Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why does Google still build buildings?

I was recently at an administrative convention, and one of the erudite presenters played the following video within his presentation. I've seen these before, mostly from for-profit, pseudo-schools.

Kaplan's Video:

Do I believe that the old way is the best way? Nope. Do I believe that we should push out of traditional, educational methods? Yup. But, part of the subscript to this commercial is different. One of the points being illustrated here is that education can be fully embedded into everyday life as a result of technology. I totally agree. Yet, is the virtual way-the more remote way- the best way? As my thought-stream drifted away from the presentation, I began to think about this, and finally distilled my line-of-questioning down to a core question: Why does Google still build buildings? Why is the company with the most tech-savvy people in the entire globe--who would have the most capacity to work remotely using the latest digital tool to replicate person-to-person dialogue--still investing in brick and mortar, window panes and carpet? What variable does Google value that Kaplan is not recognizing? Kaplan-apparently-is saying that we/you don't need any/many of those things. 

Here's Google's Googleplex:

This phenomenon of tech-industry entrepreneurs investing in high-end, brick-and-mortar "places" with luxury amenities at which to work is not just for global companies. Take The Nerdery, for instance. Widely considered to be one of the best places to work as a coder in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area, the Nerdery also has the reputation of treating its employees very well, part of which is within the walls of a building. See the video below.

Nerdery in Minneapolis, MN:

So, back to my core question: Why does Google still build buildings? My first reaction is that Google, the Nerdery, and the like understand something about human nature that Kaplan is ignoring or is ignorant of. Google must value something so much as to invest in lush, high-end, place-based amenities that attract and retain the best in the globe. The irony is in the reality that the most tech-savvy people in the world still actually go to work (where they most likely interact online), at an actual place (instead of cyberspace), where they value face-to-face, place-based interactions.

I certainly don't want this post to be taken as an endorsement or rejection of virtual learning, online education, or brick-and-mortar traditional education for that matter. But, the implied contradiction between the tech-savvy (who should be shining examples of virtual accomplishment) and the need for place-based work locations is interesting, and it has major implications for education and the future of constructvist, project-based learning. (My thinking is that digital communication supplements face-to-face interactions, not the other way around. And, in view of this insight, does blended learning or virtual learning align best with the learning, retention, and application of 21st Century Skills, such as creativity, collaboration, problem solving, etc.?)

So, what do you think? Why does Google still build buildings? What inter-personal interactions do they value so much as to invest in exceedingly generous work environments? What inferences can we as school district administrators draw from this insight in order to improve student capacity to learn, retain, and apply knowledge?

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