Google announced earlier this week that it has partnered with Weekly Reader, a producer of educational materials for children since 1928, to help teach “collaborative writing” to young students in the US. The concept here is fairly straightforward. Using Google Docs (a web-based word processor) and its new revision features, students “can work together from different computers to write and revise the same paper,” which helps drive home the point that writing is a process that “encourages multiple revisions and peer editing.”
This announcement is not exactly a headline grabber, certainly not the kind that we’re used to seeing come out of Googleplex. But we find it worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. For starters, Google Docs is handy for adults too. The free product lets you write and edit docs from any location. So you can draft a document at work and then edit it from home, or you can have a colleague in the next office, or thousands of miles away, make changes to the document as well. It’s a good freebie. And we actually use it to plan the writing of Open Culture.
Next there is this fact to note: The deal with Weekly Reader almost feels like pro bono work. But then you remember that Google is a public company hellbent on growth, and the wheels start turning, and you start to see the Weekly Reader deal a little differently. It’s an opportunity for thousands of kids — tomorrow’s consumers — to be exposed to Google Docs, a product that will inevitably mature and one day rival Microsoft Word. A new generation will get comfortable using web-based software to do their word processing, which puts Microsoft’s high-margin software business at risk … deeply at risk. You can get more information on the collaborative writing project here.
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Next generation word processing? Yes, this is most certainly an opportunity for google to expose kids to their web-based word processing software. What will be interesting to watch is how instruction changes over time with the availability of such free resources. I’ver personally used google docs for a number of personal and professional projects, and can only imagine how streamlined it could make the evaluation process for instructors who choose to use it in their language arts and writing classes to grade papers, hand out assignments, and encourage peer review activities. Palo Alto High teacher Esther Wojcicki (see http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2006-12-03-google-education_x.htm) is a good example of the possibilities.
A little elaboration on Esther Wojcicki is perhaps deserved. Google was founded in the garage of one of her daughters, and the daughter went on to be a major player at the company; her other daughter went on to marry Sergey Brin. All of this makes her not your average Palo Alto school teacher.