Nevin, R., Melton, M., & Loertscher, D. V. (2011). Google apps for education: Building knowledge in a safe and free environment. Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research and Pub.

 

Nevin, Melton & Loertscher take a stab at addressing a moving target in discussing Google Apps for Education.  Perhaps more with Google than many other tech products, the book was out of date before it went to press.  But discussion of the precise tools is not the purpose of this book.  This is not a tutorial, although there are many short “how tos” placed throughout the book.  The authors state it best when they say, “While we concentrate here on introducing briefly the array of tools that form the suite, our real purpose is to explore the possibilities of a revolutionary education enabled by this tool package.”  The focus is on how the technology changes education while dealing with enough of the technical and administrative issues to get a person started using the product in their own situation.

My perspective coming in to this book was one of someone who has been an administrator of a Google Apps for Education account but who is now using a custom built Microsoft application to achieve many of the same things.  What I got out of this book more focused on how the technology was being used by others to affect positive changes in education so that I can go back and further tailor my environment to realize some of the same benefits.  While I am involved in regular coursework that uses spreadsheets in an online and collaborative manner, many teachers would not think to extend the application of spreadsheets beyond the traditional number crunching that they were originally designed for.  Discussion of using the Google Apps for Education start pages as portal in a personal learning environment is something that I will pursue further (even with iGoogle being phased out in a year’s time.)

I also truly appreciate both the Canadian and American perspectives being presented when it comes to such issues as privacy laws.  Although in Canada, education regulation and privacy is dealt with at a Provincial, not Federal level, the recognition that there are some significant differences is refreshing and useful.

I would recommend that anyone interested in implementing technology in education read this book, especially if they are new to the issues.  I would also recommend that the book be read from a 10,000 foot view to look at the bigger picture in terms of how technology might be used in a relevant and authentic manner in education.  Forget that the authors are speaking about Google specifically and look at how the tools are changing education.  If implement of the tool is something that is decided upon, the book service as an excellent first step reference to getting going.

I would imagine that a book like this would be considered for a new edition to address changes in the technology and services.  If this is the case, here is my wish list for a future edition:

  • I have issue with some of the basic assumptions that book rests on.  Sentence one of Chapter 1 states, “Today’s students are generally eager and enthusiastic about working with technology.”  My experience tells me that some students are and others are as fearful of it as some of the teachers.  I think that it is true to say that technology, as adults think of it, is second nature to today’s students as they’ve never known a world without it.  But they aren’t “excited” by it in the same way our grandparents were when the first cars hit the road.  They are generally comfortable in this world but only excited by game changing, authentic uses of it.  If we are looking at educational technology as a way of enticing and engaging students, we are coming at it for entirely the wrong reasons.  If we are coming at it to meet the students in a world that they know, perhaps we are going in the right direction but even then we have to recognize that all students, like all of their teachers, are in very different places in terms of desire and comfort level with technology.
  • There are parts of the book that feel a bit like a sales job Google.  Each tool within the Google Apps for Education suite is addressed by describing the tool, showing the reader how to get started and what the advantages are.  The most useful part of these sections is the sample uses.  These sections could provide a more balanced view by allowing the reader to explore the challenges presented by the tool as well.  I would also love to see the sample uses expanded upon.
  • Finally, although it is a strong statement to make that the book itself was created in Google Apps, some of the layout and print resolution issues make the book difficult to read in spots.  In my copy, their are often times when lighter shades of grey disappear into the white on the page, making shapes hard to discern or when text and images are not clearly laid out on a page.  It would be a stronger endorsement for the tool if these minor issues were addressed.

Am I going to go out and replace everything I have in my school and “go Google?”  Not likely (even if I did have that authority.)  Am I going to use the underlying educational concepts to further improve the platform I am using?  You bet.  Would I recommend the book to others whether they were “going Google” or not?  Definitely.
On a side note, if this title intrigues you, I would also recommend that you keep your eyes out for the forthcoming book on the Virtual Learning Commons coming out through Hi Willow Research and Publication.  David Loertscher and Carol Koechlin are again collaborating on a book (in Google Apps) on the whats, hows and whys of their current thinking on what used to be called a school library web site and how it can become a learning hub of the school.

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