Thursday, August 6, 2009
Yesterday, I got to be a Googler for the day. I attended the 2009 Google Teacher Academy which was held in Boulder, Colorado this year. Corporate culture at Google is unlike any other company in the world. As soon as I entered their office I new this: an eight foot bouldering wall dominated one corner of the main floor. The other areas were filled with video games, a pool table, and a gigantic bean bag chair. Six flat screen TV's were mounted on the circular walls to keep the Googlers updated on anything and everything. The familiar Google colors: red, blue, green, and yellow were everywhere.
52 educators from the US and Canada gathered in the upper level of the Boulder office in front of a large wall on which dual images were projected. Less than 150 ft. away (Google Policy) was a "micro" kitchen. After being treated to a breakfast of fresh fruit, waffles, and great coffee, we got started. In the morning session we learned about some of the advanced search features Google offers (Squared, Similar Image, Timeline), and then learned more about the Google Apps for Education program.
After a short break we split into three groups for breakout session including Google Docs, Sites, and "others" (calendar, iGoogle). I learned lots of new features on each of these that I will share in a separate post.
One of the best parts of the day was the tour of the Google Office by two employees. The Boulder office is primarily dedicated to Google Sketchup and the 3D warehouse (repository for 3D buildings in Google Earth). During the tour I experience first hand how Google has designed their office buildings to maximize collaboration and innovation. The Googlers are groups into clusters of four desks which face inward for easy discussion. Each employee receives two 16" or one 30" flat screen monitor to maximize productivity, and, again, no one is ever more than 150 ft. away from food! The Googlers are undoubtedly one of the most creative teams ever assembled. One of the best features of the Boulder office is a large deck with picnic tables overlooking the mountains. Can't beat it! One of the Googlers who gave us the tour unashamedly told us that all of the perks that Google offers them (three meals a day, video games, flex time, etc) is all a ploy to get them to work more. According to him, their strategy is working!
After lunch we dove back in with a session on integrating Google Apps, Moodle, and Mahara. Still under development, the integration of these three products is still a bit shaky, but promising none the less.
One of the most exciting presentations of the day was delivered by Googler Ronald Ho who is the project manager for Spreadsheets, Google's version of MS Excel. He showed us how to automatically fill in cells with data, and create a moving chart or word cloud based on data. Each of these deserves a post of their own, so stay tuned!
Another round of breakout sessions brought together the Geo Apps produced by Google: Sketchup, Google Earth, and Maps. Sketchup is an exciting 3D modeling program that has lots of great applications. I am thinking about having my biology students use it to model cells this year. Jerome Burg demonstrated his use of Google Earth in teaching literature through his Lit Trips. This is an absolutely fascinating application of Google Earth. I highly recommend that you check it out. Kern Kelly demonstrated his use of Google Maps and demoed a brand new technology called Augmented Reality (AR). This new technology will quickly become unbelievably useful!
Our final session featured a new search curriculum being designed to help educate students in essential skills of the 21st century. I was encouraged to train my students to become better consumers of information.
Our final activity was a time of reflection in which we discussed in small groups about our biggest "aha moment" of the day. Unquestionably, it was the theme of collaboration and problem solving that permeates Google's products and corporate culture. No longer is obtaining information the characteristic of a intelligent individual; The internet has made obtaining information easy. It's what we do with that information that makes all the difference. Google's products are designed to make the analysis and synthesis of information easy through collaboration.
I certainly enjoyed my day at the GTA. I was with a great group and hosted by a great company. This is certainly not the last you will hear about the things I learned, it's just the beginning!