Free Google for teachers

Google is giving teachers an “online word processor, spreadsheet and other programs that can perform tasks usually handled by desktop software,” AP reports.

Offering a convenience that worries some privacy experts, the programs automatically store everything in Google’s vast data centers so the information can be retrieved on any Internet-connected computer.

Apparently, the idea is to get young people used to all of Google’s online software applications, not just its search capability. The company won’t make money on the give-aways to educators because there’s no advertising on the applications.

Some students are already learning about the advantages of Google’s word processing program, which enables people in different locations to collaborate simultaneously or view and edit documents at different times.

Palo Alto High School junior Danielle Kim said that flexibility was particularly helpful when her debate team jointly worked on a presentation earlier this year.

One of the main testing grounds is Palo Alto High, my daughter’s alma mater. Her journalism teacher, Esther Wojcicki, “first met Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998 when they started the company in the garage of her daughter’s Silicon Valley home. She has stayed in touch with them ever since and is a consultant on the current education project.” That leaves out Woj’s other daughter, who’s rumored to be engaged to Brin.

“I feel like I am on the edge of something really exciting and perhaps classroom changing,” Wojcicki said. “Using this as a teaching tool, I will be able to look at students’ papers and make suggestions before they even turn it in.”

By contrast, Microsoft’s classroom version of Office sells at a discounted price of $149.

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  1. wayne martin says:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in the good-ole-days of Mainframes and “time-sharing” terminals, all data was stored on the mainframe, and people accessed it via dumb terminals. My first terminal access was at Goddard Space Flight Center where I interned during the summer of ’67 and ’68. We had 10 cps IBM Selectics as keyboards. The system, a one-of-a-kind IBM 360/90 crashed every 20 minutes or so. Today’s servers are almost rock solid by the standards of only forty years ago.

    Having worked in the Micro industry since the early ‘80s, escaping the many problems associated with central site computing was a great relief. (Well, I was a Central Site Analyst with a user group of 200 held-hostage users who were forced to use barely Beta-quality software in order to hasten our OS releases.)

    The problems of Central Site computing are still there, just not as sever. The obvious problem is that without Internet access, you can not access any work store on the Central site. LapTops this year are shipping with 160 GB drives, so local storage is no longer an issue to deal with. LapTops are likely to see solid state memory replace rotating mass storage in the near term, so reliability issues associated with hard drives should disappear one of these days.

    There are about 50M kids in the US in the school system. (Who knows how many there are worldwide?) Google is going to have to scale up its server capacity to handle all of these new users. The costs will be shifted to its other services. In all likelihood it will eventually try to charge, since providing this much hardware will give somebody at Google some really big invoices to signoff on.

    If students can store their documents locally, then that might reduce the potential loss of data issues. Long term retention will become an issue, next. Presumably students will be able to email their work to their teachers, but in what format? The issue of open document formats raises its head here The same too for ownership. Will Google ever claim ownership of student work that is left for more than some period of time? .

    Well, this is an interesting proposal. The software has been on Google’s site for a few months now.
    As a PC software developer (spreadsheets, word processors and other productivity software), I don’t like the idea. We worked too hard to escape the “evil clutches” of the “main framers” (I was a main frame OS developer for almost a decade before escaping to the wonderful world of Micros).

    As regional wireless networks begin to appear here in the US, we’ll see all sorts of new Net-based applications software appear. E-Books, downloaded from the air, will put brick-and-mortar Libraries in a 6×6 hole, for one.

    Microsoft will doubtless respond by lowering prices. The Palo Alto School District is paying in the range of $55-$63 per copy. Microsoft has boast 90% margins in the past. Certainly they will continue to make money if they cut their license fees in half.

    I’ve been using Google/Books a lot on a research project I’m working on. I’ve downloaded over 650 books from their archive, out of about 2000 I’ve identified as relevant to the topic. This is just a beginning. The growth of the WEB, on top of the older Internet, has been meteoric. The newspaper industry is currently under the vice to integrate the Internet into its service delivery model. It’s time for the Public School System to come under the same pressure.

    Microsoft has not understood the power of the Internet yet. It’s time they get to innovating, or they will be consigned to a wing of the Old Computer Museum one of these days.

  2. There are certainly parallels to the “big-iron” days but to quote Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.

    With the plummeting cost of computing power and storage the central server/AJAX is a convenience for desktop tasks. Obviously you don’t need the server farm to run your spreadsheet applications so it’s not necessity that’s the driving force. Since there is an “out” for users, since we don’t have to be trapped by proprietary file formats, the abuses of monopoly are curbed before they start. If Google makes enough of a nuisance of itself then the people most pissed off will go with Microsoft Office or Open Office and slap their files onto a thumb drive. Since that option’s open to everyone there should be a pretty tight relationship between user numbers and Google’s manners.

    Also, there’s nothing all that special about Google’s server farm for an application like this. Any old server will do since they’re all reachable via the internet. Google’s will probably be more responsive, maybe, but the lightweight nature of these server-based applications means that the other out for dissatisfied users will be Google’s web-based competitors.