Home > Uncategorized > Google Making Inroads in Inequity, Innovation, and Instruction… AND Making Profits…

Google Making Inroads in Inequity, Innovation, and Instruction… AND Making Profits…

I remember the first time I came in contact with Google. I was working as Superintendent in the late 1990s in an Upstate NY district and had recently hired a Director of Technology to a position I created in order to coordinate our efforts to move ahead in that area. The newly minted administrator came into my office and asked me to enter one word next to the cursor that was blinking on the screen of my terminal… a word he spelled out for me: “G-O-O-G-L-E”. A message box appeared on my screen. He then asked me to type in a question or a phrase. Because we were both Red Sox fans in Yankee territory I typed in the words “Boston Red Sox”… and a series of links to articles about the Boston Red Sox appeared on the screen. We both spent the next half-hour using Google to help us find all kinds of arcane information from journals and periodicals on the web… and since both of us had earned doctoral degrees in the mid 1970s we could immediately see that the world of research was going to change and began forecasting how this kind of rapid access to information could transform schooling.

It’s taken nearly two decades to have some the ideas we came up with come into being… but based on Natasha Singer’s article in today’s NYTimes it appears that Google IS transforming public education and teachers and administrators are making that transformation happen… and the transformation is making it conceivable that despite the lack of an equitable technology infrastructure (roughly 20% of students do not have access to high speed internet in their homes) and despite concerns about data privacy and despite budget challenges, Google is finding a way to meaningfully integrate technology into the classroom.

The article describes how Google circumvented administrative and political roadblocks by working directly with tech savvy teachers and technology directors, providing them with free apps and tools for their schools and classrooms. Those teachers, in turn, recruited colleagues and administrators to use Google applications instead of those clunkier and costlier ones made by Microsoft.

The real breakthrough for Google occurred only five years ago: the Chromebook.

By then, Google had developed a simplified, low-cost laptop called the Chromebook. It ran on Google’s Chrome operating system and revolved largely around web apps, making it cheaper and often faster to boot up than traditional laptops loaded with locally stored software.

Although Google had a business audience in mind for Chromebooks, reviewers complained that the devices were of limited use without internet access.

But there was one interested audience: public schools. In the fall of 2011, Google invited school administrators to its Chicago office to meet (Google’s “evangelist”) Jamie Casap, hoping to interest them in Chromebooks.

Mr. Casap didn’t talk tech specs. Instead, he held the audience spellbound as he described the challenges he had faced as a Latino student growing up on welfare in a tough Manhattan neighborhood.

His message: Education is the great equalizer, and technology breaks down barriers between rich and poor students.

Some critics, me included, would caution against technology as a means of providing the equalizing effect because of disparities in internet access… but Google was aware of that reality and had an answer:

Google was already working on offline capabilities, Mr. Casap said, and ultimately modified its education apps so that students could take their work home on Chromebooks, then upload homework the next day using school Wi-Fi.

Indeed, based on Ms. Singer’s account, one of Google’s greatest attributes was its willingness to listen to concerns of educators and adapt accordingly. Based on her account, Google’s “build-it-first-and-tweak-it-later culture” has adapted to the “bureaucratic school districts with student-protection rules to uphold” and has now understood that before launching a major change it needs to be mindful of the way democratic organizations like school districts function.

The marked increase in the use of technology is remarkable… Now comes the tough change: can the gurus who developed the software making it possible to individualize instruction unlock the age-based grade levels that prevent educators from meeting the unique needs of each child because they must ensure that age cohorts progress in lockstep? Stated differently, can they break the stranglehold of standardized testing that grips the mindsets of politicians from school board members to the USDOE? Here’s hoping they can help launch a grassroots effort among parents in the same way they did among teachers.

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