Google Fast and Apple Simple

by Jean Tower

At the recent annual ACT Meeting Larry Berger, chief executive officer and co-founder of Wireless Generation, presented on “Google Fast and Apple Simple: The Critical Interdependency between Technology and Information Solutions.” In his presentation, he explained that for educators to use data to make decisions about teaching, differentiation, and student-learning, the systems have to be as simple as an Apple computer or device to use and the data needs to be returned fast, Google fast.

That’s a description I can get behind. In Massachusetts we have a statewide Data Warehouse provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). It is built on Cognos and is a centralized K-12 data storage and analysis tool that is free and available to all public schools. It is unwieldy to use and painfully slow. Principals and curriculum leaders in my district have complained bitterly that even in the evening during non-peak hours they sit waiting for over 30 or 40 minutes for reports to run, if they complete at all. Complaints showered upon the DESE from all over the state, and they are now promising that upgrades are in the pipeline, but it may be too little, too late. We’ll see if they can restore confidence after the tepid recent performance.

The phrase “Google fast and Apple simple” has now taken root in my thoughts and I’ve decided I want to hold it up as a standard for all our software providers.

How fast should it run? Google fast. Google anticipates the end of my query and shows results even while I am still typing.

How simple should the interface be? Apple simple. As simple as handing an iPad to a two-year old and watching them, within seconds, playing a game or swooshing through images.

Maybe Google fast is like No Child Left Behind – not realistic but a worthy goal. If so, we should hold it out as the ideal and let software providers know that it is the standard against which they will be measured.

I’m tired of dealing with student information systems, special education management software, and learning systems that have interfaces that seem like they were built by drunken apes. We shouldn’t have to wait hours for reports to run. We should be able to expect as much constant innovation and forward-thinking solutions from the software we pay for as from the software we use for free on the web.

Schools should not have to deal with software that’s “not ready for prime time” just because the state department of education endorses it or supplies it.  We should advocate for innovative, cutting-edge tools that truly support the business of schools.

Districts in all states are expected to submit data to the state (for the state to pass on to the National Department of Education) constantly. We are asked to track data on students and faculty and courses and performance that, in reality, we are pulling from many silos at great expense of time and energy. Give us the tools – give us software that pulls it all together for us, software that is Google fast and Apple simple.

References
ACT; http://www.act.org/
ACT is the independent, not-for-profit organization that provides the ACT test

Annual Meeting News; http://www.act.org/activity/winter2011/annualmeeting.html

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