First Adopters

Two members of Google’s management team break down the technological trends that promise to shape tomorrow’s business school classrooms.
First Adopters

Google began with a mission: to create the ultimate search engine to help users tame the unruly and exponentially growing repository of information that is the Internet. And most would agree that when the word “Google” became a verb, that mission was largely accomplished.

Based in Mountain View, California, Google now has branched into nearly all aspects of the Internet experience, including many related to education. Among these is the Google Apps for Education suite, which includes Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites, and other tools that provide professors and students a central platform through which to interact, communicate, and collaborate.

In 2006, Google replaced Google Video with its acquisition of YouTube. That acquisition led to the creation of YouTube EDU in 2009, which gives schools the opportunity to create dedicated online channels for their courses and content. Today, the site has more than 300 educational channels.

BizEd spoke to Jeff Keltner and Obadiah Greenberg, senior managers leading the way in Google’s cloud computing and YouTube EDU divisions. Both emphasize that business schools shouldn’t watch and wait for a company like Google to write the future. Rather, Google’s technology will be shaped by educators’ creativity and willingness to experiment, they say, to see what works and what doesn’t.

What have been some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen educators use online technologies?
Even the basic ways can be transformational. For example, some students and professors use Google Docs to collaborate on group projects and engage in an interactive writing and research process. Others use forms in Google Spreadsheets to do research and conduct surveys. We’re perpetually surprised by the creativity of our users and the ways they’re taking advantage of these tools. My sense is that the best is yet to come.

Many business professors are experimenting with mobile technologies. In what ways do you expect universities to employ mobile in their curricula?
I recently saw a professor ask students to send in 20 examples of a concept they were working on—he created a work cloud of all the responses they sent from their mobile devices. Other professors are conducting real-time quizzes on mobile devices. That gives them instant feedback, so they know what students don’t understand and focus more time on those topics. They’re also using mobile technologies to connect with students through instant messaging or online office hours. We’re going to see schools continue to develop these techniques over the next few years.

How do you think Android, Google’s open-source operating system for mobile devices, will fit into these uses?
One way is through Android App Inventor, which enables people without traditional computer science backgrounds to create Android applications. Some schools are using Android as the basis for “intro to computing” courses, while others are using it to teach students about everything they can do on a mobile device.

Another great example that has immediate application for both businesses and business schools is Moderator. This is a tool that allows users to submit questions or ideas to a group. Some schools have used it to moderate Q&A sessions in class or in larger settings. Businesses, including Google, use it to collect feedback and ideas from users.

We want to create new applications that take advantage of the unique capabilities of mobile devices. For instance, a mobile phone knows so much about the user and its physical location. At some schools, people can access walking directions to buildings on campus using Google Maps on their phones. Professors can design activities that take advantage of the contextual and time awareness that mobile allows.

Factories don’t look the same as they did 50 years ago because of technology; many classrooms do, despite it.

What do tablets like the iPad mean to Google’s product development?
The iPad is so much more versatile than any device we’ve had before. Its browser and screen allow richer Web-based and client-based applications, including video and media content. The iPad shows how powerful the Web is going to be. To take advantage of this, we’ve created a custom Gmail experience for the iPad based on the combination of a touch interface and the larger screen. We anticipate that Android-based tablets will come out in the near future.

Because of the cost savings, many business schools are turning to cloud computing, using online software like Google Apps and storing their data on servers maintained by companies like Google. But many educators have concerns about the security, privacy, and accessibility of cloud computing. How do you respond to their concerns?
One of the most critical conversations we have with schools—or any organization considering cloud applications—is about security. I often compare cloud computing to flying. I have friends who still prefer to drive rather than fly. They don’t feel safe in an airplane because they can’t “turn the wheel” if something happens. But statistically, we all know that flying is much safer than driving.

It’s a cultural shift to let that control go. But we explain that, because of the scale of our operation, we can write our own operating and filing systems and customize our hardware to our specifications. This allows us to control that environment. This scale doesn’t make sense for most organizations.

In addition, we’ve received the SAS 70 Type 2 certification, which spells out how we manage our data centers. We recently received certification through the Federal Information Security Management Act, which shows that the federal government trusts us to handle its confidential, but not classified, data. Each year, a third party also audits our security practices to show that what we say we’re doing is what we’re actually doing.

We just released a white paper that outlines our security practices in a little more depth. We can’t disclose everything, but to assuage security concerns, we are opening up the curtains a little to show people how we do it.

How do you advise educators to keep up with the constant barrage of new technologies?
Just talk to your students—I never fail to be impressed when I talk to students. They always know something new about technology. They’ve found a new startup or they’re using a new site. Sometimes they’re doing something I hadn’t thought of with our own tools! Students will point professors in the right direction, because they’re doing it for fun and they love it.

You’ve said that higher education institutions have generally been slow in adopting new technologies. Have there been areas of higher education where adoption has been more rapid?
Smaller schools often have more luck because their communities are more unified, and they have more cohesiveness among their faculty. Other schools are successful because they’re willing to go bold and celebrate their adoption of new technology. And, at others, having a champion—just one professor who gets it—is critical. That professor’s students go to their other classes and talk about the cool things they’re doing in Professor X’s class, and it builds from there.

What do you think it will take to drive more professors to experiment with technology?
Educators must be willing to accept failure. Schools that build a culture where professors are encouraged to try something new and screw it up a few times in order to get it right—they will be the most successful adopters of technologies. Cole Camplese, director of education technology services at Penn State, is a great example. He put a live Twitter feed at the back of his class just to see what would happen. He experiments, and some of the things he tries work, and some don’t. But the only way a professor can figure out what works is by trying five things that don’t. That’s just part of the process.

