2016 AC Day 2: Google’s Chief Education Evangelist Outlines Our Calling to Reimagine Education

By Ari Pinkus posted 02-28-2016 01:02 PM


Google’s Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap pushed educators to throw out the old norms and models of education and embrace the new digital, iterative normal. Today’s technology is a catalyst for creating real student-centric education that’s grounded in 100+ years of research about how we learn best.

How the Pace of Technological Change Has Changed Our Expectations

Technology has advanced at warp speed and expectations have changed as a result. Jaime reflected on buying his first iPhone in San Francisco nine years ago, and asked us to consider how we managed with older technology. For instance, remember when we had to call the Internet at home, and the Internet was busy, and you were OK with that? You used to go on the World Wide Web and find words of links and click to find more words, he said.

“Every once in a while someone would post a picture, and someone would say look at this,” he added.

Today, we expect much more from our technology. “I’ve seen teachers turn into a mob at conferences when the Wi-Fi was too slow,” Jaime said.

What do these expectations mean to a generation of kids that doesn’t know the world before Google, before Wi-Fi? A 10-year-old thinks you’re going camping if there’s no Wi-Fi. He would say “I must take pictures and post to Instagram,” Jaime said.

But these advancements in technology do not mean new generations are humanly different than we are, or that they are delivered from the womb knowing how to use an iPad, Jaime cautioned. They can multitask about as well as adults can, which is not all that well. 

Your Students Think About Learning Differently Than You Do

What is different is how younger generations think about learning. Jaime referred to his daughter as an example. When she was terrified of flying, Jaime bribed her with a ukulele. “When we were walking out of the store, I saw instruction books about how to play the instrument. I asked her whether she wanted to pick up a book. She looked at me with a distained teenage look that says you’re irrelevant… I realized that she was going to find someone on YouTube and learn enough to be able to play.”

In another example, he described how his 14-year-old son showed him lines of code he created in Java. His son’s friend and his son were playing casino and wanted to figure out how to win so his son worked to build the modifications he needed. “I want him to learn to code in Python, but I’ll take what I can get,” Jaime said.

The takeaway from these examples: While older generations wait for certified materials, younger ones figure things out without them, he said.

Don’t Ask Today’s Students What They Want to Be When They Grow Up

Jaime challenged us to consider whether we’re asking old or new questions when we think about learning and careers. An old question we asked students: What do you want to be when you grow up?

“How does he know? Most adults can’t even answer that question,” Jaime said. Besides, 60 percent of the jobs of the future don’t exist today, he pointed out.

When you ask what you want to be, what you’re really asking is: Who do you want to work for? Well, for 62 percent of Generation Z members, the answer is themselves, Jaime said.

Ask Students What Problem They Want to Solve — and Some Follow-Ups, Too

According to Jaime, the better questions to ask are: What problem do you want to solve? What spins in your head?

The problem doesn’t need to be some enormous, intractable global issue. It could be making vacuum cleaners quieter or making cars go faster anything that leverages one's autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Then, the follow-up questions become:

  • What do you need to learn to solve that problem?
  • How do you build the skills and knowledge to solve it?
  • Who can you collaborate with? (Generation Z has friends all over the world, while we were stuck with the five kids on our block, Jaime noted.)
  • What research, blogs, documentaries, and other resources are out there to help?

People are developing solutions at younger ages, too. Jaime mentioned a 16-year-old who made bioplastics from banana peels.

Talk About Failure and Success Is Obsolete

Educators must also end talk of success and failure with students. Jaime said we shouldn’t focus on teaching kids how to fail because failure is merely the flipside of success. Neither word applies when we live in a world of constant iteration.

Drawing on an immediate example, Jaime said the chances are good that attendees used a different Google yesterday than today because we update Google more than 600 times a year; we update Chromebooks every six weeks. “You can’t rest on successes just like you can’t [rest] on failures,” Jaime said.

