Monday, July 03, 2006

are you ready for the revolution? part II, the rise of the Google PC

If schools are one day phased out and replaced by individuated online instruction, we'll look back and see the rise of the Google PC as an essential step in the transformation.

Simply put, the Google PC is any PC that will soon be able to access the massive computing power of Google's servers, running network-based software at speeds far greater than allowed by puny Pentiums. As Paul Boutin writes,
You could still run Windows on a Google PC; it just wouldn't matter if you did or not. Most Google PC rumors imagine a low-priced, Windows-less, entry-level computer for the Wal-Mart set. That could be part of the plan, but it would just be one more option. Instead of trying to convince every consumer on the planet to buy a new machine, it makes a lot more sense for Google to build a super-service that you could log into from any computer, phone, or television, or car and airplane seatback. You would be able to access your files anywhere by logging in, calling up your desktop, and popping into Google's array of Gmail-like applications for word processing, photo editing, and anything else you can think of.
At Capital, we use a scaled-down version of this setup. Our computer labs are full of dummy terminals, screens with keyboards and mice that run software from the network server. They have no hard drives, so they're cheap and relatively fast. The Google PC goes a step beyond, so schools wouldn't even have to host software on their own networks.

Are these pie-in-the-sky techno-utopian fantasies? Perhaps. I enjoy teaching in a traditional classroom, with all the advantages and difficulties of seat time and face-to-face instruction, and I'm sure those who are entrenched in that format aren't going to let it disappear without a fight. The technological capability is there, though, waiting for the right social and political context. (As a hypothetical, think how readily people would accept online instruction in the advent of an avian flu pandemic.) When it happens, will you be ready?

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