Learning with Google: Announcements for 2021

Earlier today, Google held their global online livestream “Learning with Google.”  Over the course of ninety minutes, they rolled out a roadmap of upcoming changes and upgrades to the Google platform happening between now and the end of the year.  It was a bit of an information blitz and I felt exhausted afterward trying to take notes and keep up.   If there was ever such a deluge of new Google announcements released in one afternoon, I can’t remember it. 

As a way of digesting some of the highlights of their announcements, I thought I’d blog!   Let me say a disclaimer from the top: as much as I am trying to be accurate, I could have made an inaccurate note or the timetable might change.  So make sure you check directly with Google (like using the link to the Google Education blog entry above) to verify pricing and other details.

A Change of Name and Four Options

First, a question to make you feel your age:  did you know that Google Suite apps are over a decade old?  Hard to believe Docs and Drive started back in 2008.  As these tools grew from Google Apps for Education to G Suite for Education, many wondered if our free ride would end.   And it hasn’t yet…at least, not quite.

The good news: Google says they are committed to a free option for education.  However, besides a name change to Google Workspace for Education (to better align with their actual Workspace business offering), it will now offer THREE premium paid tiers: Google Workspace for Education Standard, Teaching and Learning Upgrade, and Google Workspace for Education Plus.

What are the differences?

  • Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals is basically the current free version of G Suite for Education. 
  • Google Workspace for Education Standard will be available for $3 per student per year (and you have to purchase for all students in your domain all at once). It offers a bit extra over Fundamentals, but mainly on the admin side of the fence: enhanced security features, some log exporting, and easier data migration.
  • Teaching and Learning Upgrade will be available for $4 per license, per adult, per month.  (Assuming you want the upgrade all year, that means $48.00 per staff member.) This granular distinction is important, in case you possibly only want certain staff to have this upgrade and only for a certain number of months.  Teaching and Learning includes originality reports for student work, a soon to launch Classroom Add Ons feature (see the below section for more details), and many of the previously announced Google Meet features like breakout rooms, recordings that do not expire after 30 days, and room polling.  As you decide which staff may need the upgrade, consider the people who will most likely be leading will need it.  For example, a staff member with the T & L upgrade who creates a Google Meet can have breakout rooms AND a non-upgraded staff or student attending such a Meet would still be able to interact in those breakout rooms; however, if a non-upgraded staff member creates a Meet, breakout rooms are not an option.   (One assumes features like Classroom Add Ons work in a similar way; it is a question of whether the creator of the Classroom has the upgrade or not.)
  • Google Workspace for Education Plus — formerly Google Enterprise for Education — is the Cadillac version, available in April for $5 per student per year (and you have to purchase for all students in your domain all at once). It includes all the features of Education Standard AND Teaching and Learning Upgrade.  You also get some bonus features such as an interior Google search (allowing you to look up public Docs across your domain), livestream capability to 100K users, and a synching of Google Classroom rosters to your SIS (Student Information System, such as Infinite Campus).  As you budget and consider your options, definitely compare your total cost of upgrading all staff to Teaching and Learning versus the cost of upgrading your domain to Plus — you may find that with just a little more expense, Plus provides maximum benefit.

From this point forward, when you hear a new Google feature launch, verify which tier it will apply to.  It may not be yours!  For more details on your options:

Google Classroom, Forms, Docs,  and Jamboard Upgrades

Fun fact: since February of 2020, Google Classroom has gone from 40 million users to 150 million worldwide!

Here are some other highlights rolling out by the end of the year:

  • Google will launch a Classroom Add Ons “store.”  This creates an opportunity to put certain outside tools inside of your Classroom Assignments — students can access and complete them without leaving the tab, and then their scores/grades will go straight to the Classroom’s gradebook.  Announced partners available at launch will include Nearpod and Kahoot.  Available with Teaching and Learning Upgrade or with Plus.
  • There will be a “Student Engagement Tracking” to analyze student usage.  When did they last log in? What was the last thing they submitted?
  • For admin, deeper and more detailed analytics of Classroom usage across the domain.  Available with Standards or with Plus.
  • The mobile app version of Classroom will be able to work offline and will be more effective with intermittent Internet/cellular connection.  Additionally, a student using the Classroom app will have an easier time, and more options, for submitting pictures (such as taking a pic of a “paper and pencil” assignment).
  • Rich Text Formatting is coming.  You can finally bold, italic, underline text! Add bulleted lists!
  • Forms:  The angels must be singing, because Forms will begin saving your work in the background as you type and select.  No more lost information from accidentally leaving the page, closing the tab, or losing your Internet connection.  And if any of those things happen, you will be able to return to the Form and pick up where you left off.  (Data is remembered for 30 days or until the Form is submitted, whichever happens first.)  That includes Form Quizzes!
  • Docs:  The Citations feature is improving with some smart suggestions. For those with Education Plus, Google is adding an “Approval” feature under File; you would be able to submit your Doc to selected members of your team to “sign off” on your work.
  • Jamboard: you will finally be able to track changes and see edits made by your students!
  • For more details and other coming Classroom features, read this Google blog entry.
A preview of “Student Engagement Tracking” in Google Classroom coming later this year.

