Google on Wednesday unveiled several new software tools aimed at remote learning, as teachers and students continue to meet in virtual classrooms amid the pandemic.
Many of the new features are coming to Google Meet, the company’s Zoom rival, and Google Classroom, which helps teachers manage classes online. One new Meet tool allows the teacher to mute all the students at once, a way to try to get control of an unruly class. Another tool lets the teacher end the meeting for everyone, so students don’t linger and have their own unsupervised meetings. Teachers will also be able to get transcripts of lessons for students who missed class.
For Google Classroom, one update will let teachers track a student’s engagement with content, like who posted a comment or submitted an assignment. Another new feature will let students use their phone cameras to scan their homework and upload photos to turn into their teachers. A new offline mode will help students do their work even when their internet connection isn’t reliable.
Google also said it’s releasing 40 new Chromebook models, which have become popular in classrooms as schools issue them to students.
“This has been a hard year, especially for educators, school leaders for students themselves,” Zach Yeskel, lead product manager for Google’s education software, said in an interview. “COVID really blurs the lines between home in the class.”
Google made the announcements on Wednesday ahead of a virtual event to outline Google’s education initiatives.
As the pandemic took hold almost a year ago, Google’s education products soared in usage. Google on Wednesday said its Classroom app has more than 150 million students on the platform, up from 40 million last year.
With the increased usage, though, comes some setbacks. Schools that were part of the search giant’s education program, called Google Workspace for Education, used to have unlimited storage capabilities. The company on Wednesday said it’s introducing storage caps, giving each school 100 terabytes each. Google said it’s enough space for 100 million docs or 400,000 hours of video.
As teachers and students increasingly rely on Google’s products, some critics have denounced the company’s presence in classrooms. In April, two children from Illinois sued the search giant for allegedly collecting biometric data, including face scans, of millions of students through the search giant’s software tools for classrooms. The children, who sued through their father, claimed the data collection violated the state’s biometric privacy law, as well as COPPA, a federal law that requires sites to get parental consent when collecting personal information from users who are under 13 years old.
Google has also faced broader blowback for its handling of children’s data. In 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission slapped the company with a record $170 million fine, as well as new requirements, for YouTube’s violation of COPPA. In response, the video site made major changes to how it treats kids videos, including limiting the data it collects from those views.