Corporate Web 2.0 in Education

Jim Groom just got me fired up again. Groom, in conjunction with Brian Lamb, wrote an important article in Educause entitled Never Mind the Edupunks; or, The Great Web 2.0 Swindle. The article laments the corporatization of  Web 2.0 in education.  The authors acknowledge the appeal and power of free online services offered by Google and their ilk.

Without much effort, online teachers and learners can quickly assemble dynamic, networked personal learning environments simply by adopting the most popular tools in any particular domain. Having signed up for a Gmail account, a user can publish websites with Blogger, manage groups and mailing lists with Google Groups, videoconference with Google Talk, write collaboratively with Google Docs, track topics with Google Alerts, manage syndicated feeds with Google Reader, share video with YouTube, post images with Picassa, and do whatever it is that Google Wave is supposed to do.

They go further with the proposition:

It seems almost unfair to expect ed techs to compete with the awe-inspiring innovation of corporate Web 2.0. Indeed, in an era of economic austerity and the apparently futile race to meet the ever-changing needs of users, it is arguably inefficient and even irresponsible to spend resources providing inferior analogues.

They continue by making the case for eschewing the appealing free proprietary Web 2.0 tools in education citing a number of concerns.

The first concern is privacy. They cite Facebook’s “bait and switch tactics with users’ data.” They also mention the powerful data mining that Google employs every time we use one of their “free” services. I have always questioned whether we, particularly in the K12 domain, have the right to deliver our students, their content, and their data to these corporations.

Another obvious concern is advertising. They cite Steve Greenberg:

You are not Facebook’s customer. You are the product that they sell to their real customers—advertisers. Forget this at your peril.

Ultimately Facebook and Google are out to serve their real customers, not you. These free services will only continue if they meet the needs of the advertisers. If not, they may cease to exist or, in the case of Ning, cease to be free. Further, the presence of advertisers in student online experience is becoming yet more ubiquitous as we herd our them into free corporate services. We are teaching our students that this is the way it is on the Internet–just like TV.

Finally, they fear that cooperation between providers of free services and “cultural industries” will lead to corporate censorship. They cite several instances where YouTube by default has taken the side of the entertainment industry in taking down published content containing copyrighted materials even though they were within the domain of “fair use.”

They don’t make a blanket condemnation of the use of these services and they admit that use these services themselves. I must add that to decide to use these services for ourselves is not problematic as long as we understand the ramifications (which are almost always obscured). Again, to blithely hoist use of these services upon students is at best questionable. Groom and Lamb challenge Educational IT to “aspire to a vital mission: to being something more than consumers and cheerleaders for commercial products.” I fear that many in the educational technology area have indeed become unwitting shills for these services. How could Google get better advertising than it does in the #edtech and #edchat areas of Twitter?

Searching the footnotes in the article led me to another gem, Miguel Brieva’s poster in support of network neutrality.

This poster is hosted by the website Internet no será otra TV. There are larger copies of the poster that are easier to read, but only in Spanish.

The poster illustrates two humorous visions of the future of the Internet. The top depicts the Internet if corporate interests prevail in the battle over network neutrality. The bottom is a vision of an open Internet. Ultimately it may be something in between. In which direction would the widespread adoption  of free commercial online tools by education take us?

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3 comments

  1. Jim Groom’s avatar

    Steve,
    We’re ready to be battered over the head, but I’m just seeing gems like these. And while I must admit easy enough yu liked it, but in the end that doesn;t matter as much as what we do with all this now. We have excellent examples out there, there are many. Why can;t we make the appropriation of some parts of our identity and data, some modicum of control—even if filtered through the all seeing Google eye—over our own spaces, and cultivate individual and even institutional development of people and resources for re-igniting some interest in one of the most important economic, social, and political realities of our lifetime—the struggle for an open web. I mean I may be speaking too quickly here, but seems like the Verizon/Google deal seems like a huge blow for the promise of net neutrality, and as one of the digital storytelling students noted last semester, or internet could like like this quite soon:

    Amazing what a simple link can lead us to, we have forgotten the wonder of the internet, and are proceeding to hide and monetize every last trace of that failing memory.

    If universities are already in the can, we could very well be done…or maybe not.

    1. Steve’s avatar

      Jim,

      I have fought hard to keep our school’s student work on an open platform. Quietly tucked away on our shared server space is a WPMu for student blogging and a few MediaWiki installations, along with a handful of other projects. Consistently our IT person has tried to push us toward corporate solutions like Gmail. There have been attempts to persuade me toward, I kid you not, Disney sponsored webspaces and others sponsored by billionaires.

      The fact is that there is pervasive distrust for the open and a yearning for the familiar embrace of the brands we have been conditioned to know and love.

      Someday, perhaps we too shall have an epiphany:

      “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

      The graphic from your link looks all too real. It won’t be long now!

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