Much of the focus on the Common Core State Standards revolves around the idea of college and career readiness. In fact the anchor standards describe what the few authors of the Standards believe students need when graduating high school.

What if these “educational” experts got it wrong? The standards largely paid for by tech dollars from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put a large emphasis on drilling down into the meaning of specific texts and arguments as a method to raise GPA and test scores.

What if those grades and test scores do not matter? According to Google these metrics have little to do in predicting “career readiness.”  In a recent article by Max Nisen (which I first came across listening to TWIG 238) he documents an opinion piece by Tom Friedman explaining  why Google has stopped putting emphasis on GPA, test scores, and attending elite colleges in their hiring practices.

Google, masters of big data, have spent years pouring over metrics of what makes a good employee. I worried we may miss some key attributes of skills needed for the information economy in the CCSS . So I decided to take a closer look at the anchor standards using the attributes Google wants in “career ready” employees.

Learning Ability Versus IQ

According to Google people with the ability to problem solve on the fly make better employees than those with high IQs. You need to be able to find information, in many disparate places and piece together solutions.

When I examine the anchor standards for Key Ideas and Details I only see text, not a plural version (texts) of multiple source reading. Multiple source reading does gets covered in the Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. The anchor standards in the Speaking and Listening strands may capture much of the ideas shared by Google. So maybe the anchor standards do stress learning ability. Can learning ability be stressed in an outcome based document?

How will the anchor standards, which do address some of the attributes Google looks for, translate into classroom practice? I worry more about the grade level expectations and how they will translate into curriculum. Will classroom teachers create environments for students to struggle with ideas and problem solve with disparate texts? Does the collaboration called for in  the anchor standards for speaking and listening exist today?

Language Arts

When I go back and re-read the publisher guidelines sent to textbook makers I do not see opportunities built into pre-packaged curriculum for learning on the fly. Instead the focus seems to place all meaning within the text and stresses the role of individual learners. To me this reinforces the belief that grades and test score are all that matter in being college and career ready.


I next turned to the math standards. Once again I found promise in the standards for mathematical practice. Studens have to persevere in problem solving, reason both abstractly and quantitatively, and construct arguments (plus a few more see the standards for more info). I still wonder how these standards of practice will translate to classroom practice. I appluad the greater emphasis on numeracy as a tool for making meaning and arguments but I see the large focus in most schools I work with on simply models and precision.

Emergent Leadership versus Traditional Leadership

Google also puts less emphasis on traditional leadership like being president of student council and more on emergent leadership. They define this as being able to seize opportunity and guide others during problem solving.

Once again on the fly learning and teaching while working collaboratively. Where does this “career ready” attribute fit in the #CCSS anchor standards? The closest the anchor standards come is the first anchor standard for speaking and listening:

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

It is not a perfect match. I prefer NCTE’s framework for 21st Century Learning. To me the idea of being able to work and lead  a group to solve problems through multiple pathways of knowledge is the critical skill students need.

What do schools need to do?

Focus on Assessments of  Future Learning and not Past Learning

A large emphasis by CCSS supporters, rather than the standards themselves, has been placed on a curriculum richer in content knowledge. In many aspects I agree. After a certain point the best way to increase reading comprehension and thinking in general is through the building of background knowledge.

Yet I also wonder, and study, if the role of background knowledge is changing. Maybe the future founders of the next Google can acquire prerequisite background knowledge on the fly. Schools need to build assessments, and the learning around these assessments that examine how well children can assemble knowledge from varied sources across diverse media on topic they know little about.

On the Fly Learning,  On the Fly Teaching

Much of the attributes Google looks for in “career ready” employees focuses on abilities in the moment. In both knowledge and leadership they look for fast problem solvers. How many classrooms reflect this type of environment well?

I am guided here by the work Rand Spiro has done with Cognitive Flexibility Theory. Spiro argues that students must criss cross ill-structured domains of knowledge and avoid rigid mindsets that cause errors of oversimplification. Much of this should be done through case based simulations.

