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Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist, Google, USA

Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, talks to The PIE about the global giant’s education initiatives, and how important it is for educators to continuously innovate in the space and avoid standing still among the disruption.

The PIE: As Chief Education Evangelist at Google, what does your role entail?

"Access is absolutely the most critical component. Until we solve that problem, we need to have supplementary solutions, so how do you do offline connectivity?"

JC: My responsibility is two things. One, internally work across all the different teams around messaging, around what it is that we’re focused on, to provide subject matter and expertise to folks who are working around different projects around education. So my job is to know as much as I can about education and what is happening in the space, so I can be intelligent when I talk to our teams about what we’re doing and what we should be doing inside frameworks that we create.

“My job is to know as much as I can about education and what is happening in the space”

Externally my job is to talk about education and the role that technology plays in education. Not necessarily to put into schools or to put in education but to really take education to the next level, to take education to where it needs to be to face the globally connected, network-based, knowledge-based economy that we face.

The PIE: You have previously spoken about a need for a culture shift in education. Can you expand on this and how can we encourage this?

JC: Before my 10 years at Google I spent seven years at Accenture as a consultant. I worked in the electronics and high-tech industry for a long time and I would sit with clients and we were in these organisations to help them change, to help them do something differently.

Oftentimes we spent a lot of time getting into whose doing it well, what are the best practices, what’s the best in class, what’s the best in industry and trying to see what we could do with that information. I think the difference between that kind of work and working in the education space, is often I talk to education leaders who will say, what is the right model? Give me a school that is doing it well and I will just go there and visit them and copy exactly what they are doing, and that just doesn’t work, right?

What you can do is do what we do in other industries and take the best practices, the best ideas but we have to make it our own. So to just go to a school and copy what they’re doing without thinking about the culture elements, without thinking about your organisation, the way your communication plans are set up, the structure that you need to do this, the hiring practices that you have, for example – these are all factors that play into what a school is going to look like.

“We used to have a very stable, standard education process. That doesn’t exist anymore, we have to constantly iterate and innovate”

The PIE: So in context, do you think that’s why we haven’t got a global answer?

JC: Right, there is no global answer. This could be inside the same town; what works in one school might not necessarily work in another school. You have to take cultural influences into consideration.

The PIE: How do you value international experiences as technology is developing?

JC: I call that global competency skills. It is absolutely critical. We don’t live in a single place and do everything in a single world anymore – my team is spread out through the entire world. So having that global competency experience is absolutely critical because we need to understand what is going on in the world.

The critical thing there, is to make sure that we understand what we are teaching our kids when it comes to global competency skills. From my perspective, and I will give you my kids as an example, is that any time I get a chance I take them to other countries, so that they can experience that, or I encourage them. My daughter is about to spend six months in Argentina. Having that broad experience, that understanding of international issues is absolutely critical.

“We don’t live in a single place and do everything in a single world anymore. Having global competency experience is absolutely critical”

Here is the other thing I would say from a competitive evangelist perspective: there are so many times when I travel abroad, when I go to a different country, I will see something, I will see a trend and I will say ‘why aren’t we doing X in the United States’? Or there’s things that we do here that other countries aren’t doing.

The idea that you can go and visit other countries and get ideas and see what is going on and then be able to take those ideas and implement them in your space is absolutely critical. So there are some great ideas not just in your community but all over the world.

The PIE: What are the biggest challenges facing continents like Africa, in terms of edtech?

JC: Well two things, one is access which is technically a temporary problem, the number of users continues to go up. One of the projects that Google has is Project Loon which is this idea that you can launch balloons and provide connectivity through space, if you will. That’s a project around being able to provide access, but access is absolutely the most critical component.

So what I would think that edtech companies need to focus on is until we solve that problem, until organisations can figure out how to bring that access, we need to have supplementary solutions, so how do you do offline connectivity? How do you create server spaces where people can actually bring their stuff and connect to the internet and do it back and forth and then go back offline? There are different things; it is a struggle that we have as well. We’re an internet based company and it is hard for us to build tools that aren’t internet based or internet connected, so it is something we talk about and struggle with all the time.

The PIE: Do you think we will still be having these edtech conversations in five years’ time?

JC: I hope so, I just hope we don’t call it technology in education anymore. We don’t talk about technology in anything else, right? We don’t say technology in banking or technology in healthcare or technology in hotels. So you used technology, you checked in online, you did all the things but you didn’t say, ‘oh I really got involved in the hotel tech’, right?

“I just hope we don’t call it technology in education anymore. We don’t talk about technology in anything else, right?”

I think there is still a separation between what we call traditional education and technology education and we should just be talking about education. So I am hoping in five years, all we’re doing is talking about the best models, the best practices in education and how do we scale those, how do we implement those, how do we make local education organisations take those best ideas and make it their own.

The PIE: What else is Google doing in terms of education initiatives?

JC: We are working on a couple of things, I think the big one is Google Apps for Education. When we are talking about Google Apps, what we really mean is in the traditional sense of computer applications. Google Apps for Education is specific for education – and we have 50 million users around the world using Google Apps for Education, so that’s the big one. Classroom is another feature inside Google Apps for Education. Classroom is a management tool for teachers to make using Google Apps easier to use.

Then we have devices like Chromebooks that we released a couple of years ago, which makes using technology in our classrooms easier, manageable, scalable and to be as invisible as possible and they have been doing very very well.

Then we have whole bunch of different programmes that are relatively new and sometimes unheard of, so we have a new project called Expeditions – we can use virtual reality to bring kids into different environments and that is very exciting. Right now we have teams going around the world doing Expedition demos at schools. The feedback that we have been getting from both teachers and students has been tremendous.

Then we have a whole bunch of outreach programmes that we’re involved in, whether it is CS4HS, which is a computer science activity course, that you can implement in elementary school to get kids interested or to get them on that path of computer science. Those seem to be the big ones that people pay attention to.

The PIE: How are they used internationally?

JC: When I said 50 million users, I meant in the entire world. We have users in the UK, users in Europe, in Asia, in Africa and South America. Our team started off as relatively small and continues to grow. We have folks who are based in London, Ireland and other parts of the world who are working with universities and primary and secondary institutions to talk to them about how to implement Google Apps.

“How do we use education to improve those odds, how do we use education to lift people out of poverty? That’s kind of my mission”

The PIE: So what is your motivation to do what you do?

JC: It’s all personal, right? This all comes to me because education was the most important thing in my life. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if it wasn’t for an education, and that’s true for all of us but especially true for those who grew up in poverty, those of us who grew up without the necessary resources that we need. And the anchor to get us out of those environments is education so it is absolutely critical.

For example, here in the US, if you have high potential, a very good student and you happen to be poor, black and Latino, you have like a 9% chance of graduating from college. Those are devastating odds, and so how do we use technology, how do we use education to improve those odds, how do we use education to lift people out of poverty? That’s kind of my mission, my passion.

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