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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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October132006

What’s Up With Google For Teachers?

Did you hear the latest news from Google? No, not that YouTube thing. They’ve launched a new initiative especially for teachers. But is there much to get excited about yet?

On Wednesday, Google premiered Google for Educators, a new initiative to help educators make the most out of Google’s products and services. Announcing the program on the official Google blog, Cristin Frodella writes:

We’ve been hearing about some pretty cool assignments from classrooms across the U.S. where teachers at all grade levels are using Google products to bring history lessons to life, illuminate new sources of information, and encourage sharing and collaboration. What we’ve also heard loud and clear is that teachers want more information about using Google products, and more connections to other educators who are using the web creatively.

The Google for Educators website includes links to a dozen different Google tools, each one presented with some educational context. On the whole, though, the collection is somewhat shallow in its current form. For example, the information provided about their popular Blogger.com service is pretty thin on the ground, containing just a few promotional paragraphs like these:

As a teacher, Blogger can help you stay connected to your students, their parents, and the rest of the school. With Blogger you can update parents about their children’s progress and keep them posted on upcoming events; publish a class or school newsletter; share photos and student work; post course documents, projects and results; and easily assign collaborative group projects online with an easy way to track students’ progress. Students can use Blogger to communicate ideas, photos and class notes, improve their writing skills, and even jump right into web publishing without having to learn HTML. Free blogs, accessible from any computer that’s connected to the Internet, can help students easily create hubs for collecting information for both long and short-term projects; store information as unpublished drafts; collect feedback on their work from classmates, teachers and parents; and take on collaborative projects where multiple students can work and comment.

From here, they offer a link to their standard Learn More About Blogger and three outside resources, including the useful eMints teaching tips on blogging. Apart from that, there’s nothing really here that specifically tailored for education. I was expecting something like An Educator’s Guide to Using Blogger, but instead I got an extremely collection of resources that most teachers could have easily found without Google’s assistance. And unfortunately, the 11 other products promoted on the site don’t have much more meat to them either.

So far, the initiative hasn’t exactly started a firestorm of discussion in the educational blogosphere, but a handful of educators are talking about it. Wesley Fryer writes about one part of the initiative, a Google group for teachers. I was about to call it a discussion group, but as Wes writes, that’s hardly the case.

It’s great to see Google starting to offer more specifically for educators. Their “Google For Educators” page includes a variety of links not only to Google tools, but also a link to join the “Google Teacher Center” Google group. It looks like the group will be “read-only” to members, and Google will use this as way to share education-related announcements.

Julie Lindsay, an online colleague of mine who teaches at an international school in Bangladesh, writes about another aspect of the initiative, a one-day training camp that’s taking place in northern California.

To be honest I am a little surprised. Google are starting to really take off with Web2.0 tools and are leading the way in many respects with digital literacy and flexibility of classroom facilities, so why run a ‘have to be there in person’, [face-to-face] pilot? Where is the global perspective? I would love to know if Google will broaden this to include international educators and if they have plans to run online sessions. Once again, as an international educator I am left out of the loop…well actually in this case all educators except those in Northern California are left out.

My guess is that other educational bloggers will have similar reactions. Not unlike the Google Literacy project launched the previous week, Google for Educators seems more like a promotional stunt, lacking in any new resources tailored for educators. Given Google’s superpower strength in the Web 2.0 universe, one might expect them to focus their resources a bit more on developing tools and services that teachers and students could really use. I’m holding out hope that these projects will evolve into something bigger, more meaningful and more engaging. Until then, I wonder if educators will see this as more as a half-hearted dog-and-pony show rather than a leap forward for interactive learning. -andy

Filed under : Websites

Responses

I honestly think Google starts most of their Google Labs projects off in this way and blogged about this myself. I think they are looking for some feel-good inspirational stories to flesh it out but have a hard time understanding why they couldn’t have collected some feature material first and some concrete suggestions or articles. Heck, the educational technology blogging community could have written them for them! I also don’t understand why they didn’t link up to the Infinite Thinking blog which plans to do just that and is also apparently a Google-funded project. The lack of forethought on MANY Google initiatives is astonishing… you almost have to accept that they are simply attempting to extend their “open” model of corporate culture into their product development. This costs them a lot of steam on Google-initiated projects (as opposed to ones they buy up already created).

Take Google Chat. It’s down 50% of the time. Or Blogger’s continued inability to parse object embedding code for YouTube or even Google Video streams. For all they do so right, it’s odd to see them “lean into” these projects so little at the starting gate.

I was asked to help publicize the one-day pilot of “Google Teachers Academy” in Northern California. I was literally shocked at the number of responses I got from all over the country—and the worl—from people asking: when will Google do this in our area?

I’ve been thinking about the response would be so strong, and I’ve concluded that Google has at least three things really going for them.

First, they are a trusted name in the web arena, which means a lot. They are trusted because they provide services which are free to use and work well. And they are trusted because they seem to have a genuine desire to make a difference with their success.

Second, their product are generally simple to use. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use them, but you feel that you are on the cutting edge. Teachers have so much that they have to juggle already that it must feel great to find technology that helps in practical ways and is simple to use.

Third, Google has staying power. They don’t have to start out providing the best of all services, because they have the resources to stick around and keep working at it until they do.

I think it’s likely that we’ll see a lot more of Google in the education world.

I have no doubt about google’s staying power, nor its popularity among educators. Which is why I’m still puzzled why they didn’t take a more ambitious approach with this launch. Doing real-world events, so why not launch with real-world events in 100 cities? Or tap into a Meetup-like tool to get educators together talking about the role of Google in education? It just seemed a little rushed to me….

I was a little surprised that Google didn’t do more with online learning programs that more people would be able to join in with. I would love to listen to podcasts, see an online tutorial, or be part of a blog that talked about how people are using the Google resources in their classrooms.

TeacherSource is one of the best resources for teachers out there.
If Google were to partner with the excellence provided by TeacherSource, teachers and teacher candidates would have the best educational sources at their fingertips. TeacherSource offers video clips ordinary people who do or have done extraordinary achievements. There are primary documents, photos, books, and lessons. It is the resource I have seen online. Often the resources are in conjunction with programming offered on PBS stations. Teachers can videotape programming and have accompanying resources including art, glossaries, personal autobiographies, historical accounts, photos, etc.

…. and I’m sure my handlers here at PBS appreciate the kind words. Where should we send the gratuity? :-)

I really think that Google needs to hire some teachers to get the ball rolling. They have the product line-up to get things going, now they just need to create valuable ways to implement it into the classroom. I know where I’m applying for my next job:)

John
http://www.monomachines.com

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