Going Public

It’s really hard to NOT talk about exciting things. It’s like that secret you just discovered that will make someone else really happy. Or that offer for the job you’ve been waiting for but can’t say anything about because it’s not “official”. My Innovator project, Classroom Assist, has been a bit like that while I’ve been building and developing.
My initial intention was wanting to support educators learning to code. As I dug into the problem, I dug into my own personal desires around the problem. I love coding and find myself working on a problem for hours. I’m also a recently self taught programmer. It opened up so many possibilities for me when I learned it. Problems I was solving with sign up sheets and post-it notes became easily tackled with some code. I thought, “if educators could code they could spend so much more time with our students!” While the sentiment may be true the fact is that not everyone wants to code. It takes knowledge and a different way of thinking about a problem to make something really great. 
The last part of the phrase stuck in my head “...they could spend so much more time with our students.” Doing research pre-academy it became clear that educators found code overwhelming. They’d be willing to take a class in it but time was a factor. In fact most responses were “I don’t have enough time.” I started to think about how to solve for time. 
We can take something away. I’m a theatre teacher and saw the arts ripped out of curriculum in favor of core studies, math and English specifically. I rely on my creativity to problem solve daily and that creativity makes me a better solution engineer Cutting things out can do more harm than good. 
We can exchange things for time. We see more Language arts being taught in History courses than we previously have. There’s more cross subject interactions in education. This reinforces learning and gives more of an authentic experience. It’s been effective but what would we trade out for overworked underpaid educators to learn a new skill?
We can simplify. Much of what we do is done because “that’s how it’s been done.” And it’s an awful way to live and work. I often ask myself, “what are my assumptions?” If we keep doing as we have done we will likely get the same results. And frequently we can make a change for efficiency. 
Efficiency was my lightning bolt. I’ve recently been automating my house. I love being able to walk in and say “Hey Google, I’m home.” And Google responds with lights going on, the thermostat being set, and the TV turns on. It’s more efficient than I would do manually. This effort in the midst of a design sprint  in the middle of the academy got me thinking. Why can’t I ask Google to create a document and share it with my class?
I clearly recall the moment I turned to my coach Oli Trussell and told him the idea. I immediately asked, “But is that too simple?” His response, “You may be belittling your project.” And he was right.
It’s often the simple tools that get the most attention and use but not the appreciation. How many wheels can you identify around you? Wheels are simple and get a lot of use. Need to edit a document? Google Docs is simple and gets a lot of use. Ever asked some one to do something for you? Sure! It's simple and gets a bit too much use. 
Talking more about my idea with my cohort it because clear that it was a great idea and I should not be surprised if Google steals it away. It’s very clear a simple tool able to voice control the GSuite would open many doors. The concept is a large accessibility boost. It’s ripe for some one to latch onto. I knew in this case my niche would be the interaction with Classroom but I also needed to build the very basics in. My coding skills are fair and I didn’t know the tools I would need to learn so I chose to keep quiet. 
It’s fairly isolating building a project without a strong community of users to test what you are doing. Most users will try to use a tool and if it doesn’t work the first or second time will move on without comment. Great programs are not built because of great coders. They happen because of great user testing. User centered design means it’s the users needs based on their experience which influence development. I needed users to really get somewhere. 
I found myself needing to reach out for testers with out suggesting what my project was. Not surprisingly the response was less than thrilling. Of those that did respond I was able to gain some feed back which was effective for where I was in the project. Ultimately I needed a wider audience and specifically a hero user to support what I’m doing. 
I chose to publish my work. It’s not done. It’s far from really ready. But I need help. I’m desperate for people to use it in their classroom and tell me what they need. I want to know why educators wouldn’t use it or aren’t using it. There’s a lot of privacy myths around voice activated devices and there’s a lot of reality. I knew as I turn it on I’d end up facing these issues. 
It’s one of those scary buttons to press. It’s thankfully not a button that happens immediately but it starts the process. Google is notified that you want your code looked at. Someone tries your code to see if it works. They check that you filled out all their paperwork and then your project is accessible by others. Mine was like a car trying to start with an empty tank. I had so many bugs! But it was the best thing in the world because I suddenly had someone really trying and testing my code. I never thought to test in the way they did but it made complete sense. I went 4 or 5 rounds of submitting and being denied before I finally got that congratulations email. 
Even then. Even when published I had to pause a moment. How would I frame this to release in the proper way. It wasn’t ready but I needed testers. I gathered my thoughts and put them on my website. I tried to be as honest as I could of where I’m at. The webpage is what I publicized rather than a potential user being directed to the store where they may not have the full picture. 
I spent time scheduling some tweets in the tweet deck and providing instruction on my site. I wanted to give just enough info to get started without going into too much detail. This is my user test and I needed to know what people would ask it to do. 
On release it’s an overwhelming rush and flurry of tweets and messages and shares. My phone went on Do Not Disturb just so I could focus on what the immediate needs were. Overall the response that came through was a positive flurry. It provided a few testers but not the depth of use I really needed. 
I went back to consider my ultimate goals around transformation as I see it. I want to provide education with efficiency. This tool starts that allowing an educator to ask Google to Announce something to their Google classroom. But it’s not enough. I can continue with this tool or I can take another direction. 
I knew I needed to at least fix and finish things on what I built. I jumped into my project and started to clear out settings I thought I didn’t need. I immediately broke what I had spent months building. It was a moment of dread. There was a lot of heat on the project and suddenly it was failing. I fumbled around for a moment and then reasoned out what I must have done. I used Google’s Cloud Console command line to reset some things. And it was back up. I realized right then that this thing I made, as cool as I mad find it, is not the great success of the Google Innovator project. The project and success is ultimately me. 
Whether I continue with this project or move on to another I have grown since I started. I learned more about OAuth than I previously knew and created a serverless process written in an asynchronous coding environment to save myself costs. I reasoned out issues and troubleshooted technology I hadn’t previously had much experience with. I gain knowledge and skills which prompt me to think of new and various solutions to problems. 
Can I support educators in efficiency? Yes. Will it be through voice activating the classroom? Maybe in part. But I don’t thing this is the full scope for my project. I think it’s a beginning and start of something larger and 10x. How might we (innovators) support each other in developing, testing, educating, and ultimately transforming ourselves for all our communities? How might I help here? Who else has some system they need built more efficiently?

Editorial: Many thanks to Clay for writing about his Google Innovator project. It is great to see projects from the LON19  cohort coming to fruition. You can connect with clay via Twitter: @claycodes


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