My visit to Google Campus on July 10

Me at Google

Yes, yes, I know that many of you have been waiting to see this – and here it is!

Google Campus

Those who know me are aware that I was really excited about attending NECC 2006 in San Diego between July 4th and 7th. A special thanks to my school, Lower Canada College, for supporting me in that! However, I was even more thrilled to be invited to lunch at Google Campus in Mountain View a few days later. My bro-in-law, Dave, works there and was quite happy to extend the invitation and show me around. I am such a geek!

Google patio at lunch

I discovered that Google Campus has more than 20 buildings spread over several blocks and intermingled between other Silicon Valley companies’ buildings. We had lunch at Café 7, one of seven cafeterias on the campus. Café 7 had only been open for three weeks and the “7” implies food from the seven seas.

Well, yes, it looked like a cafeteria. We entered, picked up trays, and went through the typical queue of a cafeteria. Just about there, the resemblance ends.

For a starter, I opted for the salad of baby greens, roasted corn, blue cheese and a Japanese lemon vinaigrette. The chefs behind the counters happily tossed all for me before handing it back. From there, I chose the Mulligatawny soup with drizzled yogurt and cilantro. I couldn’t then resist the Morrocan tangine of potatoes. And for the main course, I was greedy and chose both the stuffed roasted quail and grilled Alaskan halibut. Somehow I found room for dessert – mango pudding, cherry and white chocolate chip cookies and apples in phyllo pastry (“beggar’s purse”). Pretty impressive for a lunch.

And absolutely free for Google employees (and their guests! I like being a cheap date). While we feasted, the head chef, a recent Google acquirement, visited the tables and chatted amiably with the clientele. It was clear he took great pride in the food served. I was told that he had been head chef at a very chi-chi restaurant in The Bay area but had been successfully lured to Google.

When I asked my bro-in-law, Dave, about this spectacular provision of food, he pointed out that by providing really good food, Google was encouraging its employees to stay put on campus for lunch thus lessening the time spent traveling for food elsewhere and also providing more opportunities for collaboration amongst employees. However, as one can imagine, Google employees are a relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan collection of people, so the food that is offered has to be of a very high quality in order for them to be enticed to hang around. I was told that Google currently employs about 10,000 people (worldwide) and the average experience level of a new Google employee is about ten years, thus putting the mean age of Googlers at about 34 or 35. That makes Dave (my husband’s older brother) one of the old guys who actually has children (three in fact!).

I was assured that the other six cafeterias were equally fantastic in quality. We walked over to two of the other buildings to take a peek at them. As we were walking over, I noticed quite a few people whizzing past on scooters. I had to ask. Yes, Google provides scooters so that the employees could get to meetings in other buildings faster.

Scooters at Google

Because it was lunch time, quite a few of the Google staff were out on the patio enjoying the beautiful sunshine. I noted the beach volleyball set-up and the two endless pools for swimming laps. We walked around a bit inside two of the other buildings. I was not permitted to take any photos indoors (I was not surprised), so all of my photos are of the outdoors at Google Campus.

Over lunch, I asked Dave a lot of questions about what a typical day for him would be like and he admitted that he spent much more time collaborating in meetings than other jobs he has had. Collaboration and connection are big themes for Googlers. He talked about how Google’s main vision was about connectedness and bringing connectedness to people on the global level. I couldn’t help but bring up George Siemen’s thoughts on connectivism. I recalled running across a white paper that Siemens had actually written for Google. It is an interesting read and I promised Dave that I would pass it on to him. Google seems to regularly bring in guest lecturers and Dave mentioned a few that had impressed him. Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink fame) was one of them. Can’t wait to check him out!

I have always been impressed with Google because it has managed to stay on the cutting edge of Internet technology in a very competitive environment. Not only do they have a search engine that rocks, they have created a number of social computing tools which they offer for free. Also, they demonstrate concern for environmental issues by providing incentives for their employees to go “low-carbon”. Dave was toying with the idea of giving up his precious bmw to take advantage of the Toyota Prius programme that Google has. One of the cafeterias – Café 150 – uses resources and supplies that can be found only in the 150 mile radius of Google Campus so as to cut down on the shipping of food and thus be a “low-carbon” alternative.

Google Patio

At the end of the visit, I thanked Dave and told him that it had been a truly celestial experience. And I meant it. I’m such a geek (or at least a wannabe geek!).

