The answer to a question no one asked

The answer to a question no one asked

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Here is an e-mail that I sent out just a few minutes ago to the team that is helping to decide the fate of Google Apps for Education in our district. Please comment as you see fit:

Something that came up in our meeting today has stayed with me all night and really got me thinking about the purpose of our work toward using any collaborative suite within DCSD. It was the simply asked as “What was the question that Google Apps is the answer to?” Or, to put it another way, is there a need (stated or unstated) that exists for this toolset, or are we simply introducing an unnecessary complication to the process of our overall strategy.

It is clear to me that there isn’t a mass of people people clamoring for synchronous collaborative tools. It isn’t exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue in our district, and in many ways, I believe that many people would say that there are lower hanging fruit or “bigger fish to fry.” Even in many of the needs assessments that have been conducted for Project Click [our overall strategy for leveraging technology for all stakeholders in our district], the synchronous editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations hasn’t been overwhelming. So, if the need doesn’t exist (or if the need is only voiced by “power users”), of what value is pushing forward with a rollout (whether in a few months or much later)?

It is my belief that the toolset that Google Apps provides is in the cliched quadrant that exists where many users “don’t know what they don’t know”. The reason why the specific question of “how do I write a document with other people at the same time” hasn’t been asked by many people, is that they don’t know that it is a possibility, or that they haven’t seen how it can shift learning.

So, my guess is that the questions that Google Apps (or some other collaborative suite) is an answer to are as follows:

  1. How do I maximize a small number of computers or short times on those computers so that all kids/adults can participate on a single project?
  2. How do I plan a unit’s worth of lessons (or do create a grant proposal, or outline job responsibilities) with the person down the hall (and in another school) in the hour before I have to teach the first lesson (or give the presentation, or submit a recommendation)?
  3. How can I avoid sitting through 120 presentations on a given topic without resorting to group work without individual responsibility?
  4. How can I make commenting, peer review, and reflection an integral part of the writing process?
  5. How can I better conduct action research on the fly with others in an easy place to keep track of it?

These are questions I have heard and questions that I have had. For each of them, Google Apps has been “an” answer. This does not mean that we won’t hear the specific needs request for all of the tools that Google Apps has to offer, but I believe that we are more likely to hear things like this that really speak to needs of pedagogy or process. They speak to a lack of knowledge for what exists, but a willingness to find out more.

Perhaps it took until today for me to figure out that the use of a Google Apps for Education domain (or a like-tool) is not meant to be a stop-gap at all. It isn’t really meant to be for the current needs of our district. It is meant to reach for the future needs of our community. It can be used to answer the questions that we haven’t been able to provide answers for, yet.

Anyway, this is what I have been thinking about tonight. Thoughts?

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  1. Barbara Hendrick

    I have been thinking about this very thing since the last time we ran into each other in Starbucks. It was the topic of our conversation then and continues to be the foremost thought on my mind. So why do I keep going back to it? Well, for the very reasons you’ve stated. Maybe most importantly, that it’s not a stop-gap but a progressive and efficient way to address future needs. I like the way you think.

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