Google wants schools to use its products, but more than that, it wants to ensure they use them in the right way.
Which is why today, the search giant kicked off an international web conference called Education on Air, which will convene some 43,000 educators from 12 different countries over the course of the next two days. The conference, which is completely virtual, aims to help educators understand not just how to use Googleâ€™s devices and apps, but also how those devices and apps can be used to achieve specific educational goals.
The two-day event features sessions led by teachers, researchers, students, school system administrators, and even an appearance by LeVar Burton, former host of Reading Rainbow. The session topics range from how to use Google Docs to improve the writing process to how to visualize data with My Maps, and all 110 of them were suggested by teachers.
The goal, according to Googleâ€™s chief education evangelist Jaime Casap, is to ensure that educators see technology in the classroom as a means to an end and not the end itself. â€œGoogle would be involved education whether we liked it or not,â€ Casap says. â€œPart of our mission now is to do our best to make sure our tools are being utilized in the best way possible.â€
Strange as it may seem, this is not always the first step that tech companies take when they begin engaging with schools. Too often, the conversation begins with a discussion about how many devices are needed and how much those devices will cost, rather than how those devices will be used. Itâ€™s that type of thinking that experts say played a big role in the failed rollout of iPads loaded with Pearson curriculum in Los Angeles public schools. Google, however, is trying a different approach.
â€œMy impression is that since Google isnâ€™t really a hardware company, when they come to your district, theyâ€™re talking a lot about the learning and what youâ€™re trying to do with these tools and devices,â€ says Michael Horn, who studies education technology at the Clay Christensen Institute. â€œItâ€™s a different starting point.â€
And yet, that approach seems to have a positive impact on Googleâ€™s bottom line, nonetheless. According to research firm IDC, in 2014, Chromebooks were the best-selling devices in schools. But Casap insists that selling more Chromebooks isnâ€™t the focus of the conference. In fact, he says it doesnâ€™t much matter which devices schools use, because Googleâ€™s Apps for Education work with any device. â€œI like to think that a great student outcome is like a great architectural building,â€ he says. â€œWhen you look at a great building, you never ask what kind of wrenches they used to build it.â€
Still, the fact that so many schools around the world are, in fact, using Googleâ€™s set of tools means that the company now has a serious responsibility to ensure those tools enhance, instead of inhibit, teachersâ€™ ability to teach. By working closely with teachers and helping them connect with each other, Google is proving that it takes that responsibility seriously.
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Article source: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/google-education-conference/