wasting bandwidth since 1999

Ignoring the Rules

The New York Times recently published a long front-page story about how Google “took over” the classroom. The writer’s primary focus is on concerns about the amount of student data the company is collecting in exchange for their free tools, and what they plan to do with it, although she doesn’t get many answers from them.

However, the part I found most interesting was about how those Google’s tools arrived in many classrooms in the first place. IT directors from Chicago, Oregon, and Fairfax County (aka our overly-large school district) complain that representatives of the company went straight to teachers with products like Google Classroom instead going through channels.

He said that Google had directly contacted certain Fairfax teachers who had volunteered to beta-test Classroom, giving them early access to the app. In so doing, he said, the company ignored the Google settings he had selected that were supposed to give his district control over which new Google services to switch on in its schools.

And why do so many teachers ignore IT’s rules and go through the formal process of getting those services approved?

Lots of reasons, but in our district it’s mostly because they know that the wheels of our bureaucracy grind very slowly. The formal evaluation system for new tech products can take years, especially for anything that hasn’t been blessed by Microsoft.

IT grudgingly went along with the use of Google Drive in the classroom after hundreds of teachers started using it on their own. Some of our innovative people very quickly recognized the value in online collaborative tools and jumped at the opportunity soon after it was released (only five years ago). One school even had the audacity to register their own domain to make things easier for their staff and students.

This would be a good time to point out that there’s no such thing as “free”, especially when it comes to Google. Even if the latest tool looks like a gift from the gods, teachers still have a responsibility to be cautious about allowing their students to pour data into these systems (see also the recent news about Edmodo).

On the other side of things, district administrators also need to understand that some of the best resources for evaluating new technologies are the connected, innovative educators working in their schools. Ignoring their expertise and judgement is going to result in them ignoring you.

[Apologies in advance to Doug for this post. :-)]


  1. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    As tech director, I am afraid I have been guilty of pushing the adoption of GoogleApps for Education now in two districts. In both cases, teachers were using the product prior to full scale adoption by the district. I think it was when I saw some truly tech-wary staff members doing collaborative work with the product that I knew it stood a very good chance of having a high adoption rate. So for me, a pilot project prior to any adoption is a wise move – whether formal or informal.

    Just as an FYI, in the district where I currently work, our department (well, me) moved toward implementation at a faster rated than with which many teachers and admins were comfortable.

    GSuites (have to be careful now not to say GString or GSpot) has been a real asset to both our staff and students and I am comfortable with Google’s stated privacy policies. As to driving brand loyalty in our young and impressionable students, well what company (Apple, Microsoft, etc) had not taken this approach?

    Thanks for concern over my feelings!

  2. Jenny

    Oh the big idea of free tech tools! We were just having that conversation at our house this morning. Our conclusion that either a free tool will disappear about the time you’ve really gotten to know it or the free tool is using you in a pretty significant way. Or both. Which isn’t to say we don’t use free tools. Or that we’re always as thoughtful about them as we should be. But we do at least know we should be…

  3. Margaret Sisler

    Thanks for this Tim! I knew when I read this article and found our overly large district mentioned :) that I’d likely see a response!

    I agree with the need to balance – both privacy and safety with the ease of use/value added from the tools.

  4. Martin Martinez

    Great read, Tim. I agree, nothing is free especially when it comes to technology, not just Google. There is always a catch or a price to pay even if it is not monetary. Many districts are embracing the Google classroom without considering the potential risks. My district is in the beta stage of converting to a Google school and yes IT has been reluctant, but they have been working with the district and Google to ensure the students are protected as much as possible. I don’t think you can protect anyone 100% once one puts themselves out there. It will not matter if we stay using Microsoft or convert over to Google, data will be collected the moment we turn on our computers. It is just the reality.

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