Coming Soon: Google Home in the School Library

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Thanks to a generous grant from the St. Anne’s-Belfield School Parent Association, I am excited to introduce you to our newest library tool – Google Home.

What is Google Home? According to the folks at Google themselves:

Google Home is a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant. Ask it questions. Tell it to do things. It’s your own Google, always ready to help. Just start with, “Ok Google”.

The idea of having a search engine available by voice command is exciting for many reasons. Let me share just a few with you! Our Google Home will:

  • provide answers to student questions about authors, illustrators, book series and series order, so that students can find their books more independently
  • help students to carefully consider their research questions, rephrasing and revising to get the best, most effective answers
  • begin a conversation about this new kind of AI and its role in our lives (as well as the pros and cons of having a system around that is “always listening”)
  • provide a new structure to discuss internet safety and privacy
  • give students experience and an edge working with this new type of technology, as well as a safe place to ask questions, make mistakes, and learn to use it safely and effectively
  • provide easy and immediate answers to low-level questions, allowing more time for deep discussion

Research is changing. This is something that I learned about in graduate school as I was studying to become a librarian. At the time, many in the field were alarmed that online databases were replacing print references. “Should we still order encyclopedia sets?!” my classmates cried. “Will anyone even use them when you can get all of the same information at the click of a mouse?” Fast forward a few years: it’s no longer just the click of a mouse encyclopedias are going up against. It’s the tablet, the cell phone, the world of blogs and Wikipedia and instant news. Research is no longer a lengthy, time-consuming process that students dread. Instead, it has become a living, breathing process with twists and turns at every move, something that students can do with one finger while they use the other hand to eat their snack.

And now, they don’t even need their fingers.

The Google Home is linked to the Google search engine, meaning that students can use their voices to find the answers to their questions. My favorite trick? If the question isn’t asked in a way that Google can follow, students will get an unsatisfying “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help you” as a response. This forces them to reconsider and rephrase their question in real time, until they have created a question that more succinctly cuts to the information that they need to know. In making research interactive, Google Home plays a role in taking the dread away from finding the right answers. When research is fast-paced and exciting, students aren’t afraid to ask questions and let their curiosity take control. Information can be so satisfying – the more you know, the more you want to know. As a bonus, Google Home is loaded with fun and silly “Easter Eggs” to make students laugh. Features like trivia games, random facts, and music are sure to delight students where there are no classes in the library.

Google Home can’t replace a trained school librarian. It may know more facts, but I’m confident that in a battle of librarian skills, I could take Google down. While it will provide valuable time-saving info regarding book titles, authors, and series, it can’t make suggestions to readers or help them locate a specific book. It can spout facts and figures, but can’t guide in research or help students to get back on track when they are frustrated. But in answering lower-level questions, it can help students to feel more confident and independent in the library. It can also handle the grunt work of fact-retrieving questions, leaving me free to handle more nuanced requests. I don’t see technology in libraries as an either/or situation – with technology and librarians together, we can create the best environment and make the biggest difference for our students.

In the next few weeks, our Google Home system will be introduced formally to students with specific guidelines and rules. Every query made to the system will be recorded via the Google Home app, so that I can check back through the queries at any time. The system will not be available for student use all the time, but will be used as a teaching device to learn to use the technology in an appropriate manner. Google Home will only be used with adult supervision. At other times, the system will be stored behind the circulation desk with the microphone turned off.

In researching the use of the Google Home system in education, I ran across a few articles that were helpful to me. Back in June 2015, the trendsetting Daring Librarian introduced an Amazon Echo into her library and her post inspired me to think about how this system could work for us. ErIntegration recently published a post about the Echo Dot and Alexa in the classroom, with helpful suggestions and questions.  And Coffee For the Brain’s article about Amazon Echo transforming teaching really got my brain moving. These tools are still relatively new to education (the Google Home especially), and feedback on their role in the classroom is hard to find – so I am looking forward to sharing our results over the next few months. Stay tuned!

Thank you to the St. Anne’s-Belfield School Parents Association for purchasing this fun and innovative tool for the Learning Village Library!

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