The Internet might not be the place to send young people quite as easily as a few years ago. I realise this conflicts with the whole ‘get a personal learning network/connected teacher’ rhetoric – but I’m pretty sure those things are more concerned with creating advertising funnels for particular products and services than actually re-imagining how learning could work for millions of people.

So apart from the fact you want to stay open-minded and allowed to think for yourself as a teacher – why else it is now more valid than ever to to think twice about ‘getting onboarded’. The late adopter might just be the smart ones after all.

Google. It’s not a search engine (in the romantic sense)

It collects data on you and re-shapes the web to be a more ‘personal’ experience. Perhaps Google knows more about you than your partner does … you might want to have a look at your Google Ad Preferences to see what I mean. It’s almost impossible to interact with ‘modern’ websites without using ‘cookies’ – and no matter where you roam, at some point all your history ends up in Googles database (which they share with people whom give them money).

In an hour, 30 kids can Google several hundred things from a school. All of that data goes somewhere. What data that school then sees after that is not based on the validity or relevancy, but on Googles network display algorithms. It’s not just personal privacy that Google likes you to sign away, but your content. Hello Google Drive.

Google Drive is a mega-trawler

Google is applying its data-extraction technology to whatever you upload to Google Drive for personal searching purposes. Its Google Goggles technology scours images for recognizable text and images and Google uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to try to extract text from PDFs. It does it with Documents too – as they are part of Google Drive – and of course all those add-ons and services that Google finds value in are also going to see that data.

Of course some school systems are flocking to Google Apps, seduced by the ability to have email, documents, sites and photo-sharing. The question is – what are they selling out? and how exactly with their student’s use of the internet (what they see and won’t see) be effected by this policy decision to Google-my-school-system. For teachers, it’s a real worry – as they are invariably told their information (and their work) is safe and secure.

Did the guy just explain how to share a Doc with a colleague – or how Google shares all your doc data with their advertisers?

I’m betting that when the e-learning people started telling you about Google Apps and all the wonderful things it will bring … they didn’t bother to explain Googles Ad Preferences or numerous other highly relevant privacy, ethical and moral implications of being forced to use Google. Where is the ‘learning’ imperative – given there are (x) other tools and platforms in the FOSS arena to do the same thing. Why do we have to have a personalised web – what’s wrong with a decent search engine and a paste.bin?

If students or teachers continue to use e-mail addresses or other Google Apps for Education accounts after graduating it appears that under Google’s standard agreement with schools it will be able to data mine student e-mails, class assignments, school projects, and digital student-teacher interactions to behavioral advertise when students become alumni.

And here lies the problem. I didn’t sign my kid on to being part of someone else’s ‘big data’ agenda and teachers don’t become teachers to participate in Googles agenda (well, some do). There are so many issues here because no one full knows what the regulation could or should be – which is a kind of perfect ‘big data’ cheat for companies like Google – who have been successful in getting people to say “we have to keep up in a world where we can’t keep up”.

Rubbish we can keep up. We can make ‘big data’ do what we want by

  • taking the time to ask for evidence that the people telling us (making) us use stuff a) know what they are talking about and b) gurantee it won’t adversely impact us directly or indirectly.
  • ensuring that all schools have the same access to sources of information (else the National Curriculum is a mockery).
  • show teachers and students the ‘against’ arguements for ‘big data’ and allow show them examples of how it could be used (and opposed)
  • Realising that the web is not getting better (but bigger) – and that learning about the world – means being clear about the Internet being a semantic engine where equity of search and information retrieved is less likely every day.

So before you sign on – make sure that the person telling you about the Google-App Nirvana also understands how Google Ad Network operates and can explain the various complexities and differences between Educational Agreements, Corporate Agreements and Individual Agreements – any idiot can boot a Google Doc and share it – but it seems idiotic not to also explain just who you are sharing it with – often corporations that you would not support in ‘real life’ – like banks that would rather see a family on the street than help  – the same bank that once targeted them in advertising.

Google Apps, trending at a school-system-near you – and you probably just signed on.

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