Published Nov. 9, 2023
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
Three years after online learning forced Carmel Unified School District teachers to switch to Google Classroom as their primary online interface for coursework and student materials, Carmel High School instructors have adopted various combinations among technology platforms to suit their needs, in a model that allows flexibility but lacks uniformity.
Since 2011, CUSD has used a platform called Moodle, also known to staff as MySchool, as a hub for online coursework where teachers can upload course files, post assignments to students, administer quizzes and tests and more. When schools shut down at the end of the 2019-20 school year in response to COVID-19, all teachers within the district were hurriedly trained on a new platform, Google Classroom, which was comparatively rudimentary at the time, but offered a simple, uniform interface to guarantee students were receiving all communications and assignments from one place.
“We were told when COVID started, ‘You need to start using Google Classroom, so that we’re all doing the same thing,’” explains Jason Maas-Baldwin, a chemistry and environmental science teacher at CHS. “That made a lot of sense because we needed a way to make sure people knew exactly how to communicate with teachers. But we haven’t gone back since that point and reassessed, ‘What are the tech needs of teachers?’”
Because of this, some teachers have reverted to using MySchool, others use Google Classroom entirely and many use some combination of the two. The breakdown between these groups often follows departmental lines, due to the fact that MySchool offers unique features needed for certain subjects.
Shelley Grahl, a CHS English teacher, notes two of those features used widely in the English department: TurnItIn and Peermark. The former is a plagiarism checker which not only compares student documents with content on the internet, but millions of student-submitted documents over the past several decades, and has recently implemented an AI checker as well. Google Classroom also offers a plagiarism checker, but it lacks a database of student work to check essays against, according to Grahl. Peermark allows students to anonymously offer feedback on their classmates’ essays. Other than that, however, Grahl predominantly uses Google Classroom.
“I was very reluctant to move to Google Classroom,” Grahl says, “I had everything on MySchool already, and it was a system that I knew… but once I moved, I realized, ‘Oh, this is easier.’ Google Classroom also has its drawbacks, but it’s definitely a better online platform than MySchool.”
Another useful MySchool feature is its secure browser, a program installed on all CUSD-provided student devices. It allows teachers to administer digital tests through the platform while any other features, such as communications between students or the ability to search the internet, are disabled.
On the other hand, the math department at CHS requires none of those features and few math teachers still use MySchool for any student-related functions. While some math teachers have years or even decades worth of test banks stored in the program which they still draw from, those test banks can be used to create paper tests.
Two trends seem to hold steady across departments: Newer teachers almost exclusively use Google Classroom, while those who have been teaching at CHS for a long time are less likely to make the switch.
“I’ve only used Google Classroom as a teacher,” says Blaise DiGirolamo, who was an administrator in CUSD for 11 years before transitioning back to teaching for the 2022-23 school year. “Moodle existed when I was an administrator, but all I did was support people using it. Now, I’m not using it at all.”
Similarly, math teacher Andrea Smith, who taught temporarily at CHS five years prior to returning for the 2022-23 year in a permanent position, has never used MySchool once.
“I wasn’t even aware that teachers still use MySchool,” says Smith, adding that while she thinks Google Classroom is better, it’s still not as sophisticated a platform as she used in previous districts.
History teacher Brent Silva, who has taught at CHS for 12 years, not only opts not to use Google Classroom, but attempts to minimize his use of technology entirely. With the exception of MySchool calendars for his college prep classes and daily political cartoons for his Government & Politics class, his students can expect to work entirely with pen and paper for his courses.
“It seems like the less I have to rely on technology, the better off I am,” Silva explains. “It’s less headaches, in my estimation.”
CUSD’s former curriculum, instruction and assessment coordinator Colin Matheson implemented district-wide use of MySchool and had been maintaining it for several years before he returned to the classroom for the 2023-24 school year. According to him, a significant benefit of Moodle is that it’s a free, open source project developed by an educator as opposed to a for-profit company, like Google or Canvas, a platform popular among universities. Additionally, Matheson had the ability to create and customize unique plug-ins for CUSD teachers to use, although this also meant it required consistent support and training for staff.
Although a majority of CHS teachers utilize Google Classroom to some extent, some of MySchool’s critical features and long history within the district continue to make it relevant in students’ lives. Despite the fact that it once hosted nearly all online activities for the district, some teachers estimate it may not be around for much longer. Whether that is the case remains to be seen; for now, students, teachers and the district seem content to be divided across platforms.