My notes on this report by Google Transparency Project 

There are many reasons to be cautious about the educational ambitions of tech firms. If these firms seem likely to be the dominant actors of the global economy over the coming decades, how will shape the influence they exercise over education. To offer the most concrete example I can think of: if tech firms shape the curriculum for digital citizenship and digital safety, will they present themselves as sources of digital risk? I doubt it and it’s one of many reasons why their projects and initiatives need to be carefully scrutinised. Capturing the Classroom by the Google Transparency Project is an important contribution to precisely this agenda.

It investigate how technology procurement has been upended in American schools, with “a rigorous and competitive process that carefully weighed factors including cost, usefulness and safeguards on children’s privacy” being radically transformed by Google “directly enlisting teachers to push their products into the classroom”. This has been undertaken through the recruitment of teacher evangelists and organisation of teaching summits (pg 2) with existing professional development budgets bearing the cost of helping teachers adapt to this new technological infrastructure. It is a process which “focused on teachers and their power to spread the word about Google’s classroom potential—all while bypassing the administrators that typically make decisions about technology and other educational tools” (pg 7). In some cases, the teacher trainers win consultancy contracts with no disclosure terms attached, echoing the established practice of Big Pharma offering paid speaking gigs to doctors in the expectation they act as advocates for their products.

It has also sparked the proliferation of an ecosystem of blogs, resources and consultancies “among educators and administrators looking to cash in on school districts’ technology craze” (pg 12). In some cases, these businesses then work with other tech firms, creating a sustained mobilisation of big tech advocacy within education. Third party firms can place a distance between a teacher and Google, blunting the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The authors draw the contrast to Coke and Pepsi’s ambition to produce customers for life by placing vending machines in every school. They suggest Google have already seen considerable success:

Today, 25 million students worldwide use Google’s Chromebooks at school, 30 million teachers and students use Google Classroom, and more than 80 million people use G Suite for Education. (Pg 2)

The success of their initiatives has inspired other firms to follow their lead, described on pg 5:

Google isn’t the only technology company trying to push its products into the classroom. Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, as well as other device manufacturers and software developers, all have aggressive programs targeted at classrooms. Many, such as Amazon Inspire, Microsoft’s Certified Educator program19 and Apple’s Distinguished Educator program, take a page directly from Google’s playbook, also courting teachers and administrators with free trips, software and, increasingly, lucrative consulting gigs moonlighting for EdTech companies. (Pg 5)

However they note that Google has a crucial advantage, in that it can offer hardware as loss leaders in a way that its competitors cannot. Many questions remain unanswered about the commercial significance of this, including whether student profiles built up in school are ‘switched on’ when students enter adult life (pg 7).

There’s an interesting piece by Alastair Creelman in Elm Magazine on platform literacy and the collaborations which will be necessary to develop it as an agenda. While transnational initiatives have their value, their efficacy is likely to be dependent upon their mediation by professional stakeholders:

There are excellent guidelines and initiatives from the EU Commission aimed at raising awareness of media literacy issues and digital literacies in general but these need to be implemented at national level and downwards. Teachers need to work with other professions such as journalists, publishers, media specialists, librarians, researchers and civil servants to offer a wide range of training resources and arrange workshops, meetings and lectures focusing on media literacy.

https://elmmagazine.eu/articles/towards-platform-literacy/

Building the space for these collaborations is important work. But it is costly and requires resources, creating a temptation to accept support from wherever it can be found. However with tech firms increasingly effective in shaping the implementation of digital citizenship, even if a much broader conversation continues around it, the risk is that these spaces are captured to institutionalise an anaemic, individualised and instrumental citizenship devoid of platform literacy. The collaborations between professional groups described by Alastair Creelman could function as an important bulwark against this agenda and it is important that they resist co-option, even if it comes in the shiny and appealing guise of a friendly tech company bearing gifts.