jim groom

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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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