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From Information to Intelligence

From Information to Intelligence

[Editor’s note] We recently completed a small run print project for which we revisited and polished up some earlier articles from the magazine. We felt this interview was worth another go around online and decided to share the new version here.

A Conversation With Google Education’s Senior Evangelist

In the early 2000s, eLearning was the new craze in education. In case you haven’t kept up, you now need to update your vocabulary: flipped classrooms, blended learning, MOOCs, whiteboards and personal learning networks are now hot stuff on the formal education scene. So much so that Google Education’s Senior Evangelist believes that all learning should exclusively take place online. NOT. Actually, he doesn’t even understand what the heck you mean by “virtual learning.” Meet Jaime Casap and take a glimpse at Google’s vision for education.

Christine Renaud—The first question I have is, how would you define education?

Jaime Casap—Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, make it universally useful. Information is cheap, knowing facts is cheap: it’s available, it’s at our fingertips. Intelligence is priceless. When I think about the word education, what I mean is taking information and making sense of it. So how do we take information and make intelligence out of it, is what education means to me. I’ve never talked about it that way, but that’s what makes sense to me.

Do you think there is a difference between formal and informal education?

We used to, but I don’t think that’s true any- more. One of the things that I use as an illustration is my 11-year-old son. I have a great picture of him on the couch, and he’s got two computers out. On one of them, he’s playing Minecraft; on the other, he’s watching videos, teaching him- self how to play Minecraft.

So we have to realize that how we learn how to do things is different than the way our kids are learning how to do things. They don’t see the need to wait for someone to teach them something. When they’re curious about something, they learn. They don’t think about education as this nine in the morning until three in the afternoon thing: they’re constantly learning, and they’re learning because they are interested, because it’s relevant to them, because they’re engaged in it. Learning is constant, it’s always happening.

They’re constantly learning, and they’re learning because they are interested, because it’s relevant to them, because they’re engaged in it.

What’s the least useful concept in education right now?

I was at a Superintendent Summit last week, and everyone was supposed to get up and talk about what their big issue was. Of the 80 superintendents in the room, more than half stood up and said “virtual learning.” I got up and said: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I don’t know what virtual learning is. All learning is learning. There’s no such thing as virtual learning.

Technology is not the solution. Technology is a tool. I often see reports that say technology did or didn’t improve education. But I don’t see any articles on textbooks improving or not im- proving education. Are desks improving or not improving our education? Is electricity improv- ing or not improving our education? These are all tools. How teachers and learners take those tools and make sense of them and use them to enable and support learning: that’s when we get into some interesting things.

Do you see a clash between how technology should be used to support learning in schools and the reality?

I do actually. We’re asking kids to be the people who are going to solve problems that we haven’t identified, using technology and advancements that haven’t been discovered yet, in jobs that haven’t been created. We can’t be preparing them for this world in the traditional model that we currently use, that was created for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. We need to focus on the skills that kids need.

What role should educators play in this new education paradigm?

The role of a great teacher is actually becoming more critical in this world. If you think about the role of teachers and what they were supposed to do, they were the “black box” of knowledge. We needed facts in our heads to survive, to just get along with each other.

In business magazines, you’ll see surveys or information around great managers. A great manager is someone who pushes you and gives space, challenges you, gives you freedom, gives you an opportunity to collaborate, gives you an opportunity to grow. That’s what the role of a teacher is becoming, so it’s becoming even more critical.

A great manager is someone who pushes you and gives space, challenges you, gives you freedom, gives you an opportunity to collaborate, gives you an opportunity to grow.

Do you think the conversation needs to be about diplomas and college graduation rates or does it need to be about recognizing learning wherever it takes place?

I think both. At the end of the day, diplomas or college degrees are certifications. I don’t know if you’ve traveled through Africa, but my favorite thing about being in Africa was the stamp. No piece of paper was official until someone stamped it. They have stamps for everything. I came back saying I’m going to have my own stamp and I’m just going to stamp things. That’s really all these diplomas are: just stamps.

What happens when an organization can do an assessment and deter- mine your knowledge, skills and abilities, if it doesn’t matter where you went to school, and it doesn’t matter where you got your degree? That’s what I want for my 11-year-old. I want my 11-year-old to go wherever he wants for six months, learn something online, and take a class… But at the end of all that, who does that assessment? Who determines what knowledge and abilities he was able to create? That’s what I think we need to focus on.

Turning Everyone Into a Lifelong Teacher

How do you reconcile individual interests and learning paths and what we all need to know as human beings living in a society together?
I grew up in an interesting way, to say the least. I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in NY in the 70s and 80s, when it was a tough place. Whenever I get a chance to talk to kids, I go talk to kids. I don’t talk to them about “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up” or about education in general.

What I ask them is, “What problems do you want to solve?” Kids like solving problems. It’s a natural instinct to want to solve problems. Sometimes it’s “I want to fix the drug problem in my neighbourhood.” Then I say, “What do you need to learn to help you solve that problem? And then go back to your school and demand that education.”

All of a sudden, that becomes a different type of question than trying to make a connection between some kid that’s living in the ghetto in NY and being a doctor. If you want to solve the problem of cancer, because maybe your grandmother died of cancer, well, what do you need to know to do that?

What do you think is the future of lifelong teaching?

We must recognize that we are the generation on to whom the web was introduced, as opposed to my 11-year-old, who doesn’t know the world that existed before Google. We were sitting there, minding our own business, and somebody came in and said, “Hey, we’ve got this new website called Oh, I’ll check it out.” Then a fire hose was turned on. For every minute of YouTube video that you watch, we upload 100 hours: you’re never going to know everything. So from the role of teaching, I think it turns into a role of learning. As a teacher and a human in general, you have to be comfortable with saying “I don’t know: teach me, let me learn from you.”

I’ll tell you a quick story. My 10-year-old and I were just driving back from school and he said, “I taught my teachers how to use the document camera in the overhead projector, because they got a new one in the school.” I said, “So you taught your teacher and her assistant how

to use the document camera?” And he said, “No, no, no, I taught all the teachers.” He did a professional workshop for 12 teachers and their aides, with a Google Presentation, using classroom examples on how to use the overhead projector and the document camera in the class.

The most important thing is that he didn’t get into the car and say, “All my teachers are dumb” or “My teachers didn’t know anything.” He got in the car and said, my teachers didn’t know how to do that and so I taught them. Just like how they teach me things that I don’t know. So they see it more as a learning partnership than they do that one person knows everything. I think that’s an interesting role to play.

What is the main thing you want to learn right now?

I want to learn how to code. I keep saying that. The great thing is it’s up to me, the accountability is on me because it’s out there. I can do it if I want to, but I don’t need that skillset right now. Maybe in the future if I do need it, I know that it is available to me and I can learn it. I don’t ever say I don’t know how to do something. I say “I haven’t learned how to do something.” It’s a different mindset.

Remember The Matrix? There was a scene in which she needed to learn how to fly a helicopter and the guy programmed that in, and now she knew how to fly a helicopter, and it happened instantaneously.
I think that we live in that world. If you want to learn how to fly a helicopter, it’s there. Everything that you need is there. You have to take the accountability and do it.

Jaime Casap (@jcasap) is an Education Evangelist from Hell’s Kitchen NY focused on asking new questions and using tech/web to support edu as the silver bullet. Education disrupts poverty.


Header image by Poodar Chu on Unsplash.

Christine Renaud

Christine is the CEO of E-180. She graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a Knox Fellow, focusing on informal learning. She has shared her work on collaborative learning at conferences such as SxSW, C2 Montréal, Morgan Stanley’s Women Summit & TEDxLA.