The Googlification of the Classroom

From a public sphere to a corporate sphere?

From blackboard to smartboard and from pen and paper to laptop: new technologies infiltrate our lives and thus infiltrate our education system as well. We welcome these technologies with open arms: doing a group project or presentation with fellow classmates is way easier using Google Docs and Google Slides, right? 

In an article by The New York Times, sixth graders at an elementary school know the Google drill and describe their experiences. Looking up from her laptop, an 11-year-old says the essay she is working on explores how schooling in ancient Athens differs from her own. “Back then, they had wooden tablets and they had to take all of their notes on it. Nowadays, we can just do it in Google Docs.” We see here how Google has established itself as a fact in schools. According to Media and Digital Society professor at Utrecht University José van Dijck (in an interview with The Correspondent), there has been a shift in schools from a public sphere to a more corporate sphere. The digital infrastructure is designed on the basis of market principles and not on the basis of ‘public values’, such as privacy, security, and democratic control. Public sectors such as education are increasingly mixed with private systems that pursue other interests.

Schools may thus be giving Google more than they are getting: generations of future customers. According to The New York Times, Google is the latest big contender in a decades-old battle among tech companies to hook students as future customers. “If you get someone on your operating system early, then you get that loyalty early, and potentially for life”. Van Dijck argues the same: the pandemic forced schools and universities to switch to video environments in haste. At Utrecht University, Microsoft’s video service Teams was preferred, since the university had already invested a lot in Microsoft. As a result, they are dependent on what that one system has to offer and they can no longer stop. As you outsource more and more – standards, principles, values ​​– you are less able to determine your own direction. Through Teams’ limited interface, Microsoft determines how teachers should shape their education.

The problem is that schools and universities have little choice because there are almost no public alternatives. According to van Dijck, a public sector such as education must be able to run on public services that have been developed on the basis of public values. Could the development and use of digital, public alternatives indeed help the education sector reclaim digital agency? Can the Googlification of the classroom be restricted and can we protect children and youth as digital citizens and consumers? 

Connected Digital Europe (CODE) NL-D, is concerned with these questions. CODE NL-D seeks to bring together artists, concerned citizens, politicians, and policymakers to engage in dialogue and critical discussion in the realm of digital agency. Click here to find out more and join the CODE NL-D Symposium on the 26th of June! 


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