No heads in the ground

I recently shared my thoughts concerning iCloud Photos and Google Photos. In light of this, I think the following excerpt from Tim Cook’s speech at EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event is worth noting (via Daring Fireball):

Matthew Panzarino:

Yesterday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook was honored for ‘corporate leadership’ during EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event in Washington. Cook spoke remotely to the assembled audience on guarding customer privacy, ensuring security and protecting their right to encryption.

‘Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security,’ Cook opened. ‘We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it.’ […]

‘We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.’

This gives some indication regarding whether or not unlimited storage in iCloud Photos will become free. If Apple doesn’t use photos and other data from iCloud to make money, then it’s probably not feasible to deliver it as a no cost service.

The Photos battle is an important conversation to have in the edtech community. I really respect Google’s products, but that doesn’t mean educators should stick their heads in the ground and not think about tech implications. (As of right now, I’m still sticking to my photos strategy.)

Google Teacher Academy

I recently applied for the Google Teacher Academy in Austin, Texas. Part of the application process involves creating a one minute video that answers a prompt. Here’s mine, clocking in at 1:01.

Fingers crossed.

LMSs (continued)

Google Classroom is here.

In the world of Learning Management Systems (LMSs), that’s a statement. It’s like saying, “LeBron James is on the court,” or, “Stephen Hawking is in the lecture hall.”

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has taken schools by storm, and this is because GAFE consists of free tools that are amazing for completing work. GAFE is a dream for educators everywhere: Students can write essays in Docs. They can take tests in Forms. They can make interactive reports in Slides. They can create graphs in Sheets. They can chat, email, keep a calendar… the list goes on and on.

Did I mention it’s all free? I think I did.

So it’s only natural that Google create their own LMS–and why not? Teachers and students around the world are using GAFE, so it totally makes sense for Google to provide a way for teachers to easily share copies of documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. with their classes. Classroom cuts out other middle men (LMSs) and provides a much needed service, which is the infrastructure that classes need for assigning, collecting, and assessing work.

It must be said that Classroom has a bare bones beginning. There’s no assessment tools (I’m not accounting for Forms, of course), there’s no social media component (although Google+ exists for students who are old enough), there’s no “professional feed” to communicate with other teachers around the world, and there’s no common drive to share stuff with Professional Learning Communities. The lack of these features could look like a weakness, but it’s actually a smart move by Google because one of the things teachers in my school district are telling me is that they love Classroom’s simplicity.

This is not a time to overwhelm teachers. With Common Core, 1:1, new curriculum adoptions, and the plethora of teaching websites and apps available, Google was very prudent to keep Classroom simple. What Google can do now is slowly attract teachers who are already using Classroom as their LMS, while in the meantime keeping an eye on the right things other LMSs are doing. Then, Google can slowly adopt those successful strategies within Classroom, which will delight current users and attract new ones. It’s a logical scenario for Google.

So what should other LMSs do? 

It’s a tough question to answer. For the other LMSs that I’ve previously written about, here’s what I’d tell them:

  • Don’t try to out-Google Google. GAFE is amazing, and no one is going to create a product that is anywhere close to its rival–at least not soon.
  • Carve out your niche. Edmodo has Snapshot, which was a great move; especially with the arrival of Common Core. Other LMSs have their specialties, and those need to be highlighted, promoted, and refined throughout this school year.
  • Keep it simple! Teachers are overwhelmed–more so now than ever. Every decision made that complicates a product might as well be a nail in a coffin. Also, keep the interface of your product as simple as possible, and by simple, I mean as few words and buttons as possible. The fewer, the better–follow Google’s lead with Classroom.
  • Create groups of certified teachers. And when you do this, make sure they’re really teachers. Teachers can smell non-teachers a mile away.
  • Engage teachers on Twitter. Combine your product with Twitter, if at all possible. An alliance with Twitter would be the Holy Grail.
  • Show how your product can work hand-in-hand with GAFE. If your product doesn’t work well with GAFE, change that ASAP. You’re not going to create GAFE, so you might as well learn how to dance with ’em.

All of this is, of course, is an extremely simple start.


It’s really important that there be competition in the LMS market; it undeniably benefits the students. Only good things can happen when a lot of smart minds are figuring out the best ways to bring digital infrastructure to 21st century learning.

Everyone who doesn’t have an LMS named “Classroom” has to bring their A game and work hard to attract and keep teachers using their products. As I said before, let the games begin.

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone is a short, engaging read that puts a magnifying glass to the tactics desirable workplaces use for hiring new employees.