Standing on the shoulders of giants – GSN Awards Dinner

The other night (Wednesday, July 5) I had the rare privilege of sharing dinner with an incredibly talented group of teachers from around the world at a beautiful restaurant in Old Town, San Diego. We had been invited there by the board members of Global SchoolNet to celebrate the GSN Teacher award winners for 2006. As a finalist, I shared the table with former award winners, and present award winners Marsha Goren (Israel) and Jennifer Wagner (California). What an opportunity for rich discussion and shared experiences of global collaborative learning!

I had met Jennifer at the Laptop Institute last year and it was a pleasure to renew our acquaintance. She is brilliant and prolific in the school computer lab and will be presenting again this year at Laptop Institute. She was kind enough to loan me her power supply for my Dell laptop for an afternoon – a lifesaver! Hopefully we will keep in touch in the future!
I sat next to Yvonne Andrés, president and CEO of the Global SchoolNet Foundation who has been a pioneer in computer exchanges since the early 1980s. Sitting across from me, was Karen Eini from Israel; she is the powerhouse who created the Friends and Flags program several years ago. Karen was born and raised in Montréal and will be there next week so we are arranging a meeting to discuss possible collaboration in the future (I hope). She is very inspiring in her passion and dedication to her project.

Many inspiring stories of computer and Internet collaboration were represented that night, but perhaps the most inspiring was that of Harry Konnor Tetteh who was also present at the dinner. Harry was visiting San Diego from Ghana – West Africa. He had been the coach to the GSN CyberFair entry (silver medallist), Arts of Music. The school in Ghana did not have Internet access so Harry travelled a number of miles from the school to an Internet cafe where he would upload the research the students had completed to students at John Muir School who would put the information on webpages to be viewed on the Internet. Harry so believed in the power and importance of global collaboration through ICT that he spent a good deal of his own money to gain access to the Internet. We who have high speed Internet access for less than a dollar a day (a very small percentage of our overall income) perhaps cannot appreciate that Harry’s Internet expenditures represented a significant percentage of his monthly income. He truly sacrificed much more than just his own travel time to make the collaboration between students take place. The resulting website is rich in content and information about the important link between culture and music in Ghana.

Board members of GSN shared their memories of the earliest days of pioneering computer collaboration between students in schools. Their passion and vision for global partnerships has certainly been passed on to a new generation of teachers who have more tools and opportunities than ever before. Founders Yvonne André and Al Rogers unveiled their latest development for GSN – iPoPP – International Projects or Partners Place.

NECC Session: Global VOICES – from July 7

Global VOICES : Videoconferencing Opportunities, Information and Cultural Encounters

Jody Kennedy
Friday, July 7 – 2:30-3:30

In spite of the late hour of the conference on the last day, this session was well attended by a variety of other educators. Jody Kennedy invited five of her colleagues to co-present with her to provide a better scope of the Global VOICES presentation. Jody was well supported with a bevy of her own administrators attending this session.

She first related how initially her school was open to using new technologies to teach and was just getting comfortable with this when the tragic events of 9/11 took place. They realized that these technologies afforded the opportunities to explore making connections globally with other students around the world.

Jody wanted to explore the use of video conferencing with other schools but had several hurdles that thwarted her attempts to make this happen. Some of these hurdles include lack of funds, lack of resources, safety issues, and especially meeting curriculum standards. She invited a number of similarly-minded “players” – people who had the connections to make a video conference happen. Many teachers and subject matter experts cooperated and collaborated in order to achieve the goals of the project.

A significant attempt was made to create an inter-disciplinary cross-curricular project. Her vision is to provide global citizenship opportunities by inviting 10 schools from around the world to participate in the global run. Students clocked their steps and miles during the month of October. Once the data was collected, it was passed on to the math classes to be interpreted mathematically and build mathematical skills. The students wrote informational essays about the culture they were matched with. Money raised from the walk was sent to a needy village in Kenya. A new school was built there with the funds raised.

Jody presented a video that documents the development of the project for every month of the project with the culminating footage on the school in Kenya that was built from the funds raised.

This is clearly an amazing project that shows what vision, passion, persistence, collaboration and availability of technology tools can do to bring an exceptional learning opportunity to students in many different cultures. Audience members of the session were impressed with the complex learning situations this project provided.

In 2004, a non-profit consortium was created to assist this program. Each partner contributed their unique skills to help the project achieve its goals.

The slogan of this project was Global Run Project: Taking steps to support the Millenium Development goals.

The sponsors Tandberg and the Rotary Club pitched in one dollar for each mile that the students walked. The Rotary Club already had the relationship with the village in Kenya so this provided the immediate conduit to the partners.

Next year, they want to partner with many other schools for a similar project.

DVDs of the video that was created to describe and chronicle the project was made available to the session participants.

One of the major partners for this project was Global Education Motivators – another portal for global collaborative partnerships.