Google education guru: Classroom laptop bans make no sense

Google Education Evangelist calls for cultural change at universities to embrace technology in helping students learn

Google Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap’s oldest daughter scored a full ride to college on a swimming scholarship but she only lasted one semester out of frustration with the lack of technology at the school. She had been used to taking notes on her laptop in high school, for example, but was told she couldn’t bring her device into the college classroom.

“I’ve been in education for 10 years and I remember talking to CIOs at universities saying technology is not a differentiator for their schools…that students don’t pick schools based on their technology,” says Casap, an adjunct lecturer in innovation at Arizona State University, where his daughter wound up attending and graduating from. “I can tell you that’s starting to change.”

Casap, speaking at the Campus Technology 2016 conference in Boston this week, served up the anecdote about his daughter to shed light on what he sees as a need for higher education institutions to change how they use technology. Casap, who dealt directly with universities early on in his Google career, now works mainly in the K-12 field, or what he described as conference attendees’ “future customers.”

Casap’s style of relaying his company’s vision of the future of learning in higher education is personal. Those of us who caught his my-life-is-an-open-book talk at the conference learned that Casap grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y. (“not the Hell’s Kitchen from today where you would want to live…”), that his mother escaped from poverty and an oppressive regime in Argentina, that he has three kids whose ages range from 2 to 23 (“I can only handle one kid at a time”), and that he has spoken into “the most powerful microphone in the world” to young students at the White House. His experiences have given him a great appreciation for the value of higher education, but also unique ideas of how to improve it. Among them: working to open this month the unconventional Phoenix Coding Academy to 9th graders interested in a tech-infused education.

Casap emphasized that “I’m not on the college is broken bandwagon, I’m not on the education is broken bandwagon, I’m not on the teachers are terrible bandwagon,” pointing out that so many people from around the world want to come to America to go to college.

“It’s not that education is necessarily broken, it’s that the world has changed,” he said. “Our job is to do what our forefathers in K-12 and college did 100 years ago and ask what’s the right model to build to focus on the [globally-connected, knowledge-based] economy that we face.”

While much has been made of the potential of technology, from TV to MOOCs, to boost education in the past, Casap said the speed at which technology is changing our lives now makes it imperative for universities to come up with ways to embrace and exploit it in the name of student success.

The Google evangelist said that we are armed with plenty of knowledge now about what sort of instructional models work, and don’t, for different groups of people. “We don’t even need to build anything new – we can just go back 5 years to some of the great research that has come out of your universities and ask ourselves ‘What does good learning look like?’ and ‘How do we use technology to take advantage of that?’”

Given that the expectations for technology have changed so much in adults’ lifetimes, Casap said you better believe that younger people have even higher expectations, from ubiquitous Wi-Fi to yes, being able to take notes on a laptop in class.

“Tell a 10-year-old kid that you’re going to spend time in a place that doesn’t have Wi-Fi,” he said. “They’re like what, are we going camping?”

STUDENT-CENTRIC IT

This sort of student-centric thinking has started to consume university IT staffs, according to those who spoke at the conference. Ray Lefebvre, VP of IT and CIO at Bridgewater State University, described how this Massachusetts school -- in conjunction with DubLabs -- has developed a mobile application in lockstep with student input, even to the point of having students produce the videos promoting BSU Mobile. Helping students succeed, from easing communications with faculty and fellow students via Microsoft Office 365 integration to helping them find their way around campus, is key to retaining those students, Lefebvre said.

“I can’t stress how much we involved students from Day 1,” he said.

BSU Mobile Bridgeport State University/DubLabs

BSU Mobile app for Bridgewater State University's community

Separately, members of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT team stressed how everything they do is rooted in helping students succeed, even to the point of spelling that out in their mission statement (“Helping Students Achieve Excellence Through Technology”) and Vision statement. In other words, every time a tech performs a seemingly mundane task such as upgrading a server or changing a classroom projector, they should be doing so with the goal of improving how students can learn, said CIO Tom Hoover.

Students do think about learning differently these days, Google’s Casap said. He referenced his older daughter scoffing at his suggestion that she pick up a book or DVD on how to play the ukulele when she could very well learn to use the instrument by watching YouTube videos. He also mentioned his teenage son teaching himself to code in Java, with help from friends, and never asking his Dad for help (“I work at Google and he didn’t ask me!”). As for his 2-year-old, well, he’s quite happy with her memorizing her ABCs and not googling info about the alphabet yet.

Casap explained, though, that just because students have grown up in a techier world than adults doesn’t mean they instinctively know how to use all of it effectively. “They do two things poorly at the same time as poorly as we do,” he said, referring to the myth propagated by teens that they have mastered multitasking.

So it’s not like these kids don’t need help learning to be digital leaders who can vet/ research really good information and protect their online privacy, Casap said. Students also need universities to help them gain entrepreneurial and collaborative skills given that so many of them foresee a time when they will be working for themselves in a world where they “can buy some cloud space, open up a Google Apps account and start their own business,” Casap said.

In the end, Casap said educators need to be asking students not what they want to be when they grow up, but what problems they want to solve, and then help them learn what they need to know to solve those problems.

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