Friday, May 21, 2010

What Would Google Do?

I recently read a book by Jeff Jarvis called, "What Would Google Do?" . I found it fascinating as previously I really didn't quite get how people got paid for posting amazing/ridiculous content on the web. (As it turns out, according to Sturgeon's Law as stated in "Crowdsourcing" (Howe), 90% of what is on the web is crap, which implies that 10% is great and hopefully these are the people who are getting paid!) After reading Jarvis' book I understand why Google is so successful at what they do. They are a purely democratic search engine that lists pages according to their popularity. Google uses a program called "pagerank" that puts your post or page at the top depending on the amount of "Googlejuice" it receives. If it receives a lot of Googlejuice, they will put advertising on it and you're in the money!

How Google operates as a company closely reflects what is going on in the world of business, social networking, entertainment, etc. Jarvis says, "We live in a new society built on connections, links, transparency, openness, publicness, listening, trust, wisdom, efficiency, markets, niches, platforms, networks, speed and abundance." I easily see a connection between these concepts and how schools should look at the world of teaching and learning. I believe that this book is a must read for all educators, as are books like Wikinomics, Here Comes Everybody , and The World is Flat.

Here are some of the major ideas put forth by the author and their implications for education:

1. "Give people control and they will use it" Jarvis points out that Google's success is largely based on the fact that they are purely a democratic data manager. They don't meddle with controlling the data or charging people for it.

It seems to me that traditional education is all about control by the teacher over the students. Self-direction and self-assessment are things that teachers struggle with. We have classes of 25-30 students and have trouble finding a way to let them loose and learn. The other day I was trying to facilitate a learning activity involving microscopes and the internet. We were looking at slides of microorganisms and also looking on the internet for video of the same organisms, all of them moving, reproducing, eating, living creatures. Our board has blocked both Google Video and Youtube. I was momentarily livid until I found a way around it. Seems to me to be a controlling, fearful, mistrustful approach to internet access for learners. Many of our school boards seem to be struggling with the balance between control and free access to information.

Administrators will point at the few who abuse a more open (if not free) access to information. Which brings up another of Jarvis' great ideas/quotes! He says, "Interactivity has it's limitations. Some people are simply wrong, others are asses. Some need their meds. But don't let them ruin the party." I liken it to teachers who make their class miss their P.E. class because two boys were restless and noisy in class. We need to teach students how to assess and use technology

2. "There is an inverse relationship between control and trust"

Jarvis talks about how Yahoo was more controlling and proprietary about their software than Google. Google has got the lion's share of web search traffic as a result.

The more control administrators and teachers have over students, the less the two groups trust one another. If I let my kids have control over what they want to learn, how they learn it and how they communicate their learning, trust between us should grow. When school administrators block the use of web 2.0 tools they exert a control over teachers and students which is far from empowering.

3. "Collaboration and social networking is here to stay"

Jarvis gives several examples of social networking that illustrate the power of collaboration and social networking. He talks about "meetup", a site designed for people to meet and share common interests. One of the most prolific groups was a group of witches! What a great example of the internet empowering and legitimizing otherwise fringe groups.

Another example is when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was in art school. He didn't attend class and was approaching the time of the final art exam. He created a collaborative document with some photos of all the artists' works covered in the course. He included a text box under the art as a place fellow students could put study notes and circulated it amongst them as a collaborative study guide. Everyone added their notes and he passed the course without even attending class. Zuckerberg was asked how others could build a similar collaborative app. He coyly replied, "You can't." The interviewer persisted, and asked Zuckerberg why his application (Facebook) was so successful, he said, "Elegant organization."

Surely, schools can build on the strengths of many. Lesson plans and ideas need not be proprietary any more. If the entire M.I.T. curriculum (including exams and answers) is on-line, why do we cling to the old idea that what we create is ours and better than what we could build in community. Many forms of collaborative documents are available for us to use and to build solid communities of practice. We also shouldn't have to attend meetings to collaborate!

4. "The world is made up of niche markets, not primarily content or mass markets"

There will still be a place for GM where cars are mass produced. The internet has enabled niche markets to flourish like never before (as outlined in "The Long Tail", Anderson).

For educators, we should be encouraging our students to discover their interests and not be so curriculum bound. The world is enabling niches to flourish, are we in our schools?

5. "Customer service is a key component in the survival and success of modern businesses"

We live in a world where "your worst customer is your best friend". Jarvis gives an example where he complained about Dell computers on his blog and ended up getting quite a good response from Dell. He gives many examples of companies who have VP's searching blogs for the name of their companies so that they can respond to their concerns. The internet has given consumers much greater power to communicate with companies. Customer service is changed forever.

Are schools in touch with what their communities are saying? Surely, communities are talking about what happens in your school. Are we inviting criticism, providing good customer service, adapting curricula and welcoming collaboration? I think we could do a lot more along these lines. Schools seem to think we are not a business: because we are professionals, we pay more attention to our colleagues than to our customers.

6. "People are motivated by having creative input in a company and need to be given time for it"

Jarvis talked about Google having "Fedex Days" one day a week where employees were allowed to work an entire day to create something of their own. They are allowed control and freedom to create something and expected to share with fellow employees. Fedex days has resulted in products like Googlemail and Orkut. Other companies like 3M produced "postitnotes" in the same way.

Perhaps educators should follow Goggle's lead and give learners 20% Fedex time! Do we make time for students to follow their own creative passions and create something unique in our classrooms?

7. This is an "era of magnificent upheaval- rethink, reimagine and reinvent"

What a great time to be alive! So many things are changing, so many things possible. The internet is the may be the most significant invention since movable type and the "Gutenburg Press". Companies like Google and many others are creating and/or adapting in a fantastic time of sweeping change.

Are educators realizing that we are in an era of magnificent upheaval? Are we rethinking, reimagining, and reinventing?

We should be!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Tim! I really enjoyed reading your summary of Jarvis' book. It is important to encourage thoughtful reflection around established classroom practices and healthy discussion with colleagues around all of the topics you raised. This is an exciting time to be an educator and your staff is fortunate to benefit from your professional learning and leadership.