTube, which limits some mature content).

If my kid is using Google Classroom, how can I make sure they're not goofing around?
Other than monitoring your kid with your own eyes and ears, you have very limited tech options. If your kid uses their own device and not a school-issued device, you may be able to use a parental control app such as Google's Family Link to limit total screen time and allow only certain apps to be used at certain times -- although you'll still need to allow Classroom. Parental controls typically don't work with school devices, since adding programs interferes with the admin's configuration. You can try a few tricks, such as setting a timer, allowing a game break, and giving a reward when your kid is able to focus and resist distractions for a period of time or when they finish something. 

How tech savvy do I need to be to help my kid with Google Classroom?
If your kids are younger, it's probably a good idea to have some familiarity with Google's programs so you can help your kid upload documents, check the calendar, and do other tasks. It also helps to know how the programs work so you can at least describe the problem to a teacher if anything goes wrong. Older kids may not need any help. Google Classroom is designed to be easy to use, and there's lots of online help.

Does Google Classroom track and collect kid's data? 
This is where things get a little tricky. Google Classroom is just one part of Google's Workspace for Education, and some of the apps, including third-party programs, can be tracked. Logging in with a school account, rather than a personal Gmail account, protects kids from some data collection because education accounts can't be tracked or mined for data (beyond what's necessary for educational purposes). However, if the school's administrator enables Additional Services, such as YouTube and Maps, Google may collect data on those apps as it would for any of its other consumer apps. 

Although Google doesn't share or sell student data to partners, and it vets the developers it uses for Classroom, those third parties could collect information from your kid, then profile and target them using that data. 

Still, Google Classroom gets a "pass" rating from its Common Sense privacy evaluation, which means it meets our minimum requirements for protecting students’ privacy.

Updated March 17, 2021