This article, with the provocative title Google’s got our kids, is about a year old, but the message is still one that every educator needs to understand. Especially if you’ve turned your classroom over to Google’s Classroom.
The author, a teacher who uses Google products with her students, makes the point that, although GSuite for Education and their other free or super-cheap products can be beneficial to schools and teachers, we also need to remember that the company has motives that are different from “normal” education vendors.
Unlike textbook publishers, Google has a “very strong interest not only in training the workforce of the future in G Suite, but also in forming positive and powerful brand associations in the minds of its littlest consumers”. Most of those kids sitting in front of a Chromebook running Google’s browser are too young to understand brand marketing.
Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” curriculum is another great example of the company selling itself to kids, specifically delivering the “message that Google is a trustworthy arbiter of online safety and privacy”.
The irony of a curriculum that teaches kids how to safeguard their privacy online yet is produced by a company known for its less-than-transparent use of personal data is a little on the nose, but the explicit lessons in Be Internet Awesome are too basic to be objectionable.
Pragmatic as the content is, it also transmits implicit lessons about the Google brand, whose brand colors, icons, and font are slathered over everything from student handouts to classroom posters to, for some reason, paper doll patterns for making your very own Internaut.
I doubt the students, or most of their teachers, get the irony.
In the end, the author admits that Google provides some useful tools, and that even the Be Internet Awesome curriculum “speaks to a real need schools have to prepare students for life in a digital world”.
However, we must understand that that these “free” resources still come with a cost.
The issue isn’t that Google has nothing of value to offer schools — clearly, it has — but rather at what price are we buying it. If it’s too steep we might want to recall lessons from our own educations, not about how to be savvy, polished consumers of technology, but about how to be citizens.
The image is from the Kalamazoo Public Library Flickr account, and is used under a Creative Commons License. Look closely at the screen. The student is viewing a message from a coding activity that incorporates characters from the game Angry Birds. Another example of brand marketing in a “free” educational product.