I worry that CCSS, and misguided implementation by schools,  may emphasize rigid mindsets

I also believe that Problem Based Learning is more critical than ever. I am the first to admit I never taught problem based learning well or even at all. Yet looking at the dispositions wanted by tech giants I cannot think of another approach that would build these habits in students. We have to allow for:

  • Greater autonomy in learning.
  • Civic based real world problems.
  • Differentiated and individualized learning.
  • Multiple simulations  with multiple and diverse cases.
  • Frequent collaborative work to build in dispositions of flexibility and emergent leadership

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There I said it. I am not awed by the latest and greatest in social media as a method to transform my online pedagogy. In fact after a semester of experimenting with Google Apps as a free LMS I have decided to cull down to a few basics. Google+ (except Hangouts on Air) may get the axe.

Too Many Tools

Throughout the semester I have been informally surveying my students about my instructional design decisions. The course, in its original design, used Google Sites to organize learning in modules, embedded Google Groups for discussions, blogger for reflective writing, and Google+ for sharing and discussing research.

Students often noted that too many tools were utilized. Many also adapted to the tools and created a workflow I never intended. For example I asked students to review teaching videos and post a critique to Google+. Some chose just to create a post on Google+ other wrote their critique on their blog and shared a link on Google+.

So I decided to experiment. In the last set of modules (one teacher created the other modules created by students) I tried just to use Google+. Here is my initial follow up reflections.

Academic Discourse

A comparison of the literary discussion on both Google Groups (embedded into my course website) revealed more in depth and text based discussions on Google Groups compared to Google+. The students also posted more follow up questions and larger word counts.

The quality of written response does not bother me though. This could be easily remedied. I could model more academic discourse within Google+. With time the students could engage in text based discourse on Google+. The “read more” feature though demonstrates Google+ is not meant for long form writing.

Better yet I could take an idea from my students. Some of my participants wrote an initial response on Blogger and shared a link to their blog. I could, for example, have all initial responses to reading be a blog post and all follow up discussion be comments within Google+.

This approach has a few pitfalls. Google+ enabled comments on blogger do not appear under the initial link shared by the author. Furthermore the commenter has to make sure just to share it within our community or the comment as well as the blog post go public. While I encourage students to learn in the open they have a right to privacy.


I have long feared the tyranny of the immediacy on stackable social media. I tried my best to mediate the situation by creating a category for each module and encouraging the use of hashtags. Even with these steps students struggled with navigation. Often when you click on a category Google+ may display an algorithmically determined “best” content. You can click to see the posts sequentially but not all students realized this.

The automatic hashtags, when trying to use an LMS, actually hampered navigation. I had to teac h students haow to search within Google+. I believe in the mantra whenever students must make inferences as to the location of materials you have made poor instructional design decisions.

I tried to organize their activities and encourage students to post their responses under my initial post. Yet this was not always possible. For example in one of my learning activities students had to post an original poem they created on Google Docs. You can not share links, docs, and prompts in replies to post Thus students had to create a new post, follow the correct naming protocol. As the modules were self paced and could be completed in any order this lead to a cluttered feed.


Video is such a powerful tool in online education. No not my pre-recorded lectures, but artifacts of student work. In my f2f class students had to submit written mini-lessons. I did not have enough classroom time for everyone to present their teaching live. Yet in my online class everyone had to record themselves teaching a mini-lesson.

There was a stark difference in thee quality of feedback I could offer. In almost all instances every student included modeling in their lesson plan. Yet when I watched videotaped lessons it was not always present. This provided formative data that students did not fully grasp modeling. If I just used my paper based method for grading I would have thought the opposite.

