Online Learning Platform: Grok Academy Review

Grok is a well-known name in the world of coding education. The platform has been providing teaching resources, courses and competitions for several years. But with more and more online coding education platforms on the market, such as Zenva Schools, is Grok still worth it for coding students and teachers?

This review will cover everything you need to know about Grok Academy, including features, content, and more. We’ll also cover its shortcomings and where other platforms may be more up to snuff – especially in the fact of Grok’s recent merger with the Australian Computing Academy (ACA).

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What Is Grok Academy?

Grok Academy is a not-for-profit coding education site with its roots in the long-running partnership between Grok Learning and the Australian Computing Academy. As of 2020, the two organisations have now merged, forming the Grok Academy platform. 

Grok Academy offers a wide variety of educational resources focused on the Australian Digital Technologies curriculum and computer science topics. The platform’s aim is to build computing skills and knowledge, from basic digital literacy to advanced computer science concepts. 

Grok Academy’s resources range from courses and classroom activities to competitions held regularly throughout the school year.

What Content & Courses Does Grok Academy Provide?

The main attraction of Grok Academy is its library of coding and computer science courses. These courses take the form of a series of activities and exercises which task students with solving problems based on key coding and computer science concepts. These exercises are based mostly in a sandbox environment to allow students easy access to the resources.

These courses cover various computer science topics, such as computational thinking, sequencing, databases, and more. They also delve into other subjects and issues surrounding technology and how it’s designed, such as accessibility, usability, and ethics.

In addition to its course library, Grok Academy also runs competitions regularly. These competitions last for five weeks, tasking students with completing specific activities and problems to earn points and move up a leaderboard. Grok’s competitions are designed to help students learn to code as they go, using practical exercises to build their knowledge and skills. 

There are multiple streams to choose from in these competitions, allowing students to choose a difficulty level that suits them best. Grok Academy runs four competitions each year, focusing on different areas such as Blockly, Python, and web development.

In terms of programming languages, Grok Academy offers several different options. Its courses for younger learners largely revolve around block-based languages such as Scratch and Blockly. For high-school students, they provide courses in Python, Arduino, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, SQL, Turtle, and BBC microbit.

However, it is worth noting that the platform puts a huge emphasis on Python for its more advanced courses, making it a bit biased in regards to those options offered. The content offered is also limited compared to other platforms.

For example, Zenva Schools offers a wider range of real-world tools, including heavily used Python libraries, Unity, Unreal, Godot, and much more. Thus, Grok may not fit into every classroom situation depending on teacher and student interest.

Grok Academy Review 2022: Is Grok Worth It For Coding Students?

What Coding Content Is Missing From Grok Academy?

While Grok Academy does cover an extensive range of coding subjects and languages, there are certain gaps in its content to be aware of.

For example, because Grok is attuned more so for younger audiences, it doesn’t offer courses much past a beginner level. This is a missed opportunity for more experienced students to learn advanced, high-level languages and take on more varied projects, as well as learn job-relevant skills.

In addition, while several of Grok’s courses and Hour of Code activities use game design as a tool to explain coding techniques and concepts, these are relatively simple. For students actually interested in game design, Grok doesn’t offer much in the way of game development courses or tutorials. So that means no learning popular engines like Unity, which can make learning more fun.

On top of that, it’s worth noting again that Grok is focused on sandbox environments. While perhaps more accessible, this means students don’t really get the opportunity to practice real tools. Exercises are also generally shorter and geared for that sort of environment – so there’s also a lack of worthwhile projects to sink their teeth into.

These misses are especially stark when compared with platforms like Zenva Schools. For comparison, Zenva Schools also has the same aims as Grok Academy and offers the same sort of promise for course coverage of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

However, the Zenva Schools platform offers a lot more variety. To example, and as previously mentioned, the platform offers courses many real-world tools like Unity, Blender, Photoshop, and more. This means students are offered the opportunity to not just hit learning goals dictated by the curriculum, but can develop core job skills they can use later in life.

Additionally, due to this wider, more job-oriented focus, Zenva Schools’ courses are usually project-based. While exercises like live coding and interactive lessons are offered (a great bonus to be sure), the projects help students more easily connect technology concepts with their practical application as is used in the industry.

At the same time, Zenva Schools still remains accessible and engaging, so it can be a lot more flexible for classroom usage.

Plenty of other platforms also stand out from Grok Academy in terms of variety, so there are plenty of options to be had.

What Age Group Is Grok Academy For?

Grok Academy caters to students across a broad age range, with specific courses designed for primary school and high-school students of various experience levels. 

For primary learners, Grok offers several courses and classroom resources based around using Blockly as a way to introduce young students to basic coding concepts. Years 3-4 can take part in courses that help them to use Blockly to understand sequencing, user input, and decision making.

For Years 5-6, the courses introduce more advanced concepts, such as branching and iteration. Courses for these year groups continue to use Blockly, helping them to practice coding without the complexities of a text-based language (and giving them a useful grounding in practical computer science skills).

Grok also offers a wide range of courses for high school students. Its courses for Years 7-8 focus on using Python to transition from block-based coding to a text-based language. For Years 9 and above, Grok Academy offers a broad slate of courses and activities that explores a much wider range of concepts, skills, and programming languages, such as HTML, JavaScript, and so forth.

