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How Google Has Changed the Classroom in Just Five Years

Google is to students today what notebook paper was to the children of generations past. Sure, students still have notebook paper, but today’s school children are more likely to reach for a Chromebook than a notebook for taking notes in class.

In the short time span of just five years, Google has risen to the forefront of America’s school classrooms as an educational giant. An expansive piece in The New York Times shines a light on this educational shift, laying out a question both educators and parents are wrestling with: are schools turning out “knowledgeable citizens or skilled workers?”

Ask any public elementary or secondary school student what computer they use at school, and there’s a 50 percent chance they’ll be using Chromebooks and Google Docs to compose their homework assignments. More than 30 million school children use Chromebooks and Google’s education apps -- providing Google with a solid customer base for years to come.

The stripped-down laptop might not be a practical device for many people, but its lightweight operating system makes it ideal for K-12 students. It was this “basic” approach -- and cost of around $200 -- that helped push the Chromebook ahead of hot tablets like the iPad. Kan Liu, who oversees Chromebooks at Google, told The Associated Press, that the swift rise in the classroom caught the company by surprise.  

The company makes $30 selling management services for each of its Chromebooks in schools and in turn gets a user that by the time they hit adulthood has a decade of Google-use under their belt. And once those students graduate high school, Google makes it easy for them to upload all their school Gmail and Docs to a regular consumer account.

This has some parents concerned about how Google could be using the information from a student’s school email to boost its marketing strategy. “My concern is that they are working on developing a profile of this child that, when they hit maturity, they are able to create a better profile,” David Barsotti, an information technology project manager and parent said. Google has declined to reveal an exact breakdown of the data it collects from its student-used services.

Google’s rise to power in the American classroom is also reflected in how much educators like having Chromebooks around, when compared with the competition. In a survey conducted by Education Week, 42 percent of educators chose the Chromebook as their preferred school-provided tech tool in the classroom. The next most popular choice, PC laptops only received 14 percent.

Educators seem to want technology that will improve instruction without being overwhelming, according to Larry Singer, CEO of Open Up Resources, a provider of openly licensed K-12 materials. “Something simple that fits into the existing model has a much better chance of being adopted than something complex.”

It’s been this simple approach that has pushed Google to the top and left companies like Microsoft with its new introduction of Windows 10S, scrambling to catch up.

The other issue that has some questioning the swell in Google’s popularity in the classroom is the impact on teaching and how students learn. There’s the argument that it’s trading the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like a math formula for teaching children problem-solving skills and leaving children dependent on a tech company for the answers.

In the Times piece, Jonathan Rochelle, director of Google’s education apps and parent of two, defended this notion at a conference last year, saying “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

This issue has been confronted before under the notion that relying on Google to do even the most menial task, gives our brains an easy way out. Psychology studies have found that when it comes to memory, the act of generating a word’s spelling in your mind strengthens your capacity to remember it. The wonderfully convenient tool of Autocorrect removes that exercise from our brains.

Learning what a quadratic equation is and how to use it might take a little longer than relying on Google, but it’s also going to result in a stronger brain in the long run.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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