Hangouts on Air are the best pedagogical feature of Google+. Even if I drop Google+ as a learning space I would still utilize Hangouts. Hangouts on Air though again raise privacy concerns. I do let students know they can immediately go in and switch a video to private after the Hangout is completed but for a short time anyone anywhere can see what students are doing. This is a violation of basic privacy protections in higher education.

Instead of HoA I might have to do video parties instead. This would require creating circles for my entire class and then circles for each group. Students would have to record their screens while throwing video parties. I of course would like to encourage students to use HoA but if any one student wants to keep their learning private I cannot use HoA.

Next Steps

Even though I believe organizing my course around Google Sites over Google+ is better instructional design I am not ready to give up completely. Next semester I am teaching multiple online classes. I am debating setting one class up on Google Sites and the other class up on Google+. This would be a great self study.

Google+ is a powerful learning tool. I use it every day. I just wonder if it is better for more informal or less structured learning rather than a formally designed class. I find so much values in communities on Google+. I get just in time instruction and engage in wonderful conversations. I still want to see if I can translate this into my classrooms.

I had argued earlier in #CE13 that we really need to think about developing a web presence and not a portfolio. As you know I am using Google Apps as a Free LMS for a writing intensive class I currently teach. I am focusing much of my work on modeling and teaching multimodal composition.

My students are developing a web presence (which they may choose to keep private). They have developed a blog, a Google+ account, and participate in our Modules on Google Sites. They create infographics using Glogster, classroom diagrams in Google Draw,review children’s literature on Wikispaces, and participate in book discussions using Google Hangouts on Air.

I realized though the web presence does not have the necessary reflection and curated documentation of growth necessary for portfolio assessment. Yet using Google as a free LMS is going to make the inclusion of portfolio assessment not only efficient but logical.

The students, by developing a web presence, already have collected their learning artifacts. I realized this when I scrolled through our Google+ Community. The students had all just uploaded a reading mini-lesson they could teach.It was the performance assessment for our reader’s workshop module. Sharing the videos on Google+ allowed for easy feedback and reflection.

I can not teach writing instruction without a focus on portfolio assessment methods. Nor can I teach multimodal composition without students developing portfolios of their own work. So I have decided to make my last module focus on the devlopment of a portfolio.

I hope to do this in Google+ (instead of a Google Site). This is where I am looking for help and feedback. I am thinking about having students develop a Page within Google+ at the end of the semester. I am thinking they could highlight blog posts they wrote, videos they created, and document their learning process. Do folks have any experience with developing Google+ Pages? What are the limitations? Are my ideas possible?

Related Posts


After much prodding from Ian (@wiobyrne) I am attempting to move my classes this fall from BB9 to using Google Apps as an LMS. I always wanted to break away from Blackboard. Not because I do not like the affordances of the platform. My main reason was I need to model digital teaching and learning using digital texts and tools that future classrooms will be able to access.

Testing out Google Apps as an LMS

I piloted it this past year with an iPad professional development course I ran with Branford Public Schools. I had a few revelations around discussion in online courses. First and foremost is the idea that social networks are not the place for deep analytical academic discourse.

I have had this belief for almost as long as social networks emerged in the classroom. I remember back to NCTE in 2007 when a few of us were sitting around a table discussing research agendas. Nings were the thing and everyone wanetd to hop on and move their class to social networks. I argued then, as I do now, that stackable unthreaded conversations do not have the affordances for deep conversations.

Yet I do see the power of social media in terms of building a sense of community and I have had wonderful conversations in Google+ Communities. Still running a classroom in Google+ or Edmodo is does not have the efficacy of an onld school discussion board.

Discussion in Google Apps as an LMS.

I thought you basically had two choices. Embedding Google Groups or creating a Google+ Community. I am now leaning to a more a hybrid approach that incoroprates three elements:

  • Google Groups
  • Google+ Community
  • Blogger
  • Google Groups

    Google Groups will be used to discuss readings (videos,texts, picturres). As an instructor I need to be able to track the thoughts and developments of threads. I do not need to lose posts based on the tyranny of the immediate.

