The Promise of Google App Engine for Education
Since figuring out what Google App Engine actually is, I have been thinking more about what might be done with it. In my earlier post, I missed a huge key opportunity for education: building software that supports writing. [Update: Doesn't Google Docs already do this? Well, when adults sit down to write, the software we want is a word processor. But when teaching students to write, it takes more than just a blank page. I've gotten some experience with this over the past year. In addition to prompting students to really think about issues and struggle with them (prewriting) in order to have something meaningful to say, we also have to teach them about revising, editing, getting feedback, and iterating that process.]
I remember being clued in to the idea that software can support the writing process by a post on Kassblog, in which Richard describes a “writing environment (that) far outstrips blogs, forums, or wikis in its richness and support for student writing activities”. He was describing a commercial software product called DIWE, the Deadalus Integrated Writing Environment. He was also talking about building a free version of it on top of Drupal or Moodle. Do you see where I’m going with this? It seems like having a structured way to present prompts, then step students through prewriting, writing, editing, and revision is smart. It seems like making that easy for teachers, administrators, and IT people to manage is smart.
After doing a lot of online discussions this year using Moodle, I know that online forums can work well for prewriting. I also recently ran across the NCTE Read Write Think web site that has a bunch of lessons with writing prompts. And I know there must be many more resources out there.
So, imagine taking those sort of content and activities, along with the structure of a writing-specific application environment, and putting it all online using Google App engine. If a school already has Apps for Your Domain (which, since it’s free to schools, seems like a no-brainer) the system will leverage the logins students already use. Any teacher could use an App Engine account to upload the application — no IT support needed. Building this sounds like a fun programming project, and imagine if it was open-sourced and free and had support for exporting and importing lesson modules. A teacher forum for exchanging, discussing, and improving these lesson modules would probably not be far behind.
Doing this on Google App Engine would enable an individual teacher (or school, or district) to go from zero to a complete online writing process without investing any money in servers, hosting, accounts, services, or software. Would that be of value? I’d love to find out what English teachers think, how BAWP and the National Writing Project sees this, and if there’s support from folks at Google.