What challenges do you see ahead for business schools?
The challenges I see are not technology-based, but culture-based. Education is one of the lowest adopters of technology of any industry, except maybe healthcare. There are examples of professors who are embracing new technologies and finding new ways to educate. But because of tenure and other factors, most professors aren’t the first to want to change the way they do things.

So, one of our biggest concerns is the willingness of the educational community to take advantage of what’s out there. We can put keyboards into the classrooms, but if we don’t rethink what we do to take advantage of that technology, the technology itself doesn’t really help. Factories don’t look the same as they did 50 years ago because of technology; many classrooms do, despite it.

YouTube EDU is just more than a year old. What trends have you seen in that time?
For me, the most exciting trend continues to be how schools are posting video of all the lectures that make up a semester’s class. That allows anyone in the world to audit courses in their interests at leading institutions. Many schools want to use YouTube for marketing, but I think viewers get the best idea about what it’s like to go to a certain university when they learn from the school, not just about it.

What’s also interesting is to see how these schools are going about the capture and delivery of these courses. It can be expensive. Some schools are recording a few courses with multiple cameras and editing; others are capturing content at a little lower quality, but on a much bigger scale. Schools are looking for that right balance between quality and quantity.

What features are schools asking for, as they develop their video channels?
Many schools already have accessibility requirements on their own campuses, so many of our partners have been asking us to provide a captioning feature for the hearing impaired. Earlier this year, YouTube launched a feature called Auto Captions, which provides a speech-to-text conversion that automates the captioning process. It allows the content provider to download the automated caption as a transcript, edit it, and then upload the corrected text. Our technology automatically synchronizes the text to the spoken word.

Once schools have those captions in place, we also offer a feature called Auto Translate. That allows content providers to translate captions into about 50 languages, which opens up content to a worldwide audience.

What have you found most interesting about the ways schools have used the site?
We’re seeing really innovative and savvy videos that take advantage of real-time, real-world trends. For example, there was a lot of buzz about the movie “Watchmen” before it came out last year. A physics professor at the University of Minnesota, who was a consultant for that movie, helped create a YouTube video called “The Science of ‘Watchmen,’” which was released when the movie came out. The video became a hit. It showed that an educational video can span interests and genres.

These videos also allow students at one university to watch lectures by professors at another.
Certainly, students are using this as a supplementary tool to hear new perspectives on topics they’re studying or see how a topic is taught at MIT or Berkeley—there’s no need for them to restrict themselves to only the teaching at their own institutions. They have the opportunity to sit in on courses taught by instructors who are the best in their fields—the Nobel Laureates. When I look at the comments to the videos of some lectures, I’ll see some students write, “This really gives me a fuller understanding of this topic.” Students are realizing that there’s more than one way to teach something.

Can business schools gauge how many people their videos are reaching and where they’re located?
Some of it is anecdotal, coming from the schools themselves. For example, one professor at Berkeley teaches a popular course called “Physics for President.” He told me that he has received messages from people in 80 different countries. We also offer tools to help schools gain a sense of the geographies that people are visiting from.

Do most videos on YouTube EDU come from the sciences?
It’s not surprising that we have a lot of material from computer science, physics, and engineering—these disciplines were the early adopters. But we’re seeing more from the humanities. Yale recently began providing courseware in literature and philosophy, and Harvard put up its famous justice series, which was also broadcast on WGBH of Boston.

How many business schools have channels?
There are approximately ten U.S. business schools listed on YouTube EDU, with many more European business school channels. This does not count channels that have business school content mixed into the main channel, which is ideal to build a large audience. Because engineering schools were early adopters of Webcasting, they have the most content. But business schools are probably the most prolific, given their strong brand identities, marketing savvy, and video production budgets.

What kind of content attracts the most viewers?
Business content dealing with finance, leadership, management, and entrepreneurship are popular, indicating a hunger among viewers to improve their workplace skills. If I were running a business school’s online media program, I would focus on a series of short lessons featuring local and visiting experts on these topics.

Viewers get the best idea about what it’s like to go to a certain university when they learn from the school, not just about it.

Do you see a future at YouTube EDU where viewers could audit not just a course, but a full degree program?
I love the idea of adding more curation to our content, so that viewers could follow a guided curriculum. But we would have to work closely with our partner schools, because educators have the strongest sense of what a guided curriculum should look like.

However, we did do something lightweight along those lines last summer. We offered a series of blog posts called YouTube Summer School, which included courses on subjects such as art, physics, and biology. We’ve also seen third parties doing this. For example, Grockit, an online learning community, has started using YouTube EDU videos in its lessons. Another organization, Academic Earth, uses YouTube videos in this manner. Because of YouTube’s open format, people can do this type of thing on their own sites if they choose to.

Have you hit any obstacles along the way in YouTube EDU’s development?
If I do see an obstacle, it’s reaching the schools that are still realizing the potential of online video in their classrooms. However, new schools come on board every day, working with their faculty members to develop the infrastructure to produce more video content. Some schools are still turning the ship, but it’s happening.

What trends in online video content should business schools prepare for?
One exciting trend I’ve seen comes from an educator named Salmon Khan, who has been very interesting to watch. He started the Khan Academy in his own home, creating short tutorials on various subjects. To date, he has produced well over 1,000 videos on YouTube. To me, this is an interesting trend that takes best advantage of YouTube—the viewer can isolate a particular ten-minute topic, rather than having to work through an hour and a half video to find a solution.

The Khan Academy shows that it’s not just schools that can reach out directly to worldwide audiences—individual teachers can as well. There are teachers who will embrace that and those who won’t. But for those who do, the benefits are tremendous.