    Google+ Community

    Google+ will be used to build community. Thus I will create a class community for picture sharing and general discussion. Most important folks will share resources they find. We will curate our class identity. Students will also share links to their longer form writing via personal blogs.


    You can’t teach writing and not be a writer. Period. The class I will be testing out is a course in children’s literature and literacy. Thus I ask my students to write. I have used Blogger in the past and created a bundle in Google Reader. That option is now out. So what I will do now is ask folks to share their most recent posts to our Community. They will also enable Google+ comments on their blogs.

    I love the integration of Google+ into my WordPress blog. I am finding my most active discussions come from Google+ versus my followers or those unlucky few who stumble on my blog. I will have my students do the same in Blogger. You can easily integrate comments from Google+. I feel this will go a long way to creating a community of writers any literacy classroom needs.

    Today I was fortunate to participate my first, and possibly the first ever unhangout. I can not contain my excitement about this wonderful tool.

    Unhangout is another wonderful project from the MIT Media Lab and supported by the MacArthur Foundation. It is an open source project and those more familiar with the innards of code can modify and use. Basically, unhangout works as a platform for virtual unconferences.

    Screenshot 7:29:13 2:08 PM

    Anyone familiar with the BarCamp or EdCamp movements will understand the workflow. There was a lobby where participants could join a Google Hangout OnAir. The lobby had a wonderful chat feature.

    Then there were breakout sessions organized into separate hangouts. Thus ten people could join a session.

    Today’s unconference was a joint venture from the #clmooc sponsored by the National Writing Project and connectedlearningtv. The developers from the MIT Media Lab also attended. I joined late and entered the room Writing as Making/Making as Writing. Their were seven other participants in the room. The Google Hangout worked, beyond some usual bandwidth glitches, quite well. I was able to share stories of what happens when we “schoolify” making and discussed how writing is both instant improv and a deep reflective process.

    There were some limitations. Today’s unconference was small scale. Google Hangouts may or may not have a cap of 10 participants. This would limit the number of people who could actively participate in each breakout session. Yet maybe smaller sessions will allow for more in depth conversation. I cannot wait to see where the MIT Media Lab developers: Philipp SchmidtDrew HarrySrishti Sethi take the project.

    Overall, for me, unhangout is one of the most exciting digital texts and tools to emerge in sometime. In terms of classroom use I see many potential opportunities. We could have interest driven self directed professional development (i.e.#edcamp). Students could join book clubs or discuss specific disciplinary texts across districts, states, and international borders. Most importantly students could find others with similar interest driven passions and create their own unhangout experience. This would unite the connected learning principles with emerging pedagogies of digital texts and tools.

    UPDATE: After listening to last week’s episode of TWIT (the Google I/O summary. I realized that my hope was a little overblown. Google Play for Education will be for the Android Store. The Chromebooks of course use the Chrome Web store. So until these two infrastructures talk schools must decide do the want an Android tablet or a Chromebook.

    Will it be a game changer? Yesterday, at Google I/O, Google stepped up their educational game. As many of you know I would love to throw my weight behind Chrome initiatives in 1:1 classroom. The price point is right, the enterprise features fit, Google Drive and Sites can be the LMS…but…the Apps just are not there.



    Now I have argued in the past that the teacher and not the app matters. Yet there are glaring holes in the app infrastructure in the Play Store. These are tools that enhance teacher pedagogical goals. Most damaging for me is the lack of interactive whiteboard apps (if you know of any please let me know). There are others.


    I am hopeful that this new effort will fill the void. So hopeful that I just ordered a classroom cart of 30 Chromebooks. I will pilot the use of these Chromebooks at a summer camp for 150 seventh graders.


    +ianobyrne and I will be running a ChromeCamp unconference this summer. Stay tuned for details


    In sum, the Google+ features are amazing, but it is Google Play for Education that excites me the most.