Education’s Single-Player Sport Has to Yield to a Team Sport Dynamic

Education must mirror the real world of team-based workplaces. Unfortunately, education is set up as a single-player sport. He described how his 14-year-old son is alone responsible for his performance on tests, homework, etc. What would happen if a few students came to the teacher to turn in a test, and said we decided to combine our skill sets and work on this together?

Jaime then asked us to imagine what would happen if he told his colleagues at Google that he didn’t talk to any other team or receive input from other stakeholders before launching a new program. The implication was that everyone would be aghast.

Collaboration is key in today’s economy, he underscored. Being a good collaborator means asking good questions, listening, changing your mind, and building consensus. “There’s something comforting in knowing that you’re part of a greater sum,” Jaime said.

We Must Teach Students to Be Secure Digital Leaders

In the new model, it’s imperative to teach young people how to be secure digital leaders. We do this by helping them build portfolios and create digital footprints that represent who they are. Since information is ubiquitous, we must move beyond reciting facts and figures.

He used the example of testing knowledge of U.S. presidents’ names. Just 7 percent of Americans can name the first four presidents. People might make fun of you if you didn’t know the answer off the top of your head, but if we were given 30 seconds, everyone would have the answer. The information on its own has no value, Jaime said. “What is valuable is what we do with that information and converting it into intelligence,” he added.

To drill down on the superfluous presidential question, you might ask: Tell me what the U.S. would look like if John Adams were the first president? What things do the first four presidents agree about and why? What do they disagree about and why? How is this country different because of their unique views?

Technology Is Not a Silver Bullet

We must be clear about the role of technology in schools it is to support new models of learning. If we take current technology and put it on top of the current system, we’re only making old models faster and more efficient, Jaime said.

Learning outcomes must come from teachers and students, and technology should support these goals. That means technology should be manageable, scalable, invisible, and out of your way as quickly as possible.

Jaime emphasized the need to work on its reliability, and compared the difficulties of using modern technology to the ease of using electricity. We don’t say, “Thank god, the lights are working.” Or I have to call someone to come with a ladder to turn on the light bulb for me.

If you did have to take such an onerous step every time the lights didn’t work when you flipped the switch, how long would it be before you stopped flicking the lights on?

The Maker Movement and Competency-Based Education Empower Teachers

Educators ought to embrace the maker movement and engage students so makers can thrive in school. We must be sure students are actually building something. He also noted the rise of competency-based education.

At this point, Jaime was clear that technology will not replace teachers. Both models begin with great teachers in our classrooms to push students to understand concepts at a deeper level.

Some Bad News: There’s No Future Classroom

Many educators say, “Show me an education model that’s working and I’ll just copy it. What they’re really saying is, ‘My life has been stable and now it’s uncertain. I want to get back to stable,’ ” Jaime said.

Forget that. What we need instead is a culture of iteration and innovation both aspects drive transformation. And transformation has no end point, Jaime said.

Some Good News: We Are Just Getting Started

“You are creating what the future of education is going to look like,” Jaime said.

He is part of this effort by helping to build the Phoenix Coding Academy in Arizona, where Computer Science will be just another language students study. The school will graduate 120 Latino students. After four years in school, they’ll be prepared to work as computer scientists, Jaime said.

A Full Circle: As Digital Technology Rapidly Expands, We Must Adopt New Learning Models

In 1995, just 1 percent of the world was online. It took 10 years to get the first billion people online. Today, 40 percent of the world is online, Jaime rattled off. And that number is growing.

He asked us to picture a 5-year-old and your favorite technology tool, whether it’s the iPhone, iPad, iPad Pro, etc. Just imagine: This is the worst technology the 5-year-old will ever see in his life, Jaime said.

The child will find your device in a thrift store, and put it on a shelf like a museum knickknack, saying, “My dad used to have one of these. He used to have to plug this into the wall. Seriously, like every day,” Jaime said, as the audience erupted in thunderous laughter.

“Those kids are coming. Do we have the right systems, policies, and learning models in place to help them develop the skills, abilities, and knowledge to solve the important problems of the future?” Jaime exhorted. “That is our calling  best of luck. Have fun. Enjoy the most exciting time in education.”