Monday, December 04, 2006

Google's Educational Initiative: Just What the Dr. Ordered?

Here is an interesting development. It seems like a win-win for Google and for cash-strapped schools (at all educational levels).

Schools are no longer forced to pay ridiculous prices for multi-installation licenses, just to run Office on a classroom of computers. And students don't have to worry about software-compatibility issues.

For example, one of the greatest obstacles to the greater use of technology in the classroom (in my experience) is that the software on the school's computers isn't always compatible with the software your students have at home. After all, not every student's laptop comes with Excel. And even with educational discounts (since it's the X-mas season, you may have this on your list), buying a copy of Office for your child's computer will still cost over $100.

There is also the possibility that your students may have older versions of the same software. They probably bought it for pennies on eBay or it’s unable to open files saved with newer versions of the same program.

All things considered, most of your students simply won't have the ability to open their class projects outside of the computer lab.

There seems no need worry about this any more. Google has launched a program to meet the needs of teachers, schools, and students--at the expense of Microsoft's old-school revenue model.

The free-software approach poses a challenge to Microsoft Corp., whose success revolves around sales of its long-dominant Windows operating system and Office suite. The programs -- including Word and Excel -- are installed on hard drives and information is usually stored locally as well.

Google views its educational initiative as a public service for teachers who often lack the money and expertise to introduce more technological tools into their classrooms. The company doesn't allow advertising in its word processing and spreadsheets programs, leaving it unclear how Google expects to make money.

"We think it's good to get people familiar with the other things we do (besides search), but it's not like we are trying to get some kind of lifetime value out of each student," said Cristin Frodella, a Google product manager overseeing the education project.

"We just want to help teachers engage kids with technology that makes learning seem less like drudgery."

Google is trying to engage the teachers first.

In October, the company posted an online guide to provide instructors with ideas on how to incorporate the applications into their curricula. In November, Google invited about 50 Northern California teachers to spend the day at its Mountain View headquarters to learn more about the advantages of the program.

You can read the full article here.

You can see Google's online spreadsheet and wrodprocessing software here.


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