Besides school-age learners, Grok Academy also offers a tutorial-focused platform for adult learners. This platform is aimed at universities and professional organisations, and allows students to progress through self-led coding and computing courses with the aid of Grok’s auto-marking system. 

This being said, Grok Academy does not particularly stand out in this regard. Other platforms like Zenva Schools offer these same age ranges (and with more course variety), so this need not be the deciding factor for whether or not Grok Academy is the right choice.

However, in this regard, it can fit most classroom situations.

Grok Academy Review 2022: Is Grok Worth It For Coding Students?

How Well Does Grok Academy Match Curriculum Standards?

Since Grok Academy’s team includes many Australian curriculum experts, with several Digital Technologies curriculum authors among them, it’s obviously a very relevant and effective teaching resource for the Digital Technologies curriculum. 

Almost all of Grok’s courses relate to key concepts within the Digital Technologies curriculum. It takes a “problem-based” approach that matches key concepts with a problem or exercise designed to help students learn by doing with practical examples. In particular, Grok’s DT Challenge courses are directly aligned with the Digital Technologies curriculum. 

Grok Academy also offers an Unpacking The Curriculum resource for teachers, providing them with a detailed breakdown of what each section of the curriculum involves to help them align their lessons.

All this being said, while a good resource, plenty of other platforms are equally prepared to handle the Digital Technologies curriculum. To example again, Zenva Schools offers content specifically tailored to teaching specific content descriptors from the Digital Technologies curriculum.

In the same light, Zenva Schools is able to offer pre-mapped course plans and unit plans all geared towards the Digital Technologies curriculum. These come with all the content descriptors and information you’ll need to use the content in your classroom, and help guide you in terms of providing a well-rounded approach to technology subjects.

In either case, while Grok is a popular resource in this regard, it’s not the only fish in the pond.

What Features Does Grok Academy Have For Students?

Grok Academy offers a number of features for students. However, the most important of these is the fact that Grok offers browser-based coding that allows students to access and complete exercises from any device and any location.

This means that students can learn to code at home as well. What’s more, Grok saves students’ progress between devices. This means they can start a problem at school and then finish it at home without losing any of their progress.

As a companion to the above, Grok also offers students interactive notes. These provide advice for completing each problem – as well as interactive code snippets that can be copied, edited, and run with just a few clicks. 

In addition to all this, Grok’s intelligent auto-marking system provides live feedback to students as they complete each activity in a course – giving breakdowns and feedback so students can improve their skills. 

As a bonus, it is worth mentioning Grok has a gamification system that awards students points and achievements for completing courses.

Similar to many points above, though, Grok is again not very unique in all these features.

While its auto-marking system does stand out a bit, other platforms like Zenva Schools equally offer students the same ability to work from home and self-pace themselves through the course. This is not to mention Zenva Schools also offers features like lesson notes that offer students different ways to learn the material.

We also want to mention that auto-marking systems are a double-edged sword. While helpful for self-pacing, it does take some control away from you as a teacher. So, depending on your teaching style, these may not mesh well.

Something worth reiterating as well is this in-browser sandbox environment isn’t always the best at teaching students real-world tools and skills. While it can be fantastic for certain Python activities or things like HTML and JavaScript, students miss out on a lot of topics, libraries, and tools that can better prepare them for jobs.

The above stated, these features do remain a helpful point for learning with Grok Academy.

Grok Academy Review 2022: Is Grok Worth It For Coding Students?

What Features Does Grok Academy Have For Teachers? 

For teachers, one of the primary features is DT@Home – a free collection of activities that don’t require access to a computer. These varied activities are aimed at not only providing extra variety for the classroom, but also giving teachers a different way to explain complicated concepts for less experienced coders.

Grok Academy also offers a number of professional development resources. Verified teachers can access Grok’s course library for free to develop their own coding and computing skills. In addition, Grok runs frequent webinars and in-person workshops for professional development, covering a wide variety of topics.

While helpful, this is one area where Grok does fall a bit short compared to other platforms.

For example, Zenva Schools offers teachers the ability to use their courses for professional development as well. However, this platform also offers a variety of other better-implemented teacher resources such as classroom management, student reports, multiple teacher access, and bonus activities to use in the classroom.

Thus, if you’re looking for something a bit easier to use for teachers, Grok Academy may not be the best choice – even if there are indeed good courses on the platform.

Conclusion: Is Grok Academy Worth It?

Overall, Grok Academy is an accomplished coding education platform with many teaching resources and handy features (like auto-marking). Its library of courses is impressive in terms of both the age ranges it caters to and the topics it explores.

Additionally, its direct relationship with the Digital Technologies curriculum makes it a very streamlined experience if you’re focused on meeting those curriculum standards specifically.

So, for Australian teachers at least, Grok Academy is a good resource to look into for your classroom.

With that said, it’s not the only option nor necessarily the best option. You should be sure to check out the many other online learning platforms before committing to Grok – especially if you want to focus on building job skills over just meeting curriculum standards.

For example, there’s Zenva Schools, which offers not only many of the same features discussed above, but a wider range of courses made by industry professionals with practical job skills for the future. It also comes with reporting features and various tools to make using the courses in the classroom easier than Grok does on the surface.

So, before committing, be sure to shop around. While Grok Academy is a good platform with an established brand, there are plenty out there for you to provide a good teaching experience for students!

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