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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Are schools being Googlified? Don’t believe it

In How Google Took Over the Classroom, a front-page New York Times story, Natasha Singer “implies something deeply sinister is occurring in our public schools,” writes Richard Lee Colvin on The Grade. “A nearly ubiquitous, enormously powerful company had staged a secret coup and is changing education in profound and, apparently, harmful ways,” the May 13 story suggests. “Earnest but naïve educators are being unknowingly drafted to participate in the behemoth’s onslaught.”

Colvin is skeptical that Google is beating education technology competitors  by sinister means or that it’s transforming education.

Google Takeover NYT

Google has “reached out to educators to test its products — effectively bypassing senior district officials,” Singer writes. Is that bad? asks Colvin.

The company “has outmaneuvered Apple and Microsoft with a powerful combination of low-cost laptops, called Chromebooks, and free classroom apps,” reports Singer.

They’ve certainly outcompeted Apple and Microsoft. In my reporting on blended and personalized learning, I’ve seen Chromebooks everywhere. They’re cheaper and easier to use. They come with a keyboard. Storage is in the cloud.

Colvin challenges Singer’s claim that Google is helping “drive a philosophical change in public education—prioritizing training children in skills like teamwork and problem-solving while de-emphasizing the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like math formulas.”

The story includes “only one glimpse” of  “Googlification,” writes Colvin. “In the article’s anecdotal lead, sixth graders  are doing nothing more radical than writing essays on Chromebooks using Google Docs.”

A slide show accompanying the article provided other putative examples of the shift in the purpose of education Singer claims. But those also are not unsettling:  Students are seen using Google apps to edit their poetry and comment on the work of their peers. They work in groups but, because they are using Docs, they can collaborate online and do not have to move their desks. A teacher uses an app called Google Classroom to check students’ work, provide real-time feedback, and individualize assignments to fit each student’s needs. Students use Classroom to work on assignments at home. They use another Google app to give the teacher feedback on the assignment. All but one are traditional activities, made more convenient with technology. The only one that’s new? The app that makes it easier for students to give teachers’ feedback on an assignment.

In a June 6 story, The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools, Singer “continues the narrative of outsiders inserting themselves into the nuts-and-bolts of education,” writes Colvin. But, is it a bad thing if Google sets up online communities “where teachers could swap ideas for using its tech?”

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