Technology Research

Why EdTech Companies and Teacher Preparation Should Take a Lesson from Google

When Google, one of the largest technology companies in the world, wanted to build more awareness and encourage adoption of its products in the education market, it made all of the training for those products available to any teacher or administrator online at no cost. Launched in July of this year, the Google for Education Training Center is a training program written for teachers by teachers and built on tools that Google provided. Rather than charge for training models after a school or district has purchased Google Apps for Education, Google is investing in top-notch curriculum that explains how teachers can use Google products specifically, and technology more broadly, in the classroom. Eduventures met with Google Program Manager Tom Sayer to learn more about the initiative. Google has created content in partnership with teams of P-12 and higher education instructors, which it delivers through its own open source LMS, called CourseBuilder. Educators can complete an optional, paid certification for each educator level or become certified trainers and “innovators” for Google products and services. Google’s bet is that if teachers know how to use its tools in an effective way, they will use those tools more often and for a wider variety of academic purposes. For example, it trains teachers in how to receive homework assignments through Google Docs, how to set up class rosters in Google Classroom, and how to help students create a portfolio in Google Sites. The training is constantly updated to reflect new features, such as the collaboration enhancements in Google Classroom announced this week. Figure 1: Google Products Embedded within Curriculum             Google is not the first company to develop courses for teachers based on Google Apps for Education. In fact, several companies are still quite successful in providing paid training programs on Google products. One example is teach for Google, sponsored by texthelp, which is mostly known for its adaptive technologies and learning materials for persons with disabilities. Texthelp’s program goes much more in depth into specific lesson plans for P-12 educators and provides templates, forms, and example assignments developed by other educators for over 25 different courses. Similar to Google’s offering, the first two courses are free; however, individual teachers, schools, and districts can sign up for per-teacher subscriptions to access advanced content. At first glance, it may seem that Google giving away content for free could disrupt this marketplace of third-party curriculum. In reality, however, there will always be specialized training cases for P-12 and higher education written by subject matter experts that will be more appropriate for certain instructional scenarios, such as teaching persons with disabilities or special needs. These programs can be very effective for schools looking to maximize their investment in Google Apps for Education, but there is still value in becoming certified directly by Google on Google products. Multiple training programs can certainly coexist and fill a specific need for professional development credit for teachers, but there will always be a perceived, intrinsic value to having been certified on Google by Google. This is true both for IT administrators who need to support the platform and for the students and teachers who use the product in the classroom each day. Technology certification programs can also be taken for credit to satisfy teacher professional development requirements. However, vendor certifications are not yet robust enough to prepare teachers in all facets of pedagogy or to compete with the comprehensive teacher preparation schools of education offer.

The EdTech Lesson

Education technology companies that offer products for teachers, faculty, and administrators would be well served to follow Google’s example and make some portion of their training and certification programs available more broadly and possibly at no cost. The opportunity for more widespread awareness and adoption of products vastly outweighs the incremental cost of new curriculum development. Here are just a few benefits that a vendor might receive by making their training materials more accessible to educators:
  • Generate more awareness. For emerging technology companies, building grassroots awareness of their products can be challenging. By offering their training materials online and combining them with a freemium subscription model to encourage individual users to adopt their solutions, vendors can allow word-of-mouth marketing to flourish.
  • Create product evangelists. Teachers and faculty commonly rely on their own communities of educators for best practices on how to bring new technologies into the classroom to positively impact teaching and learning. Individual teachers within a school or program who know more about a vendor’s tools and who can solve their specific problems will be more apt to spread the word. By certifying teachers on their products, vendors will literally have educators wearing a (digital) badge with their name on it—albeit on their online resumes and portfolios.
  • Encourage broader student utilization. Teachers are the gateway to introducing new technology to students in the classroom. For vendors with business models based on the number of student users in schools, districts, and colleges using more of the products within their portfolio of solutions, having a curriculum that explains to teachers how these products work best together will spur adoption. Training curriculum that shows all of the products working in harmony to solve real-world issues for students and teachers is much more valuable than lists of features on product marketing materials.
  • Solicit feedback from knowledgeable users. A well-trained power user of technology is the most valuable source of information on what’s working, what’s not working, and what could be improved. Educators who are encouraged to explore technology solutions will be more apt to find creative ways of using that technology to solve emerging problems in their classrooms. Combined with a good feedback collection system, a cadre of certified educators will be a source of new product ideation for years to come.

The School of Education Lesson

Google has not explicitly stated ambitions of competing with traditional teacher preparation programs, but when you see the breadth of its capabilities and reach, it could be a slippery slope. Actually, Google may be better positioned to train teachers on classroom technology tactics than a school of education. For example, the clerical task of entering grades into an LMS’s gradebook feature is not something teacher preparation programs typically cover. In Google’s training, however, teachers learn how to deliver content and instruction through technology, thereby solving issues of scale, efficiency, and time management. The content Google delivers through its LMS is highly specialized and could be seen as supplemental to the core teacher curriculum. It is worth noting, however, that it solves some of the largest professional development needs as stated by principals. A recent Eduventures survey of over 700 principals found that technology and classroom management were the third and fourth areas of greatest need for professional development. Google will keep the technology content much more current than an SOE could do on its own through its research and curriculum development, and it can deliver training aligned to real issues within the classroom by employing teachers in the development of the curriculum. There is an opportunity for SOEs and edtech to join forces to arm teachers with professional development in the tools they will use in their first classrooms. SOEs should maximize this emerging type of training resource within their teacher preparation programs. By forging partnerships with edtech vendors, SOEs can leverage training materials on the actual products teachers will be expected to use in the classroom within their programs. In these partnerships:
  • Administrators should consider micro-credentials, product certifications, and professional development credit as part of 360-degree evaluations.
  • Participating teachers should provide valuable feedback to companies in the form of best practices, product enhancement ideas, and their own content and lesson plan templates that leverage the vendors’ services.
  • Joint ventures should be explored in which teacher preparation programs receive advance access to new versions of products in exchange for valuable collaboration with the next generation of teachers who will ultimately be the end users of the solution in the classroom.
The author of this week’s Tech Alert, Jeff Alderson, will be completing the Google certification process for teacher training in the coming weeks. Eduventures will gain an inside look at the curriculum (including a proctored online exam powered by Kryterion) to be better prepared to answer specific questions about program integration from our SOE clients.

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