I knew it would happen… Google 20% time has infiltrated England! The Guardian has a headline emblazoned with the following:
“Bring Google’s ‘20% time’ to your classroom with passion-based learning”
Not only do they recommend ‘Google 20% time’ – more on that in a moment – they brand it as ‘passion-based learning‘. How could we reject ‘passion‘, or advocate learning without this aforementioned passion? And yet, it sounds rather like an empty phrase. Which is rather apt really, as ‘Google 20% time’ is a dodgy notion that is provides a mode of learning that could prove little more than a waste of time, or worse, a thief of high quality subject specific instruction.
I wrote a skeptical post about Google 20% time, or ‘Genius hour’ here. Now, the notion may sound a bit faddish, give over a few hours for students to pursue their interests – or their passion (like passion is incompatible with reading literature, art, the wonder of science and all the other strong-holds of our typical curriculum that has stood the length of time).
My original post shared an article that exposed the mythic status of Google 20% time from a CEO who actually worked at Google – see here. The fact that it is a rather intriguing deception and that much more structure was imposed by Google on their experts (remember our students lack the independence of a professional who has reached the pinnacle of one of the world’s largest technological companies.
Google’s secret, according to CEO, Marissa Meyer?
“I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time.”
This sounds a lot like homework – or maybe ‘passion-based homework’?
The Guardian article in favour of Google 20% time states the following:
“This isn’t about standards or grades, it’s about empowering students to own their learning. When we care or are excited, we do more and we do it better. Too much of students’ learning is micro-managed and controlled.”
Now, I find this notion problematic. One, that we needn’t be concerned with standards or grades. I don’t think schools need to be an exam factory, but if we select Google 20% what may happen to technology on the school curriculum? When students flounder in their GCSE exams, will their excitement carry them on through their future lives?
Let’s not confuse excitement with correlating with achievement nor superior learning. Take a study from Sung and Meyer (2012), on ‘When graphics improve liking but not learning from online learning‘. It showed that students really liked seductive and decorative online graphics over instructional graphics (plain diagrams etc.) and having no graphics at all. And yet, the post-test showed that this liking didn’t correlate with any more learning. It is akin to the many findings where students prefer certain lecturers at university, but that liking doesn’t correlate with more learning.
My fifteen year old self would have liked exploring football statistics, or playing Sim City and the like, but I’d have been better off getting some excellent mathematics teaching so that I gained more competence and confidence (maybe even some passion) in that aspect of my learning that has followed me throughout my life.
I have stated, in my previous critique of such Google 20% Time, that we should no doubt consider our students’ motivation and embed elements of choice where possible, but by forsaking our opportunity for teacher led instruction for the independent learning opportunities offered by the likes of ‘Google 20% time’, we may risk far more than we could gain.
And finally… If you want to tackle some more learning myths and debate the value of educational strategies like ‘Google 20% Time’ then do consider coming to ResearchEd York, at Huntington School, on the 9th of July – you can buy a ticket for a minuscule £17 then pick one up HERE.