Using Google Classroom: An Experiment in Online Faith Formation

I know I am not alone in my search for a reliable, inexpensive, and flexible online learning platform that works for smaller sized churches.Many subscription-based services are out of our budget range and don’t offer content flexibility. We’ve tried Facebook groups for Bible study, but they tend to fizzle out.  Last Spring, Google made it possible for anyone with a Gmail account to launch a class in their free app, Google Classroom. Wanting to experiment with potential uses, I created a class for ten fellow Christian educators where we explored the benefits and limits of Google classroom. Here is what I learned:

The basics:

Each class has at least one teacher who sets up and administrates the class. The teachers and students must have Gmail accounts. Once the class is set up, teachers invite students using a code. Teachers may add questions, class announcements, and assignments. Assignments can include weblinks, videos, or documents to read. Content is then organized under class topics. In our online class for Christian Educators we had four topics: Exploring the Uses of Google Classroom, Practice Setting Up a Google Classroom, Identifying Best Practices, and Online Safety Considerations. Throughout the class, teachers may add new assignments, announcements, and questions. The teacher is also able to review what work has been completed by the students.

Possible Uses for Faith Formation:

As the ten of us began the class, we brainstormed ways we could imagine using Google Classroom to provide at home and/or blended (at church and at home) learning opportunities for children, youth, and adults.  We envisioned possibly using the app for weekly Sunday  school content, modules on spiritual disciplines or other faith topics, volunteer training modules, confirmation classes, small group studies, and as a library of worship content. Google classroom can be used for any topic!

Benefits and Challenges:

As we experimented together, the benefits and challenges began to emerge. On the positive side, Google Classroom is available for learning at the student’s pace anywhere and anytime on all types of devices. In addition, Google classroom is free and use friendly. Being able to add videos, documents and weblinks to assignments allows for a wide range of content. Many of our children and youth are familiar with Google classroom from school. Lastly, Google Classroom works well for connecting with people in different geographic locations. The ten students in our pilot class came from 6 different states.

There are also a few challenges to using Google Classroom for faith formation. I found it difficult to organize the class materials in the order that I wanted students to encounter information. In addition, Google Classroom feels very much like school, especially for youth who do much of their homework on this platform. Because it is designed for education, assignments are sent to the teacher for grading. The biggest challenge for me was that while students can reply to the teacher’s questions, there is not an option to reply to other students, which limits discussion among class members.

Recommended Uses:

While I am still experimenting with setting up Google Classroom for use in our ministries, I have learned that the app lends itself better to some situations than others. I suggest that the best class topics would be those that have specific content, like confirmation, teacher training, and Bible studies. I would not recommend Google Classroom to be used as an ongoing library of supplemental materials for a class or worship service, simply because there are too few tools for organizing content.

I am certain that fellow Christian Educators will continue to come up with creative ideas and helpful feedback for using this new resource. I am excited to see the Google Classroom will be used for faith formation!

Helpful Tips::

Tutorials for how to set up and use Google Classroom can be found on YouTube.

Lifelong Faith offers information and strategies for online and blended learning.

Be sure to review your church’s online safety policies before setting up a class.

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