Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Google?

Recently I was in a conversation with Richard Byrne and my Tech Director and she was teasing me that I should read Richard's blog more often, I might find more tools out there than Google. It was all in fun, but it got me thinking, exactly, why do I default to Google tools when asked? I thought that articulating my rationale would be beneficial. There's always the concern that someone might think I suggest a service because I like the brand rather than its worth. It's important that my staff realizes that I've looked at all the choices out there and pick what I think is the best fit for them. So here goes,

Reason One - With a single login, teachers have access to dozens of free services. I include a list that shows the Google service and its equivalent. I didn't include every one, but you get the idea. Arguably there are some on the right that are better than those from Google and there are many more that cannot appear on the left, (Animoto, VoiceThread, Prezi to name a few) but you get the idea. Most educators don't want 25 sets of logins and passwords.

Google Tool Equivalent
Google Search Yahoo (now Bing) / Ask
Gmail Yahoo / Hotmail
Google Docs Zoho
Google Calendar
Bookmarks Delicious
Blogger WordPress,
YouTube Vimeo,
Google Maps MapQuest
Google Earth
Google Groups
Image Search
Sites Wikispaces, PBWorks, Wetpaint
Reader Bloglines, Netvibes
Talk / Video Skype
Translate Babelfish
Picasa Flickr / iPhoto

Reason Two - Google's not going anywhere. Last year I wrote a post "Is your Web 2.0 Recession Proof." There are many web 2.0 services that I love to use with the implicate understanding that they can go away for finicial, legal or no reason at all and the time and energy I put into that service is gone. Now, I'm comfortable with that possibility, but that would make many of my staff nervous. I can envision the conversation, "You mean all my stuff is just . . . gone?" So, while I'll push certain sites for projects, I never want a teacher's year long tech project work to appear on TechCrunch's Deadpool list. When was the last time you asked yourself, I don't think I should use Apple products, because they might 'go away.' Here's a brand comparison between Google, Microsoft and others. To be fair, Google has discontinued services too (Lively and Notebook come to mind) but I don't think the core services are going anywhere.

Reason Three - It's good stuff. Almost all services are free, and are good. Gmail, for instance, I almost forgot to include it in my list because I take Gmail so much for granted as the hub of most of my communication. (Probably what Google Wave will become.) And as Google focuses more on providing resources for educatoin we all benefit.

The Flip Side.

There are two major arguements against a move to Google tools beyond simply having accounts strewn all over the web. First, the continued fear of putting data in the cloud and second, having all of ones data stored with a single company.

Arguement One - I don't want my data in the cloud. Usually when people express concern about having their stuff online I ask them if they've ever bought anything, done banking, or paid their taxes online? They have probably put a lot of information out there. It continuely surprises me at the personal details found on the average Facebook page. If there's still a question as to the legitimacy of moving online, just look at Microsoft's push with Office 10.

Arguement Two - But all my stuff is in one place. There's the concern that if I put all my data in one place it's like putting all my eggs in one basket. This is true, yet one of the reasons for using a computer is the relative ease it is to backup in multiple places (with a service like Mozy for instance.) The problem is that most people don't do it. How many times have I had someone ask me to help them retrieve lost data. I think it's important to recognize what a company having all the information might look like. To see what's possible check out the Googlezon video.

Overall, as the web becomes more like the OS, much of this will be taken for granted. The access, the security questions. It's really just a matter of time.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Augmented Reality

"Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic."
- Arthur C. Clark

This quote pretty much sums up how most of us feel the first time we see augmented reality in. If you are wondering what it is, ReadWriteWeb has a great post explaining it while keeping it in perspective of it's importance in relationship to other new technologies. There's even a cool graph of tech-hype vs long term usefulness:

I had the chance to show AR in action to a number of new Google Certified Teachers at the latest GTA in Boulder, Colorado. While it is as cool and magical as it seems, (Wes Fryer said it reminded him of being on the Jedi Counsel in Star Wars.)

How to I set it up?
  • Download Google Sketchup, a 3D modeling tool for MAC or PC.
  • Then, create a 3D model or download one from the 3D Model Warehouse. Note: The smoothness is dependant on the speed of your computer, so I'd start with a model without a ton of detail. Like this.
  • Go to the AR-Plugin page and download the 30sec trial.
  • Then download and print the marker needed to display the object.
  • Copy the plugin into the plugin folder in Sketchup. The locations will be dependant on your computer, but here are the MAC and PC user guides.
  • Turn on your webcam, load a model, click on the AR icon, and let the amazement begin.
The second question to be asked after, "How did you do that!" is, "How can I use this in the classroom?" And like most technologies, it depends on your age level and purpose. All levels will react to how cool it is initially, but like more new technologies, by the 3rd time they've seen it the novelity has worn off. This is how we use it my district. All of our 8th graders build projects for their Integrated Technology class and make Sketchup prototypes of their items before construction can start. This is a way for students to 'hold' the item in their hand and turn it around and see if their model reflects what they were trying to create.


Another very cool application of the technology.

GTA Colorado Reflection

I like to give myself a couple days after a Google Teacher Academy to collect my thoughts. First of all, once again, Google and the CUE team did a tremendous job. The day was fun, educational and in a word, 'Googley'. All the presenters and participants were such an exergizing group to work with, I can't wait to see them again online for more converstion and collaboration.

One of my favorite memories was getting to show Scott Green (the self described 'principal' of the Google office) the augmented reality plugin for Google Sketchup. He hadn't seen it yet and agreed it was very cool. I wonder if it will influence anything in Sketchup's development going forward.

Once home my four year son asked, "Dad, did you bring me something from Google?" Since my previous GTA trips he's become accustomed to getting primary colored pens, notpads and yo-yos when I return. This time I gave him a chocolate bar with the Google logo embossed in it. He grinned and took a large bite. Then he asked, "Is this what Google tastes like?" All I could think to say was, "Um, in a way, yeah, it's that good."