Create and collect assignments: Classroom weaves together Google Docs, Drive and Gmail to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly.
To "create assignments", I make a pdf in my favorite pdf-maker, then post it on the course website (a plain HTML page with links), then tell the students about it. To "collect assignments", I tell the students to email them to the course submission email -- shared between the lead instructor and the grader, if there is one.
They can quickly see who has or hasn't completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback to individual students.
I don't have the time to play policeman ("I see little Susie hasn't even started coding yet and the homework's due tomorrow"); if Susie wants my help she has my email.
 Improve class communications: Teachers can make announcements, ask questions and comment with students in real time—improving communication inside and outside of class.
I can best "improve class communications" by talking to the damn students. If they want to talk to me and I'm around, there's email or coming by my office; if I don't respond to either, then chances are I won't be reachable by google widget, either.
 Stay organized: Classroom automatically creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student. Students can easily see what's due on their Assignments page.'
They can easily see what's due by visiting the course website and seeing "Homework 4 (link) -- due Monday, April 14". Sorting things by assignment and by student is as simple as asking them to include their name and the assignment number in their submission, and running a perl script. For less technically inclined teachers, use whatever file-sifting features your OS of choice has.
I've seen highly-technologized courses run way off the rails, because there's a delusion that fancy computerization can take the place of talking to the students. It can't. The only instructional technology I really have a need for is:
1) The computers that we actually use (I teach computational physics) 2) A projector, so I can show them examples 3) A website, where they can download shit (pdf's of assignments and notes) and see what's due 4) Email
I so agree and you have my mod points. The only, and I mean only feature I actually like about these products is that I can see the grade distribution (as a student). For some reason I always like to see what the highest and lowest scores are, also, how much I beat the average by. The only blackboard one needs is an actual blackboard.
Just because there is a structure does not mean it's all derivative. The idea is that the story lives on top of the structure. It isn't the structure itself. I see people citing movies like "Back to the Future" as examples that do not follow this structure. It does. Almost everything does. I took classes at one of these types of places for about two years. One thing we used to do was analyze films and try to find their structure. Amazingly, even the most seemingly unstructured movies followed the three act structure. There are exceptions, but they are rare. One notable exception might be the movie "I am curious yellow." But it's also highly experimental.
Or to put it another way: structure is the bones, story is the skin.
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But while everyone agrees that designs can always be improved it’s not always clear what that means and more importantly, if it’s even possible.
I’ve overheard many heated arguments in which someone eventually says something like: “Everyone expects x to work like y, so you can’t change it!!” (This is usually the deathblow to the other person. They walk away, tail between legs, to go silently Facebook-stalk their ex-girlfriend.)
And you know what, this sort of system seems to work. Most of the time. But that’s only because most of the time we come up with terrible, terrible ideas. But sometimes new controls and ways of doing things do need to get designed. How to settle this age-old argument?
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Let's face it. If the shit goes down we're f*cked either way. As someone else pointed out -- something like a book is useless when you're freezing your ass off. And it will most likely end up being used to start fires. Why not enjoy the life we have?