Saturday, 22 February 2014

Do we want our students to be workers for Google?

Google is an integrated platform of digital tools for education

While Pearson creates content and makes profits from intellectual property and education services, Google provides online spaces and apps with its "Google Education Apps."  These provide platforms for digital educational activity, without the corporation taking any direct role in the content that is developed or how it is used educationally.  The Google terms of service provide that "your institution (or students, faculty and staff) are the sole owners of your data."  (Google, 2014)

What Google calls the "core apps" offered to education are the same that are generally available--Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Groups, Google Sites and an Apps Marketplace.   Google claims that Google Apps for Education are used in 145 countries.

The business model is essentially for Google to be the platform for online activity and using the data collected in that process to target ads to users.  Google makes a commitment not to push advertising on student use of the tools.  However, profit potential exists in the integration of children into its overall service  which produces revenue in the longer term as students continue to use the tools introduced through the education apps and have their work stored in the Google cloud. 

The Apps Marketplace creates revenue from Google-developed apps and others integrated with the Google platform, but developed by third parties.  Google Play for Education offers ebooks (at a cost), textbooks and novels and non-fiction.  Students can read on a Chromebook or an Android tablet--additional sources of revenue.

The content is all stored in the cloud, so a school or district does not have to provide tools or workspaces for students, but the student uses the same tools and content where ever they have access to the web.

Google expands its reach with unpaid teachers

Part of the diffusion strategy is a professional development program.  Google offers a step-by-step planning guide for the creation of a district or school plan for implementing Google education apps.  It offers an apps training centre and uses a train the trainer model with the "Google Apps Education Certified Trainer" program and Google Apps School Guides.  While Google provides the online framework for professional development, the actual work is carried out by the educators without any cost to Google.  (Google, 2014)

Google provides management tools to teachers that allow control of access to students and the exclusion of others who might want to see what the students are doing.  This provides a level of security for student use, although the revelations about the NSA spying on masses of data indicate the degree to which belief in privacy is wishful thinking. And, of course, Google itself knows a great deal about you from every time you do a search, use gmail, Google maps, Google alerts, Google phonebook,etc., etc., etc.

(However, at least one Canadian province, British Columbia, has privacy laws which prohibit personal data from being stored on the cloud because of the US laws that allow for government agencies to access personal data without a requirement to inform the person whose data has been accessed.  This means that use of Google services by students is outside the law, but still common.)

We are all unpaid workers in the gift economy

Google's overall strategy, and its education strategy, is to depend on the 'gift' economy and third party developers.  A platform is only of value if there is content that is of interest to potential users or a place to share one's own ideas and content with others who might be interested.  Google apps are of use because of the content that can be accessed, but Google does not have to provide any of the labour involved in the creation of content.  It is able to provide access to massive online content with very few employees or payments to outside content providers.

Wang and Ames critique " information determinism" that "is tied to...the belief that free and open access to information can create real social change."  The free information frame means that "anyone who leaves any information trace becomes a worker (albeit unpaid) for these companies, since that data can be monetized through advertising and other means."  (Wang and Ames, 2010)

Davis, M.  (2013). "Ed. Companies Exert Public-Policy Influence."  Downloaded April 4, 2013 from
Google.  (2014).  "A technology platform schools can trust."  Downloaded January 2, 2014.
 Google.  (2014). "Guide to Going Google."  Downloaded from https://sites. January 2, 2014
Wang, T. and Ames, M.  "Global Discourses of Information:  Questioning the Free Information Regime."  Downloaded February 8, 2014 from

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