The need for a refined search tool on Google+

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about whether hashtags or something similar would be coming to Google+. Hashtags, for those who aren’t “in the know” are a simple way to search for a topic on Twitter. They weren’t a native part of twitter when it started, but someone thought it up, and it has become a very integral part of the tool. There are hashtags for every big event, and it’s easy to find updates about those events, even if you aren’t following the people who are tweeting about it.

I’ve had a personal experience with hashtags just this week that brought home the need for a similar tool in Google+.

A little background: I graduated from the online master’s program at Pepperdine, formerly called Online Masters in Educational Techology, or OMET, now known as MALT which is short for Master of Arts in Learning Technologies. The people who go through these programs are a tight knit group, and I like to check in with the new group each year to see what they’re up to.

This year, the MALT folks were tweeting under #malt14 (this is the 14th cadre of people to go through the program…I was in cadre 5), so it was easy for me to do a search for #malt14 and have that as a column in tweetdeck. As new people tweeted under that hashtag, I followed them on twitter, and put them in my Pepperdine list.

Then it occurred to me that they might also be in Google+, so I started doing some digging around, and found it was much harder to find these folks in G+ than I thought it should have been, especially because Google is all about the search.

Within Google+, it seems like the only thing you can search for at this time is people, NOT ideas, keywords, or posts.

And finding the people has proven to be difficult, too. Whether it was because they hadn’t put their full name in their twitter profile, or they just had a common name, I have had a very difficult time finding the Pepperdine folks in G+.

One of the new cadre folks tweeted:

Bill and Margaret are two of the instructors in the program. Here’s the problem, though: I have found both of them, but who’s to say that everyone in their circles is in the current cadre? Or is even a Pepperdine person? They may have family or friends in their circles that I don’t want/need to follow. Without a hashtag, there is NO easy way to find people associated with a certain group or event to follow.

This is where Google has to step up, and quick. It’s easy to add the people that you already know, for the most part, but finding new people just by relying on someone filling out their profile is, I think, a major point of failure within Google+.

The Ed Tech community that I’m a part of is generally forgiving and patient, but they won’t stay that way for long. As more and more people become part of this community, Google has to come up with an easier way to find people and events, and it has to start with changing the search tool within Google+.

Or maybe, like Twitter, someone within the community will come up with something brilliant.

Teach for America and Exclusivity: is this what the profession should be?

July 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

Before I begin, I’m going to point out two (hopefully obvious) things: 1) this is not technology related, so a little break from the typical for me; 2) I’m going to focus on one tiny little aspect of TFA in this post, setting aside all of the other arguments about whether TFA produces effective teachers, whose jobs they’re taking or not, etc. I’m not going to talk about those things.

This whole post started from a G+ post last week that linked to the post “An Ordinary Teacher talks to Teach for America.” I read through the post and had the typical fire-up-the-troops reaction that a lot of people had. In the comments, the author of the post put:

I realize that not all TFA alums come out of Ivy League schools. However, there is a reason why everyone is under the notion that they do. That’s because TFA uses exclusivity to brand itself. see here It operates from the same playbook as the Ivy League Franchise.

While I understand that the point she’s trying to make is about TFA being an exclusive club, another thing came to mind while I was reading the New York Times article she linked to in the comment (go ahead…click it. I’ll wait):

Maybe TFA is marketing teaching the right way.

What I’m saying here is that maybe if teaching colleges actually were more exclusive about who they let into their teaching programs, or more importantly, who they graduated from those programs, maybe every Tom, Dick, and Jane that had been to school wouldn’t think they they could teach.

I’ve heard/read a lot, “So and so had a public education so they think they know what happens in the classroom.” But that isn’t the case with doctors and lawyers, is it? People think they know how to do those jobs because they see them on TV. OK, I’m kidding, but really, you don’t see people leave a career in sales and go into law, or medicine, and why not? Because there are rigorous standards to get into those professions. People have to make a long-term commitment to schooling and internships before they get to actually do those jobs.

Why can’t teaching be like that? Why isn’t teaching like that?

To answer that question, we have to go back and look at the history of teaching in this country.

Back in the frontier days of one-room schoolhouses, teaching was done by single women. It was not a high skill, high pay, or high demand job. Yes, each town needed a teacher, but it was a job a single woman could do until she got married, then she would stay at home being a housewife.

The job itself was not highly respected because it wasn’t a “man’s job.”

Like nursing and social work, teaching has been burdened with an image of ‘social housekeeping.’ Such ‘women’s work’ becomes both identified as an extension of the domestic sphere and vulnerable to loss of discretion, autonomy, and status… And it is not surprising that historians and labor economists have begun to explore connections between feminization and explicit initiatives (like installing ‘teacher-proof’ curricula and Individually Guided Education) to ‘deskill’ teaching by limiting occasions for teachers to use their professional judgment and skills. (Apple, M. W. (1985). Teaching and “women’s work’: A comparative historical and ideological analysis. Teachers College Record, 86, 445-473)

And maybe that is where the problem lies. Teaching, while becoming a more respected profession in the late 20th century, still suffers from being seen by many in politics and other traditionally male-dominated professions as inferior work, which I think is leading to the types of reform agendas we are currently seeing.

How many teachers do you know that could quit teaching tomorrow and stay at home because their husbands make enough money that they don’t have to work?

What if teaching required more than a 4 year degree? What if it was more like law school or medical school where you had to dedicate yourself to spending long hours studying and practicing your craft with master teachers before you were allowed to teach in a classroom of your own? How many of the teachers that you know in your school that would have stuck it out or chosen teaching as a career if they had to do it that way?

Look, I’m not about to jump on the “all teachers are lazy and bad” bandwagon because I know that the vast majority are dedicated to their work and the children that they teach, but I also know plenty of people who, if the process of becoming a teacher had been a little harder, probably wouldn’t be in the classroom today, either because it would have been too much work, or because they would have been washed out in the process.

Maybe requiring more of a commitment to get into the profession would result in more people actually staying in the profession. You see the statistic all the time that half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It is still a very transient profession, and part of that goes to the fact that the requirements to become a teacher aren’t as strict as those of other professions.

Now, who’s going to start stepping up the standards for our profession? Should it be the colleges? The states? The federal government? I’m not the one to decide that. But my point here about what TFA is doing is this: making it hard to get into, making it an exclusive club…maybe that’s the kind of reform the profession needs.

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