I met with one of my colleagues this week and mentioned my plans to formulate an action plan to implement Google Apps for Education (GAFE) at a school I’m working with. She listened intently, but then quietly said, “I don’t think it’s a great idea for students to only use one platform, isn’t that what happens when you jump on the Google Apps for Education bandwagon?” I left that conversation wondering: Is there a right answer? Don’t all choices come with challenges and successes? How does a school make implementation decisions with all of these things in mind?
As I move forward in my examination of GAFE, a suite of productivity applications that Google offers free to schools, I am going to look at the pros and cons and how those nuances might play a role in the adoption of this learning tool. With that being said, this is not a review of GAFE, it’s not a comparative list between GAFE and Microsoft. It’s a question of whether or not this specific tool can meet the specific needs of my faculty and students. In his article, Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking, Seymour Papert argues that when evaluating a new tool, it’s not about the tool itself, but the cultural effect that tool has on the learning (1987). What learning goals are hoping to be met with the assistance of GAFE? After all, without the goals, the students, and the teachers, there is no need for the tool: “Using the computer not as a ‘thing in itself’ that may or may not deliver benefits, but as a material that can be appropriated to do better whatever you are doing (and which will not do anything if you are not!)” (Papert, 1987).
Like many emergent technologies with a plethora of early adopters, there is no shortage of positive literature regarding GAFE at your fingertips:
- “No software to install, no hardware to buy!” (MediaAgility).
- “Students and teachers are familiar with the tools outside of school, using them in a school setting comes as second nature to many” (EdSpire).
- “Google Apps is a wonderful free resource for educators to create engaging lessons, activities and assessments” (Backupify).
One school even claims that Google has saved their school:
Not quite as readily accessible are those users, like my colleague, who express their trepidations of GAFE. Fortunately, those that have published their concerns have articulated their apprehension in a very clear and approachable way. Education blogger, Anya Kamenetz talked with several teachers who were a bit more cautious in jumping on the GAFE train (2014); some of those concerns included:
- Emphasizing the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots.
- Opening opportunities for the commercialization of students.
- Jeopardizing teacher and student privacy.
Kamenetz goes on to note that there are far more significant problems with not only GAFE, but the adoption of all educational technology: “Teachers and districts are being asked to make significant decisions about, and investments in, technology use without much help” (2014). It was also argued that tech companies don’t build products based on the technical, pedagogical and content needs of the classroom: “Rather than understand needs and build a holistic solution, Google has the ability to throw stuff out and see what happens” (Kamenetz, 2014).
How Do I Use This Information?
My next steps will be taking these two perspectives and determining what will help me formulate an action plan. There is not a cut and dry answer. There is not a ready-made solution. There is simply an examination of the unique challenges and the cultural shift that will (hopefully) happen upon implementation in order to address those concerns. As I move forward, my primary concern will be maintaining a pragmatic approach and adhering to the needs of the learners. Philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin argues that when authenticity is no longer at the heart of a critical eye, it looses its value and simply becomes a political hoop to be jumped through (1936). My job is to provide teachers and students with the best possible learning experiences, if that remains my focus, I can help to make the decisions that best fulfill those needs.
Benjamin, W. (1936). Art in the Mechanical Age of Reproduction. Illuminations, 219-226. http://www.berk-edu.com/VisualStudies/readingList/06b_benjamin-work%20of%20art%20in%20the%20age%20of%20mechanical%20reproduction.pdf
Kamenetz, A. (2014, August 28). What do schools risk by going ‘full Google’? [Blog post]. Retrieved from Mind/Shift website: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/28/what-do-schools-risk-by-going-full-google/
Kraaijenbrink, J. (2011, April 26). How Google saved a school [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xn9nSMypWxk
Papert, S. (1987). Computer criticism vs. technocentric thinking. Educational Researcher, 16(1)