Google had a keynote of epic length earlier in the week where they outlined plans for their platforms over the next 6-12 months. Tons of bullet points, lots of promise, though if last year is any indication, most of their hopes and dreams won't play out like they wanted. Deep within the 3h 25min feature film was 6 minutes about captial E Education. If you cue up the full keynote, the education part runs from 1:14:00-1:20:00.

In the brief section they outline a problem they encountered: teachers find there is a gap between what technology is capable of and what is practical for school environments. Google sees this as an opportunity to help them out. Their solution has two main ideas: fast deployment, and curated content.

The Promise

From Google Play for Education:

After finding apps they want to use, educators can push them instantly to student devices over the air. They can send the apps to individuals or groups of any size, across classrooms, schools, or even districts.

In the keynote video, there is a short sequence where an app is located via desktop browser, a Google account group is specified, funds are deducted as necessary from a district account, and the app is marked for deployment to the specified account group. Details are fuzzy on how this will look in practice. The implication is that student devices signed in to a privledged account will be pushed new content all at once. Should this work out, it would definitely beat the current way to get an iPad up and running. Apple has tools for mass deployment, but it's really intended for corporations, you have to have a business level iTunes account. It is not friendly to a situation where the teacher is seen as the primary maintenance person.

Second, they hint at a special section of the Google Play store with curated education content:

With Google Play for Education, teachers and administrators will be able to browse content by curriculum, grade, and standard — discovering the right content at the right time for their students. If your app offers an exciting new way to learn sixth grade algebra, we'll make it easy for math educators to find, purchase, and distribute your app to their classes.

I'm not sure if this is going to have the desired effect. Curated lists of "great education apps" are numerous. A search for "education iPad apps" yields a ton of "Top 12 Must Have..." or "20 Apps Teachers Can't Live Without" articles. Plus, Apple even carved out a chunk of their store for iTunes U to give us...hundreds of videos of lectures?

The Practicality

Google's first issue is one I hope they solve and Apple notices. Distribution and deployment should not be as difficult as it is currently. iPads are not what I would consider difficult to get up and running, but I'm a guy with an engineering degree who has played with computers since I was 8. Half the problem is absolute techno-phobia/indifference in your average classroom teacher. It's no different than a problem math student. A solution with more than one step is an instant "no way, that's too much mister." Should Google succeed in making it easier for an individual teacher to get something up and running, good for them.

The huge huge elephant in the room here is that at no point during the 6 minute presentation was there word one about monitoring the quality of technology based instruction. If you look under the Get Started section of their Educator Program, there are no guidelines about what teachers will be reviewing these things, how quality is determined, or provide a single sample use case for an aspiring developer. There seemed to be no focus on use cases in the Education Store screenshots either, just showing it as a nicely designed app directory.

The Problem

This scenario seems to be continued lip service to education without providing a single example of what they think a good education scenario looks like. Unfortunately, educators/administrators will buy what they're selling because a) technology stuff is hard b) Google and Apple are smart, they must know what they're doing.

But they don't!

Google's scenario will continue the idea that magical, wonderful education technology can be found with a magic bullet app. In their keynote, the presenter mentioned 550 different apps were used in their two pilot schools. 550! How do you build lasting routines like that? How do you expect a strapped school staff to manage that? What in the world is significant about 550 apps other than being a really big number that you can impress people with during a keynote?

Apple's official party line isn't any better. iBooks Author supports the notion that digital textbooks with embedded video are the answer. iTunes U supports the notion that there's nothing wrong with the current structure of college lectures, and that the world will be better served by getting to sit in a boring class for free. In March of this year, Apple published a very well made video about a high school in Boston that went 1:1 iPad. Take the time to watch it and see if you can find what is revolutionary about any of the activites done by those students. They are able to create some movies, ok. But...they take notes...digitally. They read a textbook...digitally. In one scene, a teacher projects something from a 90s era overhead and a student takes a picture of it.

Google set out on this mission because "when I go visit my kids' classroom it looks pretty much like it did when I went to school." But what are they really doing about it that isn't just a new coat of paint?


AuthorJonathan Claydon