The job interview has been around for a long time. Even though studies have shown that interviewing potential workers is not a good indicator for future performance, this prescreening tool has remained implacable–causing many hopeful job-seekers many a sleepless night. Of course, employers need to assess whether or not a candidate possesses the skills, or the ability to quickly acquire the skills, necessary to complete daily tasks; but many interviews have now morphed into insanely ridiculous puzzles that can throw the unsuspecting interviewee for a loop.

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? supplies many of these trick questions and answers. I’ll share a few of them in a bit, but I think it’s interesting to discuss why Google (and Amazon, Apple, Bank of America, and many, many others) use difficult, riddle-like questions to weed through the thousands of applicants seeking a limited number of jobs.

To start with, the difficult interview question is a corollary to the zeitgeist of our times. The economy is bad (but hopefully improving) and “good” jobs require skills that may not have even been around five to ten years ago. Conflate this with the probability that technology and the way we live our lives will change more rapidly over the next five years than they did over the last five years, and it’s safe to assume that the job a person is hired for may not be the same job she will bevperforming in the near future. This may be because her skill set will expand, or she’ll move, or–maybe–the job she is working on will become obsolete and the company will want to utilize her talents on some other venture.

In this new economy, the difficult job interview assesses a candidate’s ability to think on her feet and  follow a path of thinking that logically attempts to solve a problem. In many cases, the ability and willingness to solve a problem is the most valuable asset a company is seeking when hiring. Skills can be taught, but developing curiosity and creativity within a person is difficult.

Which leads to a question: What is more important, intelligence or creativity? Poundstone references Ellis Paul Torrance, who believed creativity was more important. In fact, Torrance believed “that you have to be intelligent in order to be creative–but the opposite isn’t the case. If you look at a random sample of creative, successful people, you will find that virtually 100 percent of them are highly intelligent. But if you look at a random sample of highly intelligent people, you’ll find that few of them are creative or conspicuously successful in business or life” (pgs. 27 and 28).

So, companies such as Google seek to not only find intelligent people, but to find the creative person who is (most likely) intelligent. It’s the “hacker” mentality, which isn’t referring to the person who attempts to gain unauthorized access to some database. Rather, I’m referring to the individual who is curious… who “pokes the box“… and who tries to create products that haven’t been thought of yet.

That’s what the trick interview questions are for. So without further ado, here’s the first question Poundstone shares in his book:

1. You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in sixty seconds. What do you do?

If you go into an interview expecting only to be asked about your skills and previous work experience, this question could be a punch to the stomach. (I’ll supply an answer at the end, along with some answers to a couple of the other questions I’ll include.)

For a programmer, or engineer, or human resource hopeful, why is this question necessary? And does a candidate have to get it right?

First, I think it can be debated whether the best person for a job answers this question well. The person who does formulate an adequate response is displaying the ability to be think quickly, problem solve under pressure, and explain an answer coherently.

Second–does the answer have to be right? Poundstone would say not necessarily. If the candidate is able to give an answer and elaborate upon how she came to that conclusion by walking the interviewer through her thought process step by step, then the management looking to hire will be impressed.

It seems after reading the book that even a willingness to answer the questions–to tackle a problem and thrive in the uncertainty–is possibly the most important attribute a job-seeker could possess. Personally, I found all the questions in Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? very challenging. I walked away from the book happy I read it, but I also felt a little deflated about how much my riddle-solving ability is lacking. I also imagined myself being asked some of these questions during a job interview, and let me just say, some of these questions are extremely difficult. Here’s my takeaway of what to do if asked a question you’re struggling to answer:

  • Clarify the question.
  • Sketch out your though process. (Asking for a pad of paper or whiteboard is usually okay.)
  • Think aloud. Many times, the interviewer wants to listen to how you’re going about solving a problem.
  • Keep talking. Words create words. It’s like when you sit in front of a blank screen–if you just start typing, the thoughts will begin to flow.
  • Stay positive.
  • Give at least some answer. A half-baked answer is better than no answer at all.

Here are a couple more questions that have been asked during an interview. Scroll down below for the answers.

2. What comes next in the following series?


3. A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened? 





1. As long as muscle energy and mass shrink in proportion, jump height should stay the same. So basically, you’d be able to jump out of the blender no problem before the blades start turning.

2. The series of letters is a code. A, as a capital letter, is made of three straight lines. Encode that as SSS. Capital B is one straight line and two curved ones, or SCC. C is one curved line and remains just C. D is one straight and once curved line. That brings us up to the next term, which must represent a capital E. That’s four straight lines, or SSSS.

3. The man is playing Monopoly.