Ask Gran, Not Google: Classroom Video Calling Teaches the Value of Conversation

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The Ask Gran Not Google program encourages communication and connection.

Google has taken the fun out of many a friendly debate. No longer can you sustain a colorful argument about who wrote a certain song, who played quarterback on a football team 30 years ago, or who was President Trump’s first press secretary. With Google in our pockets, it’s only a matter of time before someone produces the answer on their phone and the conversation stops.

But there’s value in those old-fashioned, meandering debates. In them, we invoke memories of our personal times and places as we try to recall the context that will provide the answer. We remember who we were with and what we were doing, and those kinds of reminiscences fuel the conversations that flow from a simple question.

To reignite personal conversation and encourage younger generations immersed in digital culture to better connect with their fellow humans–especially those older than they are–students in Australia are being taught to “ask Gran, not Google” when they search for answers.

Ask Gran, Not Google

The project was the brainchild of an Australian senior care provider, Feros Care, which wanted to forge stronger links between school-aged children and the elderly in their community. They established a video conferencing link between their residents and students at the elementary school level at a local school.

The program was initially tied to school history projects and investigations into how education has changed over time. To the delight of teachers and facilitators, though, the regular conversations quickly switched from formal historical fact-finding into everyday conversation, typified by questions such as “What was the naughtiest thing you ever did?”

Just two years after the first video conversations started, the Ask Gran, Not Google program will be rolled out to more than 150 schools.

The conversations flow the same way your own personal video call to grandma would function, and they use the same now-commonplace equipment. Seated in front of a screen and a webcam, students can see, hear, and speak to their elders on the other side of town. They can interact in classroom-sized groups under a teacher’s supervision, or pair off into twosomes using mobile devices such as iPads or smartphones.

The project was successful enough that it soon migrated to the local high school and has since attracted funding from the Australian government. Just two years after the first video conversations started, the Ask Gran, Not Google program will be rolled out to more than 150 schools.

Importantly, the program isn’t technophobic or anti-Google. Instead, it’s about using technology to revive conversation and build bonds across generations that would otherwise have minimal contact.

Person-to-Person Video Calling

Video conferencing began life as a tool for corporate communication. It was expensive, bulky, and too complicated for the layperson. Today, however, costs have plummeted, video calling software and webcams have become plug-‘n’-play accessible, and the technology is a staple of private communication. All the major instant messaging apps now come complete with video calling–from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to Snapchat and Instagram. There are even video calling platforms–like the JusTalk Kids app–designed specifically for children.

Social welfare groups have sprung up all over the internet offering private, convenient help for adults and young people.

Perhaps more importantly, video conferencing is being used as a form of 24/7 online peer support. Social welfare groups have sprung up all over the internet offering private, convenient help for adults and young people struggling with a variety of mental health and social issues. Online marriage counseling, LGBT support groups, career counseling–help of all kinds is being offered online via virtual support groups and one-on-one therapy that take advantage of the convenience of video calling.

Just as the Ask Gran, Not Google program prompts young students to view their elders as a source of information and wisdom, so too do these more adult services encourage people to see technology not as an end in itself, but as a means to make contact with others.

And the technology is available to everyone.

Start Your Own Ask Gran Project

While the Ask Gran, Not Google imitative created by Feros Care has won the support of the country’s government, it isn’t necessary to apply for mountains of funds in order to replicate their success. As we mentioned earlier, the technology used in the program is readily available to anyone.

Projects like Ask Gran, Not Google can help young people use technology to build lasting relationships with broader human society.

The average American home and school have enough broadband capacity to host even HD video calls, and these calls can be made using desktops, laptops, tablets, or phones. Webcams with built-in microphones, like the Logitech C920, cost less than $100, and the rise in subscription-based video calling means some platforms cost less than $10 a month or are free for private users.

The rest of the equation is a matter of connecting groups of people who might be able to support and learn from each other. It doesn’t have to revolve around a school classroom, either. You could pair a Boy Scout group with a local chess club; a ballet class with a French-speaking group (to help them with the terminology); a baseball team with your city’s pro team; a group of piano students with a neighborhood jazz club.

The point is that projects like Ask Gran, Not Google can help young people use technology to build lasting relationships with broader human society. It can put the conversation back into fact-finding, and maybe even boost the students’ interpersonal skills in the process.

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