Depending on how you measure it Google has just turned either fifteen or sixteen years old. The search engine giant registered the domain name google.com on September 15, 1997 and a year later on September 4 1998 the company Google Inc. was founded. Measured in school years Google is part way through Year Nine or Ten with some busy years of learning ahead of it as it deals with the pressures of adolescence and the responsibilities that come with being an adult. For our students there is no memory of a time before Google, the search engine pre-dates them and they have grown up in a world where the ability to search the world wide web of information, pictures and video is taken for granted.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google they were operating from the home of all good start-ups, a friends garage. At this time the World Wide Web as imagined by Tim Berners-Lee was a bare five years old and the then Stanford PHD students were faced with a task of indexing and ranking some 75 million URLs. The success of Google can be traced back to a thesis of its founders that suggested the most popular and thus looking for the page most linked to would reveal the best result for a search. If other sites linked to a page this would mean it was considered useful and from this the Google Algorithm for search was created. The success of this method of page ranking was quickly seen and by 1998 tech pundits were already singing the praises of Google over its competitors such as Excite and landing sites such as Lycos and Yahoo!. When Google went public in 2004 its success was clear in the $85 share price it fetched which raised $1.67 billion and gave the then 6-year-old company a market capitalisation of $23 billion. Today Google has a Market Cap of $292 billion and the company consistently places in the top two for volume of network traffic.
Today Google is much more than a search engine. Through a process of growth, acquisition and the in-house development of ideas the company and its services have expanded. Google can help you manage share and edit your documents, send email, take notes, navigate, run your phone or tablet, keep track of appointments, manage a photo library and increasingly be the hub of your social life. Through the companies unique 20% time Google has encouraged the development of unique ideas and fostered an innovative approach.
Beyond the services Google provides is the impact it has had on the corporate world. Google is seen by many as a model for future focused workspaces that promote sharing, trust and creativity. Much has been written about the nature of life and work at Google and the ideas are spreading. When looking for inspiration for modern classroom design for example it is difficult not to find inspiration in the work of Google and the spaces they have created for their teams. For those wanting to better understand the Google philosophy two books are recommended, 'What would Google do?' by Jeff Jarvis and 'In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives' by Steven Levy.
Our students have grown up with Google and very few, of even our senior students will recall a world without the ability to search the Internet. For this generation the access that a search engine provides to instant information is taken for granted. Older students might reflect on how the quality of search results have improved over time or how they are now able to use plain language to achieve the desired result. Our students are true digital natives and as the digital world expands to meet their changing needs they will continue to take each iteration of technology for granted. Most teachers and even more so, most policy makers, are not digital natives and this produces some interesting questions and debate about the nature of education now and into the future.
One question that does not look like going away soon is 'does technology promote learning'. There are those who argue it does and those who argue it does not. One side sees technology as essential for learning and a powerful tool, others who see it as an expensive distraction or doodad with no real benefits. I would argue this is the wrong question and that to debate either side is missing the point. Let me explain.
Firstly let us assume that information and communication technologies are not going to go away anytime soon. The trend to a more digitally connected world will continue and expand to the point where it is ubiquitous. The rapid expansion of mobile technologies and the shift away from desktop based computing is proof that we want to have our technology with us all the time. Let us also assume that the use of this technology, the control and manipulation of it, are going to be increasingly central to all aspects of almost every industry. Can you honestly imagine a time in the near future when as a teacher for example you will not be expected to work with digital files that are shared across a network and are utilised by a team of teachers who frequently connect via this network and who are accessing a range of digital resources to inform their teaching. When was the last time you worked from or submitted to your supervisor a handwritten programme?
Because our students will enter a world where they are expected to be experts at using information communication technologies we must teach them to use it and to be able to master the opportunities it provides. Learning about technology is essential not just as a tool for learning but as an essential skill set required for success. It is for this reason that technology should have a place in our classrooms if they are to be learning environments relevant to the world our students will live in. In this view learning about technology is as important as learning to read. The only discussion left should be do students learn the skills they require for a digital future best by learning about technology, learning with technology or a combination of the two?
By Nigel Coutts