|Facebook, Google, whatever…|
As we’ve been forced to shift online during the pandemic we’ve been placing demands on
Google Apps for Education that it simply isn’t capable of. GAFE is, at best, a bunch of cheap software cobbled together by an advertising company in order to collect user data so they can sell things.
Trying to be productive in this environment is infuriating. This cobbled together suite of software has atrocious UI (user interfaces) that my grade 11s could do a better job with. Google has a rep as a software company but they’re really an advertising company that buys software companies and then twists them to feed their primary business.
The other day I likened using GAFE as a productivity tool to trying to do the Tour de France on a bicycle made out of soap. Anyone who tells you GAFE is great has probably capped their professional teaching designations with an advertising company’s logo and is more interested in selling that than they are in providing you with a working edtech solution. I’m willing to bet none of them have ever used other business based productivity suites and don’t know what they’re missing.
Our edtech ecosystems aren’t designed with pedagogy in mind and are entirely predicated on liability management at the cheapest possible price, even though they aren’t particularly good at protecting privacy or providing a secure environment either.
While chasing this freemium software, education has tied itself to these questionable systems delivered by dodgy advertising companies that aren’t designed for productivity. This makes one of the greatest expenses in education (the professionals who provide it) less efficient than they otherwise could be. How we got to this point where we hand teachers software that actually gets in the way of teaching is beyond me.
An example of how non-educational the apps-for-edu suite is can be found in the evolution of Google Sites. What was once a relatively modifiable system that even let you write your own HTML has evolved into a drag and drop toy that lets people ‘develop’ websites without any understanding of what’s going on behind the curtain. As a means of teaching web development or even just graphic design, it’s about as useful as a slideshow. Google loves to automate things for you to make life easy, but it doesn’t do much for you educationally or productively.
If we treated digital fluency, which is a system wide expectation in all aspects of education since the pandemic, in the same way that we treat literacy and numeracy (also expected in all aspects of education), we wouldn’t be selecting tools that do things for us to replace our understanding. We don’t use tools in literacy and numeracy that just take the hard work out of your hands and do it for you – if we did no one would be able to read, write or do maths.
Our technology stance with digital fluency is the equivalent of teaching spelling by giving all students a word-processor that reads and writes for them while we pat ourselves on the back for a 100% literacy rate. This laziness with digital fluency seeps into all aspects of education where automated digital tools are quickly coming to replace fundamental student skills instead of supporting their development. There are neurologically tested negative results to this kind of digitization, like the inability to recall details when entering new learning digitally. Of course, Google has no interest in you hand writing notes because they can’t monetize that. Reconsidering our educational digital technology would not only mean we could teach digital literacy like it mattered, but we’d also protect pedagogy throughout the system from companies that have no interest in it.
I still dream of a day where we don’t line up to spend tax payer’s money on inefficient and questionable educational technology that has no interest in providing the best possible pedagogical experience for our students while maximising teacher productivity and focus on teaching. Working from a credible basis like that, we could build our own open source educational technology (both hardware and software) and develop the kind of deep understanding of digital tools that would make our classrooms relevant and our students world leaders in terms of technology understanding and use.
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