Google minus Google plus

I had two interesting experiences with Google this week

  1. Attending the annual Google I/O 2013  via a video-link, at their offices in Barrow Street, Dublin
  2. Using Google Forms for the first time

On one hand, I left the I/O further questioning many of my concerns about Google (and other companies e.g. Apple and Amazon) as they develop proprietary ecosystems around Apps, Operating Systems and Data-management.

On the other, using Google Forms for the first time, I saved a vast amount of time (and paper) in carrying out an evaluation with a Transition Year group, of one hundred and fifty secondary-school students. Forms was reasonably straightforward to use and allowed me to immediately begin an analysis of some of the data  collected. I was really pleased with the application and have not stopped singing its praises!

I heard both Cambridge’s John Naughton and M.I.T.’s Richard Stallman speak here in Ireland in the last while. I blogged about their presentations (Naughton / Stallman) and found both men thought provoking.

Naughton I wrote,  warned us of the dangers of becoming modern day sharecroppers (definition: A tenant farmer who gives a share of the crops raised to the landlord in lieu of rent) as we use online applications to “enhance” our lives, whether of the Google, FaceBook or myriad of other applications offered to us for “free”.

Stallman makes a cogent case about  Why Schools Should Exclusively Use Free Software “What schools should refuse to do is teach dependence. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes to minors: to get children addicted. They will not give discounts to these students once they’ve grown up and graduated.”

Audrey Watters, posted a piece “Google Play for Education Versus the Open Web” in Hack Education yesterday about her thoughts on Google I/O 2013 and Education.  Watters makes many good points but the one that resonated most with me is

“Tablets facilitate consumption and content delivery, but they haven’t really changed the way we teach and learn. They are not the powerful computing devices as envisioned by Seymour Papert et al. And with their emphasis on app marketplaces and app ecosystems and not on openly-licensed content the World Wide Web, tablets raise all sorts of other problems for education”.

This is a problem – but what to do? Being realistic we cannot avoid Google! I think it is more about how we approach Google or any of the major corporations. We must engage our brains. Essentially do we want Google to anticipate our needs (something that their engineers are well on the way to doing – read more here) or do we want to use Google for our needs?

This is the real work of education – helping people take control of their lives and realising that in these still early days of the online world, we are being pushed and pushed into vistas that may be limited.

Content creation, is hugely important to us in the digital age.  Many devices however allow us to do less and less with (our) content, funnelling us into a small number of ways of “enhancing” what we have developed.

I will happily continue to work with Google Forms but I will continue to express my concerns about the ethical issues surrounding the relentless Googlization and appification of knowledge and ideas.

Disclosure: This post was written on a Chromebook. I accepted a free main-course followed by an ice-cream at the I/O. I got the t-shirt and took two stickers!

Photo credit: Google Developers (the t-shirt is mine).

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