Should We Go Google? (Part Two)

I just thought I would clarify something. I am in favor of using Google. I mention as much in my post, when I listed the tools that we use, including Google Apps, Blogger and Chrome OS. There are things I love about Google. They are cheap, constantly improving, never stagnant, very logical and often strong advocates for open source solutions.

I don't however, believe that choosing Google means we use it uncritically. My concern with Google wasn't simply the dropping of tools, but also the data mining and the business model they use. To be fair, I have been equally critical of Microsoft and Apple (I was, and still am, critical of aspects of the iPad and with the overpriced, closed system that Apple promotes). I think we're in a dangerous place when we fail to look at the economic incentive that every transnational technology corporation adheres to.

In the case of Google, we have to recognize that they engage in data mining, that they frequently drop applications (which is true, to a lesser extent, of Apple) and that their primary business model is that of an advertising agency. Students need to ask hard questions about privacy, the danger of customization (and the narrowcasting of search) and the constant exposure to advertising.

For what it's worth, I have other issues with Apple. I'm not crazy about the fact that they advocate a closed system and that they function as a monopoly in many respects. I prefer most Google products to Apple, for the cost alone.


Too often, we treat technology as if it happens in an economic, social and political vacuum. Too often, teachers buy into the myth of technology neutrality. 

For the record, I support adaptable thinking. I believe in changing and adapting. However, I also believe that we need to temper that with sustainability. Yes, we have to realize that the tools won't last, but many tools have a social element and when we lose that, we also lose a site, a place and a community. I want those things to last. We saw this when Twitter let Posterous die.

Simply chasing after the new, constantly seeking innovation is what leads us into a culture of novelty. It's what happened in the sixties with baseball stadiums. We ended up creating the Astrodome and every other ugly, cookie-cutter clone.

What we get with Google is a culture of innovation that sometimes turns into a culture prone toward the disposable. My point is that we have to know that before buying in on any Google product.

photo credit: fd via photopin cc
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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6 comments:

  1. More random:

    I am bothered that the debate is often set up as a false binary between Apple and Google. What about Linux? What about students being involved in their own coding? If we want innovation, critical thinking and creativity, along with a democratic framework, doesn't Linux actually present that best? And, in the case of Linux, we need to recognize that there are down sides as well, in terms of functionality, politics, etc.

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    1. When I was about nine or ten, we got a new computer teacher (who happened to be my dad). We went from endlessly playing educational games to learning about computers themselves. We spent a lot of time working in DOS shells. We talked a lot about RAM and file types. It's a foundation that's served me well ever since.

      You don't get to play with the inner workings of a computer when everything is preprocessed into an app. There's definitely something to be said for giving kids the opportunity to put their feet on the pedals and twiddle the steering wheel.

      On the other hand, sometimes you just want to get a paper typed up and printed out. ;)

      My point is, I think it's okay to acknowledge we have two different educational goals. We want students to work with computers themselves. But we also want them to be able to use computers to do other useful and interesting things. Fortunately, you can pretty much accomplish both- for free- by running Chromium on Ubuntu. ;)

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    2. I wish we had more classes like that!

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  2. My comment will echo that of John to an extent. As educators we need to allow for an ecosystem of tools that suit the purpose and the individual. We need those tech giants who claim to be serious about supporting education to accept that we will not necessarily go with any one system for everything.They need to work together - LTI compliance should help this. Google have some great products for our needs, using an apps for ed account should deal with your data mining concerns, the ipad brings great functionality (although personally I prefer the ethos of the android systems) I wouldn't be without my chromebook and my nexus! We all have a tendency to get religious about our tech preferences but let's remember that our first priority is to our students who deserve great learning experiences.

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    1. I love your comment here. We want schools to be democratic. Our tech needs to be democratic and open as well.

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  3. In the education sphere, many of these concerns are moot. I'm a Google Apps admin for a K12. Google doesn't serve us ads. They "mine" data, but because we are serving minors, the limits of that mining are very strict. Finally, although Apps EDU doesn't generate direct revenue for Google, Apps itself *does* bring in over US$1B per year for them and is an important part of their long-term strategy.

    The constant updates are nice from an admin perspective and a nightmare for training. A lot of our teachers refuse to move off of Office 2003 -- that's how averse to change they are. Changes to the interface happening regularly puts them into a tailspin.

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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.