The digitization of education is widespread. As Pettersson (2020) pointed out, the continuous transformation of technologies has made it easier for educators to find new ways to teach and engage students. However, the process itself can be complex and digital transformation can also work against teachers.
Even before they step inside a classroom, children are already familiar with the devices that they may use inside to assist in their learning. At home, they learn to use smartphones, tablets, and even computers at an early age. Indeed, Generation Z and the emerging Generation Alpha (those born after 2010) do not know what it is like to live in a world without the internet and smart devices.
Classrooms everywhere continue to digitize and in the case of some, to be Googlified. This article discusses how Google has assumed control of classrooms across the world, how it has affected learning, and what are the diverse reactions it has generated.
The University of Phoenix (2017) conducted a survey of K-12 teachers in the United States and found that 63% of educators used technology in the classroom on a daily basis. Laptops were the most common devices, as 86% of teachers were using them. Educational apps and 3D printers are becoming common as well, with 58% and 21% of teachers utilizing them, respectively, in their work. Forty-one percent of K-12 educators were also using social media in the classroom. However, despite the rise in the use of technology in American classrooms, many educators remain vigilant about its impact on students’ learning.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, there is not enough infrastructure or resources necessary for the digitization of education. Nevertheless, it is not stopping officials and private companies from forging partnerships to change the status quo. For instance, in Uruguay, approximately 80,000 students have begun learning English through video conferencing because of an initiative to digitize education in the country (Botifoll, 2016).
On the other hand, in Europe, Nordic countries are considered the frontrunners in the digitization of education, as their schools have access to high-speed internet. However, the survey conducted by the European Commission (2019) shows that less than one in five European students attend schools that have internet connections above 100 Mbps. But despite that, teachers are continuing their professional development in ICT. Indeed, six out of 10 European students have educators that do so.
In the African continent, 22% of affluent households have access to the internet, while only 0.3% of poor households do. Similarly, 97% of wealthy households have mobile phones and only 46% of poor households have mobile phones. The numbers are similarly bleak when it comes to ownership of radio and TV: 79% vs 30% and 82% vs 4%, respectively. Because of the digital divide, the distribution of digital content has been challenging. Nevertheless, governments are using a combination of multiple channels such as print, online, and radio to ensure that students in all households could receive their learning materials.
Meanwhile, in Asia, Japan is leading the way in the digitization of the classroom. Deutsche Welle (2018) reported about a Japanese secondary school classroom where most student-teacher interactions are done through technology. Another example in Asia is Malaysia. The peninsula has been partnering with Microsoft to enhance the country’s education system as well as boost its nationwide digitization efforts.
Source: University of Phoenix, 2017Designed by
In the 2019 BETT conference in London, Google revealed that 30 million students and teachers use Chromebooks worldwide. Meanwhile, Google Classroom tallied 40 million users, and its education-focused suite of Google apps had more than 80 million users.
How did Google manage that feat? In the U.S., Google would approach school administrators and show them the company’s intuitive applications and inform them how their schools can save by using those services (Singer, 2017).
The subsidiary of Alphabet has widespread success using that tactic. Indeed, EdWeek Market Brief (2017) reported that 68% of school districts nationwide revealed that they use Google Classroom and/or G Suite for Education frequently. Additionally, 42% of school districts use Chromebooks frequently for instruction.
When asked which company they will hire to help improve student achievement in their districts, the survey showed that 52% of respondents would choose Google for Education. The three main reasons instructors would select it are ease of use (25%), familiarity with the brand (24%), and the effectiveness and quality of products (23%).
To understand how widespread Google is, it is important to know what makes up its ecosystem in terms of devices and applications or software.
Google has numerous physical products on the market. The most popular are Pixel (smartphone and tablet line), Google Nest (smart home products), and Chromebooks (laptops running Chrome OS).
As has been mentioned above, many school districts in the U.S. use Chromebooks frequently in their classroom. Google conquered the classroom, or started to, in 2014 as it has been marketing Chromebooks to schools since that time (De Vynck & Bergen, 2020). These are laptops manufactured by various PC makers like Samsung, Dell, and Lenovo that use Chrome OS.
Chrome OS is a lightweight but powerful operating system designed by Google. Users also do not need to worry about virus protection and setting up security features because the Chrome OS already pre-configured those. Students and teachers alike can get started with their work as soon as they open their Chromebooks, as they are designed to boot up quickly. Another great benefit Chromebooks offer is the accessible Google Assistant. Users can launch it by voice or by keyboard so they can multitask (Google Chromebooks, 2020).
What makes Google apps attractive to educators and school administrators is the fact that they are either costless or cost-effective. For instance, the G Suite for Education is available for use by students and teachers for free. This includes Gmail, Google Meet, Google Classroom, Google Calendar, Google Keep, and other familiar applications like Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Presentation, and Google Drive.
