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Googlification of Classrooms: Implications for American Education

When your company is synonymous with internet search, you know you’re doing something right.

Google’s dominance as a global search engine and device-maker is well-known to everyone who uses a laptop or a smartphone—and even those who don’t. And its foray into other industries like self-driving cars, drones, and scientific research shows the company isn’t afraid to move into new verticals.

One of those verticals is K12 education.

In what education leaders are calling the “Googlification” of America’s classrooms, Google has quietly become the premier provider of apps, services, and devices in elementary and secondary schools, reports Natasha Singer in The New York Times.

Google’s emergence as an education technology leader presents both advantages and challenges to the nation’s school districts.

By committing to making it easier and cheaper to get quality technology and services into the hands of students and teachers, Google has successfully upended many of the traditional hurdles or objections that crop up in large-scale school technology integrations. The company’s near ubiquitous presence in schools has also helped spark serious, some would say productive conversations about student privacy, and the connected nature of the learning environment.

Better… and cheaper?

According to the Times, Google’s Chromebook portable computing devices now account for more than half of all devices shipped to America’s schools. That translates to hundreds of millions of dollars in device purchases and management services each year.

More than 30 million students—more than half of all those in America—reportedly use free Google apps, such as Docs or Gmail, in the classroom.

While the number of students and teachers who use Google is impressive, some parents and education experts contend the company has a not-so-subtle long-tail motive: to get more people hooked on its products and services earlier in life. This line of thinking has sparked debate among some parents who question whether Google’s seemingly unfettered march into American classrooms should be met with more skepticism, and perhaps caution.

Questions of privacy and process

David Barsotti, a Chicago-based IT project manager, expressed concerns that his daughter’s school did not sufficiently question the company’s focus on data collection when it chose to adopt Google’s products.

As he told the New York Times:

“My concern is that they are working on developing a profile of this child that, when they hit maturity, they are able to create a better profile. That is a problem, in my opinion.”

Barsotti is one of several concerned parents who contend that student information can be easily shared, sold, or targeted using the kinds of technology that Google and other education technology providers sell to K12 schools. And the mere possibility for that kind of privacy break down requires schools to be extremely diligent when considering new classroom innovations.

For many school districts, the emergence of Google in classrooms has also raised questions about the traditional education technology integration.

One reason for Google’s lightening quick expansion into the K12 market can be traced to its marketing savvy, particularly the company’s relationship with teachers.

Through a combination of active online communities, professional development programs, and appearances at ed-tech events and conferences, Google uses a vast word-of-mouth network to turn classroom educators into evangelists for its products and services.

But that fanaticism, while great for Google’s education brand, also presents its share of challenges for school IT administrators, especially in such cases where individuals attempt to introduce the technology into a school’s existing infrastructure themselves, or without the knowledge or support of school IT staff.

Ongoing conversations

Let’s be clear: Google’s technology didn’t create questions about information privacy or the compatibility of such innovations in schools. But the company’s steady march into the ed-tech zeitgeist has accelerated the conversation.

As new innovations from the likes of Google and others come online, the boundaries of that conversation keep inching outward—from the role of technology in schools and classrooms to the very definition of learning itself.

As Jonathan Rochelle, Google’s director of education apps, told the New York Times about his own children:

“I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it. And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

As new classroom innovations continue to change the way students learn, what steps are you taking to engage your school community in conversations about what these changes mean to them and to their children? Tell us in the comments.