What School Districts Can Learn from Google

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Google for Education event at the Google offices in Seattle.  At the end of the day they took us on a tour of the complex.  During the tour I couldn't help but think about how public education could take a cue from the way that Google creates an environment conducive to the work culture that it wants to promote.  Here, in no particular order are some of my "take-aways":

  1. Cultivate Identity--If you work at Google, you're called a "Googler".  Why couldn't a superintendent come up with a catch phrase to use when referring to employees at this or that district?  After all many teachers do this when referring to groups of students--they say "class" or "students" or some other name because they know that groups of people form an identity together that needs to be nurtured. The point is that it needs to be short and concise and when it is used it must represent the best ideals of the organization.
  2. The Physical Space Matters--Googlers work in open areas, but none are identical--some sit in chairs; others stand up.  There are micro-kitchens all over the place stocked with drinks and snacks, break spaces with foosball tables and massage chairs, creative collaboration areas as well as quiet closed off rooms for video conferencing.  I realize there are fiscal and procedural limitations on public sector organizations, but couldn't districts be a little more creative with the use of space? After all, when it comes to human behavior, people do behave differently depending on external environmental conditions.
  3. Make Life Easier for Employees--From the onsite cafeteria with free meals and easy access to a workout facility, it is obvious that Google cares about the health and well-being of its workers. As evidence, consider this claim on the benefits page of Google's jobs site, "Our benefits are part of who we are, and they’re designed to take care of the whole you and keep you healthy, whether physically, emotionally, financially or socially."  Teaching is a demanding job--the little conveniences matter immensely.  Why couldn't a district offer free child care to its mostly female workforce? Or at the very least provide free meals from the cafeteria? 

As the famed corporate consultant Peter Drucker once noted, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  If that's the case, most school districts could take a lesson from Google.  

Amazon to Disrupt Education Publishing Industry

I have been waiting for this ever since I began supporting the use of mobile devices in the classroom 4 years ago. I have always believed that the only company with the clout and wherewithal to change the broken educational content purchasing model is Amazon.  Well, after a recent meeting with employees in the Kindle Education division, I can say with confidence that the game is changing.


There are two reasons for my excitement.  The first is that Amazon is negotiating contracts with publishers so that schools can apply their traditional print purchase model to electronic content. What this means is districts will be able to redistribute the same licenses to different students year after year.  You know, just like the way schools have traditionally assigned textbooks to students as they advance through the system.

The second reason is WhisperCast.  Not to be confused with WhisperSync (the technology that enables you to pick up where you left off reading on different devices), WhisperCast is a digital platform similar to a mobile device management tool (MDM) that allows institutions to purchase and distribute digital content in bulk.  Originally created by Amazon for internal use by a private company, Amazon is making it available to schools for free. While still in its infancy, they are committed to improving it with enhancements such as Active Directory integration.

At long last, the electronic content revolution can finally begin in earnest in education.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree that Amazon is perhaps the only company with the clout to disrupt the education publishing industry?

I'm a Certified Google Educator!

Since the start of this year I've been periodically taking the required exams to become a Google Educator.  Last week, I finally achieved the goal by passing the 5th and final exam.  Actually, I passed a week earlier, but because I was over the 90 day limit (you must pass your last exam within 90 days of taking the first one), I had to retake the first two that I had taken in late January and early February.  A little annoying for sure, but I didn't let it stop me.  

In case you want to go for it, you should know that it's 15 bucks per exam and you have 90 minutes to finish the 60 question quiz once you start.  Honestly, I probably knew 60% of the answers off the top of my head, but the other 40 % I ended up doing a simple web search to find the answers.  I completed most of the exams in 60-70 minutes and passed them with 90% accuracy.  Head over to the Google for Education site at http://google.com/edu to learn more.

In addition to the Google Educator certification, I submitted my application to become a Google Education Trainer as well. I should find out in early June, so stay tuned!