The twentieth century media scholar Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message” and argues that all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. We live in a rampaging consumer-capitalist society, which has been conditioned for decades to respond to media representations and demands. The challenge for media companies such as Google, is how to present the kind of values that most people see as holding merit in the kind of society we think we live in. Google, while making some decent enough software, is not a philanthropic organisation. It seeks to valorize its products and services. Essentially, every time you cross into it’s territory by using it, Google and it’s affiliates make money. It’s an astronomical amount of money too.
Google does not, for example, donate hardware to schools who use it’s free software, nor do they donate money to a school each time a child uses it. Google is not part of the local community, but does seek to influence it by finding influencers willing to act as producers in what is essentially an economic transaction in drag.
We know that students benefit when teachers are trained and supported in using software which has some pedagogical imperative. Research is consistent on what happens if ‘training’ is not carried out in this way — students get patchy experiences and in-consistent values are embedded in the process. There is no evidence to suggest creating competition among teachers to get training has any social or scholarly merit — and yet this is Google’s model when it comes to promoting it’s brand (and values) through the use of accredited teachers. This is allowed mostly in my view because weaknesses in how software is evaluated at the institutional level. Again, Google is perceived as “free”, which is attractive to cash-strapped education systems. It’s also being promoted by social-media based, educational influencers so carries additional cultural capital. It is fairly easy to see how Google’s software spreads though schools, but the price of this is that society accepts Google’s values, which are ultimately decided by a small group of powerful people.
I’m not suggesting GTA teachers are not passionate, savvy or less than great teachers who inspire others. My reservation is about the inherent ethical dilemmas this creates in society. Schools are not in free-fall and plenty of alternative technologies exist to Google’s. By saying “I’m a Google teacher” means to express a set of values which are inherited from Google itself. The next layer up “I’m a Google organiser” is simply economic-slipstreaming and brand-association. Ultimately, there is little evidence (if any) to suggest that Google’s efforts to conscript influencer teachers has any benefit to student attainment — and more importantly, if Google’s model disadvantages sections of society. As Google is clearly a very capable company which does almost nothing towards funding education in comparison to its wealth. It has a vested interest in presenting values and perceptions of the world to society — and who is the most trusted source when it comes to information and knowledge — teachers. But not any teachers, just those who can afford it, and are willing to endorse it.
This has some serious issues — namely gender, social-class and ethnicity. I’m not saying avoid Google (which is almost impossible); but be very clear to parents and students that you are endorsing a brand, and explain the values of that brand before launching it the assumption its good for everyone — it isn’t. Be aware that people aspiring to become bigger-influences will be attracted to Google, because association with them further builds their profits and advances their goals — which are almost never as socially inclusive as other solutions, which require no brand-loyalty.
Convenience (easy to get, easy to us, cheap) is an artificial perception. To accommodate Google in the classroom creates a ripple effect in society. Conscientious learning design means thinking about the values of the designer (teacher), the tools manufacturer (device, software) and the learner. Google seeks to impose it’s values on all those it sees as ‘users’, and this to me isn’t what education (or learning) is supposed to facilitate.