When you find yourself in the majority,
it’s time to join the minority
I have to admit, Google is pretty impressive. The whole set of features that are offered to the public and to educators for free is pretty astounding: email, document creation and curation, co-editing and sharing, websites, blogs, automated tasking—and the list goes on for quite a while; enough that I need to sit and think more deeply about why I am not ready or willing to cast my hook, line, and sinker into the Google pond (I mean, sea). Maybe because I feel like I am the bait; and that ultimately Google wants to dangle me with all my needs, wants, inclinations, and aspirations cyphered out of my online actions in front of targeted ads purveyed by modern day hucksters and predators.
But, I admit, too, that I would rather see ads for sailboats, Martin guitars, and band saws than to have my screen splattered with sneaky pop-ups and self-starting videos for products I have absolutely no interest in consuming, buying, or considering. Hence, my conundrum: a conundrum that needs a timely resolution if I am to keep my sanity as a teacher and start that cycle of doing, tweaking, and assessing my curriculum on this, my first day of summer break:)
Google offers the promise of being a complete paperless solution to education and even to managing entire curriculums. I have been a “paperless” teacher of ten years, and though I am by no means an expert, I have certainly tried just about every solution out there to try and make the paperless classroom an efficient and effective model—and bless my students who have been the proving grounds of my experiments. To paraphrase Thoreau in the conclusion of Walden: I have learned at least this much by my experience.
Students want and need clarity, accessibility, feedback and consistency in and out of the classroom; moreover, (though few outright say this) they want inspiration, accomplishment and a sense of purpose. They want to make progress and see and feel that progress every day; otherwise, school is just a series of static experiences and chunks of learning that seem like whims of fate instead of purposeful and directed learning. Somehow it is incumbent on us as teachers to provide a simple, yet comprehensive solution to this reality. Maybe going all Google is an obvious choice—and I guess it is as so many school districts are going that way—but…
The problem is that there is an inherent contradiction in being both simple and encompassing, yet that is what we have to do if we want live and teach in a dynamic paperless environment. With every bit of functionality added to a system there is also an added complexity to the experience, and if we add competing approaches the puddle is muddied even more.
And that is my conundrum. I don’t want to be the outlier operating on the fringes and constantly pushing the envelope, while at the same time I also feel the need to keep forging ahead and provide the most amazing learning experience for my students that has the clarity, ease of accessibility, timely and thorough feedback, and a consistent approach that is inspiring and gives students and teachers a way to be constantly moving forward in an enlightened and engaging way. For teachers just wading in to this new frontier Google must seem like just that: an amazing tool for accomplishing all of these goals, and it can be—I just don’t want it to be imposed as “the solution,” especially when there are other solutions out there, or soon to be out there, that might possibly serve our needs even more productively and effectively.
I have an inherent fear, whetted by experience, of being “locked in” to a single approach and system. I fear that by loading all of my eggs in the basket of Google that I could lose the inertia that keeps me going; that I will be forced to make my professional academic life a series of compromises much like when all we could use was the Microsoft Office suite of tools where what was once amazing became limiting and, at times, almost archaic. With Google I fear not only the potential for stagnation, but also the fear of millions of unwitting students, schools and entire families becoming part and parcel of a single company’s complex algorithms and digital profiles to be used at their discretion in ways we ultimately will have no control over modifying or controlling.
Individuals and schools need a way to control their own destinies in line with their missions to teach, learn, and/or foster a safe and compelling academic experience for everyone. A school should not become a massive tanker filled with crude oil unable to change course when shoals suddenly appear in front of the ship, nor should a school be unwilling or unable to head to a better and more expansive port. For me, Google feels like that overladen ship in which the lives of our students could become entombed at worst and ultimately hindered at best.
For many years I was the woodshop teacher at my school. It was (and still is) an awesome woodshop out of which were carried thousands of unique and creative projects designed and built by students of diverse abilities and inclinations. This was possible because I was always able to find the right tools to do the right job, not because I had a single toolbox of tools, jigs, and templates. I was always able to shift, reconfigure, and rethink what was needed in the moment. Now, as a teacher of writing and reading, I want the same ability to change and adapt as needs and desires present themselves. I just don’t see that happening if everything needs to be a Google doc, spreadsheet, or presentation; if every video needs to be a youtube video; if every collaboration needs to be in a Google group, and if every click on the screen is recorded into a massive database of user information to be potentially used for future marketing purposes.
Going Google is not a dream. It is a reality being embraced by millions. A solution, yes; an answer, no.
Right now, I prefer to be in the minority.