Disrupting the entrenched education system is daunting. There are 7.2 million teachers in the U.S., 76 million students, and more than 98,000 public schools, according to a government census (as of 2008).

So what’s the most effective way to unshackle the current archaic system from ineffective tactics that no longer work in the digital age?

Google, the world’s go-to for answers, has an idea for the most impactful place to start. Last week, the company’s educational overseers organized the Google Faculty Institute, to which they invited the faculty from California State University (CSU) schools of education. The mission: to show those who teach teachers the most effective, useful, and helpful digital tools.

Why the focus on CSU teachers? Simple math — 60% of teachers in California and 10% of teachers in the U.S. — are trained through the CSU system.

“We want to make California a model for the rest of the country,” said Maggie Johnson, director of education and university relations for Google. “We wanted to find a mechanism for talking about education technology and all the ways of using it in transformational ways — not just ways to support teaching as it’s always been done.”

Over the course of three days, the 39 attendees — mostly faculty who teach at the CSU schools of education — were tasked with coming up with proposals that would demonstrate the use of technology in new and inventive ways. They had to show how the proposal could be scaled and how it could go viral. For its part, in addition to hosting the event and providing experts and resources at the workshop, Google will donate $20,000 to each group, which has six to nine months to implement their ideas.

Here’s what they came up with:

  • The Math of Khan: Documenting, testing and disseminating the process by which a teacher can flip their classroom using Khan Academy videos.
  • Making Teachers ‘Appy’: Encouraging a “maker” philosophy with pre-service educators (teachers-in-training) by teaching introduction to programming in an educational technology course.
  • Birds-Eye Detective: Teaching pre-server educators how to use Google Earth, Maps and fusion tables in the context of project-based K-12 instruction.
  • Team-Teaching Classroom Innovation: Identifying a large number of pre-service teacher pairs to develop technology-rich science and math modules, test those modules in their classrooms and share with each other.
  • Transforming STEM Educators: Delivering short workshops on how to use technology to do formative assessment, while saving faculty significant time.
  • Examining Climate Change: An integrative math/science/technology approach to learning about climate change by developing a module for a methods course showing the power of technology in the context on relevant issues and to address misconceptions.

For these educators of educators, learning the tools of the trade for themselves deepened their understanding of how they can be taught to their students, and in turn used more fluidly in classrooms across California.

“They now understand the ability to manage some of these tools that can make teaching more fruitful and more exciting,” said Jaimie Tasap, Google senior education manager.

Though there were “bumps in the road,” namely legitimate obstacles that faculty would face in taking these ideas back to school to implement, Johnson said she’s confident they’ll follow through.

“We want them to influence the rest of the faculty at their schools,” she said. “You get the attention of hundreds of these faculty members, then you make a real change in California.”


  • Anne-maree Moore

    Really interested in the Birds-Eye Detective: Teaching pre-server educators how to use Google Earth, Maps and fusion tables in the context of project-based K-12 instruction. Are there any project materials that came out of that? 

    • Anonymous

      They’ll be coming up with the materials in the next 6-9 months, so stay tuned!

  • Marshall

    Teaching teachers to use publishing tools assumes that students and schools are doing things that are worth publishing. As Jaron Lanier says, “You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” I’d suggest that, for the most part, today’s schools are “nobody”. Or with national curriculum, today’s schools could be one person; the exact same person.

    Should we focus on publishing and promoting company products (Google, Cisco, etc)? Are there not local issues and projects that we could engage students as part of the “revolution”? Why isn’t this the focus? Is it because you can’t bottle it and sell these projects?

    As of now, most of the tech in schools is using tech to do more school (as opposed to supporting learning)… Google Form quizzes that grade themselves, handing in the same old homework (as a blog post), and a few videos tossed in here and there, but where is the change and empowering of students creating and owning projects (save the anecdotes here and there by people like Alan November and Will Richardson)? If I’m missing them, please show me the way! Links appreciated.


    • Mfwillis

      I think you raise a great point. These tools are a means to learning and that it is critical for each educator who wants to transform his/her classroom to have time to play and discover the right point of integration based on comfort level and resources.

      And to use these tools most effectively, the classroom doors need to open and allow students to go into the community to research or collect data for projects or assignments. In this manner, publishing can represent a diverse voice and become relevant as assignments can reflect local issues.

      The tools should not support “schooling,” but help shift where/when/what learning can be.

  • Ingrid

    Its the focus we have, teach the teachers, inspire one “champion”, and see the ripples. 

  • It’s possible to use effective, useful, and helpful digital tools. Here’s my experience http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2010/09/writing-the-elephant-in-the-living-room.html

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