Google Academy: Where’s the evidence? What’s the intent?

I dislike Google Teacher Academy (GTA). Not because I dislike the so called “free” products, or believe people should never meet, but because it is consumer public-theatre which in a neoliberal marketplace, deliberately creates winners and losers.

GTA works though behaviorism and follows decades of refinement by advertising and marketing theorists and practitioners. First, it uses a relational strategy (emotional broadcasts) then a transitional strategy (reviews, social media, search, in-group influencers, out-group ignorants) and finally the transactional strategy (direct and indirect sales).

Google Teacher Academy is a further example of the commodification of childhood. Without any empirical evidence, Google sets out to create competition among teachers, to create ‘aspirational value’ in it’s products and obedience with it’s ideology. It personifies this though the “every man” advertising representation. They select in-group personalities (with social influence) to defuse it’s consumer cultural agenda, because ‘every-man’ is someone just like us. Of course there is a pay-off for actors who amplify and fall into line in terms of financial and social capital (the biggest winners) and then there is everyone else — the losers.

Education is a civic institution. It is supposed to be about scholarship and resist commodification, question political-economic rhetoric and be alert to social-manipulation. Google actively attack these principles with GTA. In comparison, those researchers who are working to improve education are burdened with the task of collecting evidence and using human ethics. This doesn’t make them laggards, late adopters or other ‘out-group’ members. It makes them accountable, evidence based and ethical. Any claim that ‘research’ is out of step with culture, must first be very clear about what culture is — and what happens when corporations are not called to account. This is the subject of countless dystopian novels — the corporatisation of habitus, the removal of liberty.

I can’t imagine for a second that Google bothers itself with such things as it sets up it’s consumer theatricals in the name of ‘innovation’ and ‘elite teaching’. This is little more than a consumer-competition, like winning tickets to the circus by collecting tokens and writing a ‘tie-breaker’ limerick.

For me, the toolset isn’t important. Lots of people use Google’s toolset, so what? Its the false representation of behavioural marketing as scholarship that irks me. It does not promote new or better thinking, alternative solutions, but indoctrinates teachers and reduces the basic freedoms children are struggling to maintain

If I am wrong, please feel free to leave me references to studies/journals which show GTA has any benefit and more importantly how it’s design avoids harm. It obviously delivers Google and associates significant financial rewards.


6 thoughts on “Google Academy: Where’s the evidence? What’s the intent?

  1. Hi Dean.

    Not for one moment does anyone involved in CUE or Google enjoy limiting the GTA experience to a set number of teachers. There is the matter of space and interaction. The GTA is actually an interruption on the day to day business of Google so they can’t run it every week. I wish they could. There are individuals beyond Google who help run/coordinate this event. They also cannot make this a full-time 365 day-a-year event.

    Any time you hold an interview or tryouts, there will be people who make the “team” who aren’t necessarily the most “talented.” There have been VERY connected teachers who don’t make a certain GTA and VERY talented teachers who don’t make it either. There are caring teachers, educational professionals and Googlers who are involved in the selection process. They are trying their best to fill a limited opportunity as best they can. They use a rubric, their reason, and their heart. Every time they do it, they tweak and modify to try and make the process better.

    I have a few questions for you.

    Is there a benefit to going through the GTA application process beyond the acceptance?
    How would you go about achieving the same objective: Bringing together a diverse group of talented learners to form a life-long team and at the same time giving them access to Googlers and the Google environment?
    Is there a gray (complex/adult) middle-ground to your argument? Is there some way to address what you are concerned with while addressing what Google is trying to do?

    Everything above is just my own opinion. I have had good friends who weren’t accepted to the GTA and I still can’t understand why they weren’t accepted. I’ve seen teachers with amazing videos not get accepted. No one has to apply, I think we all apply for our own personal reasons and not being accepted always stings. Always.

    • Thanks for the questions. My central point is that GTA is fundamentally about consumerism, and the method creates inequality. While it may disrupt Googles day to day operations, from a consumer culture perspective, the access and representation benefits of accessing teachers and children has some obvious commercial benefits. In my opinion, this is deliberate and somewhat erodes the rights of the child in favour of commercial profit, based in no enperical evidence so far.

    • Hi John

      I don’t need to, school as an institution has been evidence based since the inception of mass education. So much so the AU curriculum and assessments towards technology are written and used in non-branded ways. The design does cause harm. Even basic consumer culture theory reading will explain how and why companies commodify childhood. School therefore does not look at products until proven otherwise guilty. That isn’t a method I’d try and run in research as it would be un-supportable.

  2. An interesting post, and one that, based on prior iterations of GTA, I might have been inclined to agree with. That said, the redesign of it that we are attempting puts at its heart the very learning principals that we have spent years researching (and, yes, having published in academic reviews, scholarly publications and press).

    In preparation for the CSU INF536 course I personally had to really put through the ringer some of the assumptions we had about the way the process might work, how it works, and why it might have impact. I’m confident that it is built on evidence of what has worked, and also introduces an opportunity through an open-ended process for people to innovate, fail and succeed, but in any case learn from their experiments over the next six months, back at school.

    GTA is not a two-day tech fest – not any more, at least, and not at programmes organised by NoTosh. It’s a rich, research-based but not restricted-by-research programme that encourages the very teachers participating to become action researchers, test their assumptions and those of others.

    Defensive? Moi? 😉 A bit. But we’ve worked incredibly hard to put to rest some of the concerns you raise above, which may have been shared with us, if not quite so eloquently. We’ve not nailed it, but we’re ramming that nail home quite fast.

    • Thanks Ewan. My issue is not the educational-merit of the event at all. I am sure people learn plenty at the gathering. My issue is that Google exploit the lack of opportunity to market their brand knowingly — and the competition this creates further erodes scholarship and the public institution that the majority of kids rely on to enter society and become successful.

      While Goolgle may be investing a tiny amount in these “academies” these events are text-book marketing campaigns. The central mechanism is to create competition and use that as ‘aspiration’ marketing. With teachers blogging, hoping and tweeting — this social endorsement by the trusted-profession is worth millions of dollars in end-return. My issue is not whether the events are scholarly, or whether the products are worth using, I question the method and the ethics used, when clearly Google has other options with far greater social-justice benefits.

      This is a commercial arrangement. It is not a product of university research yet … perhaps it will, but the central point is that this is not an equitable or robust way to attempt to improve school practice or culture.

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