Google Meet

What would so many of us do without Meet during pandemic teaching?  Therefore, and not surprisingly, Google spent some significant time talking about the future of Meet.

Google first tipped their hand to the start of premium tiers with Meet features that were exclusive for those that paid for Enterprise, such as beloved breakout rooms.  In fairness to Google, however, not all of its upgrades cost money, and some of the future ones will be for (free) Fundamentals unless otherwise noted.

  • At the end of the meeting, teachers will have the option to end the Meet for all participants, including those in breakout rooms.  That means no more students possibly staying on to chat without you.
  • In the next few weeks, you will be able to mute all participants, and choose whether students can unmute themselves.
  • Starting in August, there will be several improvements for Meets that are integrated into a Google Classroom:
    • students will not be able to join the Meet until a teacher starts it
    • only students and teachers of that Classroom can join that Meet
    • all teachers of that Classroom will have moderator controls
  • In Google Calendar, breakout room participants can be determined in advance while creating a calendar event.  Available with Teaching and Learning Upgrade and with Plus.
  • Besides hand raising, students will also be able to react with emojis — and in a wonderful nod to diversity, can change the skin tone of the emojis to better reflect themselves.
  • Meet will also be better optimized to work with lower strength WiFi.
  • For more details and other coming Meet features, read this Google blog entry.


Admittedly, I was a bit surprised to hear newsworthy updates for Chromebooks and its Chrome OS, but they included:

  • Starting with Chrome 89 (launching March 9), the OS for Chromebooks will include a built in screen recording tool!  This may replace your current screen recording apps like Screencastify that need to be separately installed and may have limited recording times.
  • Google Meet will be optimized for Chromebooks and Chrome, which will especially be welcome when multitasking or for Chromebooks near their end of life.  This may become important as more anecdotes and news stories come out about Chromebooks struggling with other teleconferencing platforms that could also be shortening their life cycle.
  • More Chromebooks will be offered with dual cameras, allowing students to better take pictures or record videos beyond selfies.

Accessibility and the Future of Assistive Technology

While “Accessibility” has always been part of Chrome settings that follow you across devices, Google announced some upcoming features such as multiple options for changing your cursor color.  (For more on Google and accessibility, check out this link.)  The livestream ended with an interesting discussion on the future of Google as assistive technology.  Consider “assistive” as any way to augment or make your life easier; for example, Chrome remembering your password or autofilling your shipping address.  Artificial Intelligence, however, is making the possibilities even more intriguing.  AI may become your next classroom Instructional Assistant!  (And yes, I’m trademarking the acronym AIIA.).  Google shared how districts are utilizing Google Cloud Success Services to create a chat virtual assistant, and in one example, it was able to solve 92% of user inquiries on its own.  Other examples include typing an equation into the Google search button and getting a step by step explanation of the solution (something you can do now with the mobile Google Lens app), or typing “[kind of problem] practice problems” to get virtual self-tutoring. 

An example of searching “linear equations practice problems.” Note that you not only get those practice problems, but an overview, examples and more!

Between the product announcements, the livestream shared some inspirational pandemic teaching stories from across the world. Diana Parra, Professor of Information and Technology in Medellin, Columbia, said: “My challenge at the moment as a teacher, is to take the technical things we know, and amidst a crisis, to make them human.”  May we all do our best to take the digital tools at our disposal to make our teaching not about the Internet or Google Apps or the device but the human student at the other side of our screen.  Our teaching may not be in person, but we can still try to make it personal.  

If you’re interested in watching the archived livestream, here is the video (1 hour 37 minutes): 

What is an upcoming Google feature that makes you excited?  Share in the Comments below!

Edit 2/19/21: The archived video of the livestream is now published, and I added it to the blog entry.  Also, I made a small edit about the Forms update – an incomplete Form is only saved for 30 days or until it is submitted, whichever comes first.

Edt 2/23/21: After watching a presentation today by AmplifiedIT, a few more clarifications and corrections: The new Doc Approval feature is only available for Education Plus, Chrome 89 is launching March 9, and I explained what could potentially happen when T & L upgraded staff interact with non-upgraded staff.

Edit 4/28/21:  I was made aware that the Teaching and Learning upgrade license is based on a MONTHLY fee, not annually like Standard and Plus.  I updated the information above to reflect this, as well as included a useful Google resource that compares the editions side by side.

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