Source: StatCounter, 2020
Educational technology continues to grow across the world. In 2019, it was valued at $76.4 billion and is forecast to grow at a rate of 18.1% from 2020 to 2027. This upward projection is mainly due to the wider internet connection coverage and the proliferation of smart devices. Additionally, educators and schools are getting more interested in innovative technologies for classroom use such as augmented reality/virtual reality, 3D printing, gamification, and artificial intelligence. There is an increasing availability of ebooks and online courses as well (Grand View Research, Inc., 2020).
Because of the pandemic, activities like field trips are not possible at the moment. But with AR/VR, it has become possible for students and their instructors to travel virtually. For example, Google has Expeditions, a service that brings interactive AR/VR content to schools. With it, students can learn about more than 900 places without leaving the safety and convenience of their homes (echoAR, 2020).
3D printers can be valuable to students who are taking engineering and fabrication and similar programs. For instance, Peterson (2015) reported that students from Nestucca Junior/Senior High School in Cloverdale, Oregon used a 3D printer to fabricate objects that they saw being manufactured in a plant during a field trip.
The gamification of education means that learners are given incentives to finish a task. Its application is being explored actively in education because games motivate and engage players. A literature review on the subject by Dichev and Dicheva (2017) showed that most of the papers on the matter involved university or graduate-level students. The researchers also found that 39% or 20 of the papers reviewed looked at the gamification of computer science or IT subjects. However, it was concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the long-term benefits of this particular educational technology.
One of the primary objectives of artificial intelligence (AI) in education is to provide students with personalized learning and to guide them through their tailored programs. It can take on four roles, according to the paper of Hwang and colleagues (2020): intelligent tutor, intelligent tutee, intelligent learning tool or partner, or policy-making advisor. Students, instructors, and policymakers alike can benefit from the integration of AI into education.
The rise of electronic books can be attributed to one simple fact: they can be up to 60% less expensive than their physical counterparts (McNeil, 2019). This is especially a big factor for students, especially those in college or university when deciding to purchase necessary learning materials. With electronic textbooks though, it may be necessary to have an electronic reader such as Amazon’s Paperwhite, which retails for $129.99, or Kobo Clara HD, which goes for the same price (Gartenberg, 2019). For those who do not want to shell out more than $100 on a reading device, they can use their existing tablets or their laptops. They can read their electronic textbooks on their smartphones as well.
There are plenty of studies that explore the link between device use and the learning or well-being of learners, especially adolescents. Rather than being wholly good or wholly bad, technology can be both. Edtech can be beneficial to learning when utilized to personalize students’ instruction. On top of that, it has been found that as learners’ access to technology increases, the more proficient they can be with it. However, it is also tied to the prolonged use of technology. Moreover, technology has been shown to foster an environment of collaboration and creativity (Costley, 2014; Mohammed, 2019).
On the other hand, there are researchers that advise against the early introduction of devices to infants and young children. According to Hill (2016), devices, particularly mobile ones, impact early brain development. Watching TV has been shown to negatively affect the language development, short term memory, and reading skills of children if they had started looking at screens before they reach 18 months.
Additionally, Western Governors University (2019) pointed out that technology use at an early age has been linked to attention deficit, higher risk of depression, lower grades, obesity, and social interaction problems. These days, parents are also finding it harder to discipline their children and monitor their screen time.
Source: Auxier, et al., 2020
Education technology, particularly Google’s Chromebooks and suite of applications, has allowed students to do their homework and projects seamlessly online. Educators themselves have found it easier to manage their workload, as they can check assignments online.
This spreading Googlification of the classroom, however, has provided the tech giant with access to children’s data. The tech firm could track all their searches, ads they have interacted with, emails they have written and sent, and even the images they downloaded to their devices. Koppel (2019) pointed out that while Google may seem benevolent in its distribution of laptops and provision of access to freeware, it may actually be shaping tomorrow’s customers of Google.
Indeed, Google has admitted to mining email messages early in 2014. The Alphabet subsidiary was made to confess it at a hearing due to a federal lawsuit. Afterward, Google announced that it no longer utilized students’ data, which are generated when they use Google products. The company also said that it would no longer show ads to students (Kamenetz, 2014).
Google faced another lawsuit in 2020. New Mexico filed a case against the company for allegedly invading children’s privacy through its suite of free educational products. The suit also claimed that Google tracks children’s online activities on their personal devices. It also questions what Google is doing with students’ data. The company refuted the claims and said that its educational services and products operate in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Morrison, 2020).
The tech giant’s massive entry into the classroom, with the contrasting reactions it has received, can be considered as either a boon and a bane. Without a doubt, it has made people’s lives easier with its user-friendly and free online software and services. And because of its Google Classroom and G Suite for Education, students and educators in different corners of the world are able to complete their tasks with ease. Moreover, schools with emaciated budgets receive free Chromebooks, laptops running Chrome OS, for their teachers and students.
But all these conveniences at what cost? As has been mentioned above, Google’s invasion of the classroom poses a risk to the privacy of children. Lawsuits have been filed against the tech company for their alleged misuse of children’s data. It is also under suspicion of making children hooked on their devices and products so that they could have a continuous flow of customers in the future.
Nevertheless, Google remains an asset to students and educators who are benefiting from its free products.