Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky is the Director of Educational Technology at the Frisch School, in Paramus, NJ. In this capacity, he works with the faculty to integrate technology into every aspect of teaching and learning at Frisch. He is an active blogger on topics related to the intersection of technology and Jewish education and an avid user of social media. You can read his blog at: http://techrav.blogspot.
Last week, I had the privilege of joining our engineering classes on a trip to Google. Wow! As my students pointed out, it was like a modern day Willie Wonka with game rooms, lego, scooters, funky furniture everywhere, and three free scrumptious meals a day and numerous free snacks (with kosher food for Jewish employees). Everything was designed to maximize creativity on the part of the Google staff. Work areas were arranged with a focus on group work (with cubicles for when one wanted to conduct a private conversation) and the architecture and furniture seemed to be designed to create opportunities for people to get together from different departments informally to share what they are working on. This has me wondering… How can our schools be more like Google?
I have blogged about Google’s unique philosophy in the past in a discussion of Google’s idea of 20% time where every employee gets 20% of her time to work on her own pet project- an idea which might be fascinating in an educational setting. My colleague Tikvah Wiener has been blogging about a similar idea in her musings on the MIT Media lab described in the book Sorcerers and Their Apprentices. She describes how our schools should be designed to provide students with “hard fun”, where students are encouraged to bring their most fanciful ideas to fruition, and “serendipity by design”, where students and teachers are encouraged to have accidental encounters to share and grow creatively.
However, at the same time, I wonder if this Google paradise might be too much for the overwhelming majority of our students. As another colleague of mine Dan Rosen noted in a recent posting, there are many kinds of students. One student said during the Google visit, “I could never work here. There are too many distractions.” Google is a self-selected group. They take the most intelligent and creative young engineers, self-starters by nature, and place them in an environment to maximize their autonomy and creativity. But would this work in a regular working environment or a school where there are many different kinds of learners? How do we, on the one hand, create a Google-type of environment for those students who would thrive in this atmosphere, while creating a more structured environment for those who would only be successful with more direct instruction and rules? (I know rules have been given a bad rap among creative folks but my experience as a Jew tells me that most of us thrive when given the opportunity to express ourselves within the structure of set rules. See David Brooks, The Orthodox Surge for a well reasoned presentation of this position.)
So I am at an impasse. While I ask myself, how can our schools be more like Google? I also wonder, should our schools be more like Google? I welcome your feedback in the comments to this posting.