Panel 1 (26th May) How Google took over the Classroom.
From Claire Sowton
How Google took over the Classroom: The Role of Intermediaries in the Googlization of three Education Systems (Panel by Niels Kerssens, Luci Pangrazio, T. Philip Nichols)
Google has a major presence in education worldwide, with millions of schools across 250 countries using Chromebooks and Google Workspace for Education as resources for teaching and learning (Gulson et al. 2021). The “googlization” of education is emblematic of the growing power of private tech companies in public schools which challenges education as a public good (Kerssens and Van Dijck 2021). While critical scholarship has started unpacking the ideological, pedagogical and economical logics underpinning Google’s digital infrastructure in schools (Carlsson 2021; Lindh and Nolin 2016; Krutka et al. 2021; Perrotta et al. 2020), we still have little insight into ‘how Google took over the classroom’ (Singer 2017) – much less, the variations in how googlization unfolds in education systems across the world. This panel addresses this by examining the googlization of education across three countries —The Netherlands (EU), Australia (OC) and the US (NA)—attending, specifically, to how Google’s growing presence in education is brokered by new and established intermediary actors which mediate platform power (Van der Vlist and Helmond 2021) between private tech companies and public education systems. Each individual contribution is guided by two overarching questions: how does googlization take place? And what intermediaries are involved in googlization?
‘GLOCAL’ TECH INTERMEDIARIES: GOOGLIZATION THROUGH COMPLEMENTATION AND PARTNER INTEGRATION IN DUTCH PRIMARY EDUCATION
Niels Kerssens (Utrecht University)
Googlization signals a form of techno-commercial control over teaching and learning which clashes with fundamental values of Dutch education as a public good (Kerssens and Van Dijck 2021), particularly schools pedagogical autonomy in accordance with the principle of ‘freedom of education’ as administered by article 29 of the constitution. This raises the question of how, in this field of apparently conflicting forces between public and private control over the organization of teaching and learning, Dutch public schools have become so dependent on Google? In answer to this question, this paper will demonstrate how Googlization of education in primary education in the Netherlands is mediated by a select group of Dutch edtech companies which as ‘glocal intermediaries’ coordinate and integrate two potentially clashing modes of governance—one at the level of national/local public school systems, the other at the level of Google’s private global infrastructure. Such alignment, I argue, is arranged through two interdependent intermediary operations: 1) complementation—complementing Google’s infrastructure for education through the supply of a full range of services and digital tools tailored to policy, regulation and demand concerning online learning at the national level of the Dutch public education sector and the local level of primary schools; and 2) partner integration—organizational arrangements with Google as global tech corporation which are based on partnerships, and underlying technological partner integrations (SDK/API-based).
STATE BASED INTERMEDIARIES: THE ROLE OF DEPARTMENTS OF EDUCATION IN THE ‘GOOGLIZATION’ OF AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS
Luci Pangrazio (Deakin University)
Like many other parts of the world, the role of Google in Australian education has grown exponentially in recent years. Based on conservative estimates, there are currently over 100,000 full-time teachers and close to two million K-12 students using some form of Google Apps, Classroom or Workspace for Education in Australian schools. While Google was a late arrival to the delivery of formal education in Australia and New Zealand, it has quickly become the platform of choice in primary and secondary classrooms. Australia has a federal education system, however, the constitutional responsibilities for curriculum and assessment lie with individual states and territories. Historically, the states and territories of Australia determine policy, curriculum and assessment, and this is no different when it comes to the procurement, rollout and use of digital technologies in schools. For this reason, departments of education have become key intermediaries and authorities on the uptake and use of technologies in Australian schools. In some states and territories contracts between Google and the department mean all schools and students in that jurisdiction are mandated to use these products. At this scale, tech companies specialising in the ‘roll out’ and ‘integration’ of digital technologies have also become integral intermediaries in the platformisation process. In this presentation, I will contrast two different examples of the googlization of education in Australia to show how government departments are smoothing the way for private companies into public education systems.
BROKERING INTEROPERABILITY: SOCIAL, TECHNICAL, AND POLITICAL-ECONOMIC INTERMEDIARIES IN THE ‘GOOGLIZATION’ OF US PUBLIC EDUCATION
T. Philip Nichols, Baylor University
As in other countries, Google’s influence in US K-12 public education has grown exponentially in recent years. Even before a global pandemic pushed many districts to hurriedly adopt its products, more than half of the country’s 50.7 million students used Google software, and Chromebooks accounted for half of all mobile device sales to US schools. This paper, like the others in this panel, takes up the question of how the ‘googlization’ of US public education has unfolded – and, specifically, what intermediary actors and local contingencies have enabled, conditioned, and
sustained this process? While many have, justifiably, credited Google’s proliferation in US schools to its tactic of side-stepping conventional edtech procurement channels and marketing directly to teachers (Singer, 2017), such explanations can elide the parallel work of intermediaries – across federal, state, district, and school scales – in reinforcing its infrastructuralization in the public education system. I argue that that these intermediaries (e.g., Google credentialing systems, workplace-readiness reform networks, testing companies, public-private “innovation” partnerships, app markets and SSO standards/protocols, and federal edtech guidance) have helped to smooth the interoperation of Google’s products and services with the idiosyncrasies of US public education’s governance, accountability, assessment, finance, and standards-based reform systems. Attending to these interoperations, I suggest, not only helps clarify the multi-scalar process by which Googlization occurs in US schools, but in doing so, it also highlights a wider range of leverage-points that may be of use in resisting, redirecting, or regulating this process, and its parallels in other national contexts.