Zach Yeskel, got his first taste of being a teacher back in the mid-2000s, when he was working for Teach For America.
In his second year in the program, his Oakland, California classroom came equipped with enough clunky old PCs for every student. Yeskel says he had some kids so excited about the computers, that using them was the only way to convince the students to come to class.
That’s when Yeskel first started getting excited about the role technology could play in the classroom.
Fast-forward seven years, and today Yeskel’s the product manager behind Google Classroom, the suite of tools that Google just opened up to help teachers manage and grade assignments and give students feedback or help. The service is free for schools as part of Google’s Apps for Education program and the goal is to save teachers time and paper, while making sure that students can easily stay on top of their work and get the help they need.
Yeskel describes the Classroom group as a small, scrappy team of ex-teachers and people whose parents, spouses, siblings, or best friends work in schools.
“It’s one of the easiest projects to find great, incredibly passionate people to work with that I’ve ever worked on,” Yeskel says. Business Insider talked to one of those people — Molly Mackinlay — who felt so strongly about joining the Classroom team that she juggled two major projects at once to prove she wanted a spot.
It all started a little over a year and a half ago, when a few Googlers from the larger Google Education team started talking to real teachers and administrators about what was hard for them, and how they thought they could use technology to make their jobs more streamlined and simple. Google built a Classroom prototype, and when the test group of teachers tried to refuse to stop using it, Yeskel knew they were on to something.
From there, he helped build a full team and turn the prototype into a product. Since Google first announced Classroom’s soft launch in May, more than 100,000 teachers wanted to sign up.
Here’s a look at how teachers could use Classroom to make assignments and grade work:
Yeskel says that he sees Classroom as a tool for any school setting, whether that means that each student has a computer in front of them during class, there’s one computer to share between students, or teachers use it to make assignments that students can check and complete at home on the cell phones or computers.
Now that the program is officially open to all schools, the idea is to continue full-steam ahead.
“We have a really passionate team and we’re just getting started,” Yeskel says. “It’s a really exciting time.”
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