Is a Google Teacher Academy Really Such a Good Idea?

Over a year ago I began writing about how disappointing it is that in the UK and Europe there isn’t a version of the US Google Teacher Academy (GTA).

Since then we have started a UK group, with over 120 members and much discussion has taken place. It is that discussion and debate that I want to focus here in this blog post.

Some consider Google to be a heavy handed corporation, riding rough shod over it’s competitors and assimilating those it can’t compete with.  José Picardo wrote about the way the Etherpad situation was handled and points out that:

Google makes its living by offering free services with the only aim of attracting huge amounts of users to whom Google can then show their customers’ adverts and sell their premium services.

My dad used to tell me stories of free cigarettes being given away by tobacco companies outside the school gates to pupils on the way home. Google’s strategy surrounding free web apps for education is very similar: hook’em while they’re young.

He goes on to qualify such a comparison by saying that,

the desired outcome is the same: to get young people conditioned to using a product from an early age.

Marketing Google Apps for Education is a long term strategy to bring in younger users of Google tools, to create habits in work and life so that eventually more ads can be clicked, maybe years later. That’s surely the bottom line.

So is it right that we are using Google tools at all in the classroom? I rarely get into this sort of territory but we have been using Google tools in a myriad of ways in the classroom and I think it is worth debating.

Google logo render – Mark Knol by mark knol
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

Many people have questioned whether a GTA is a good thing as we may just be perpetuating the “Googlisation of Education“, as Josie Fraser puts it. Is it right to hold a professional development event purely based on one company’s products, especially one that reaps a huge proportion of it’s revenue through adverts?

On the other hand Google has produced some of the most powerful learning tools currently available in the classroom. A GTA in the UK would be a great opportunity for teachers to learn from each other and find out about best practices.

The event should be clearly focused on learning and the ways that Google tools can enhance that. But it would also be a good opportunity to further debate the title of this blog post and the privacy issues surrounding Google in education and the ways young learners use their products.

I would focus on the ideas and the learning at such an event and not get too bogged down with whether or not it is right or wrong.  Are you going to stop using Google products in the classroom altogether based on your moral objections? I would prefer to see Google tools and services just one part of a broad and balanced approach to web products in the classroom. Perhaps the event should be similarly balanced – but then it wouldn’t be a GTA it would be just another conference and could be about thousands of web related products.

What do you think? Is a Google Teacher Academy a morally flawed concept or a long overdue professional development event for UK teachers?


  1. I think it is fine for us to use Google Apps in school. We are saving money while having our students use some great applications. What's the difference between using Google Apps or Microsoft? Microsoft also has incentives to get students to use Office – the student version is 1/4 of the price of the professional version.

    I love the fact that Google offers free training for teachers on ways to use their applications in the classroom. More companies should do the same.

  2. Is there any difference between this and any other “Distinguished Educator” program? From Google's point of view it's all about getting a bunch of educators advocating their products and using them in the classroom. I have no moral objection to this. If there was absolutely no commercial incentive for companies to be involved in education, most of the educational software we know and love would never have been developed. At least with Google products you can teach children that ads are ads and not succumb to some of the more insidious marketing techniques that some companies use that lock users in to their own products.

  3. !! If it did not happen in the summer 0f 09 I am pessimistic that Google, whose focus is now elsewhere, will cross the pond for even 70 people in Sheffield. Besides, there are lots of national events that teachers get together at – I reckon using the moniker YouTube would generate far more interest in the younger generation (there might also be a smaller area for us oldtimers called GoogleBookFest)

  4. Hi, Tom.
    I recently attended the Google Teacher Academy in Washington, D.C. and I will tell you I found it to be absolutely worth it. I am not a foot soldier for Google sent to indoctrinate the kids in my district. I use Google tools when they are the most appropriate tool to achieve what I or other teachers want them to. If one of their tools isn't the most appropriate, I will suggest they use something else. When I attend a state or national conference I attend sessions to learn how to make our classrooms a better place for learning. I may attend a session on how to use wikis, voicethread, mixbook, or glogs more effectively in the classroom. That is precisely why I attended the Google Teacher Academy. Before I applied, my district already used Google Apps for Education, Google Earth, Google Maps, etc. I applied to learn how to use them more effectively, how to use them in new ways, and to see how others were using them. One of the most powerful outcomes of the GTA is the network of professionals with which you will always have a connection. I would have to answer your question by saying the GTA is a long overdue professional development event for UK teachers. Best of luck!

  5. Great point
    “'Are the skills/knowledge we want the children to have at the end of the lesson best served by using this method?' If it's yes, and there are no negatives from it then we should go for it.”

  6. Hi Jan
    I really agree with your point about teaching children how to deal with adverts at home. There is a real need for more digital citizenship alongside esafety. Lets have dialogue with pupils so they can make right choices.

  7. I'm quite new to the all of the ideas that google's empire can be used for in education, but my children already 'google' rather than search, and know that google earth is fairly enjoyable and that google maps doesn't do streetview out to where they live yet. These are things they have learned from their own internet usage from home.
    I object to voucher schemes in school – the ones run by supermarkets whereby getting vouchers from goods totalling £10,000 you may get a 'free' piece of software that costs £40 normally. I regularly discuss with the children why do you think X supermarket is giving us all of this free stuff. It's normally an interesting debate.
    I would see no reason why we couldn't ask the children similar questions about their/our use of google tools.
    “Why use google over yahoo to search?” and then ask them how they know that and how they test that out. The Internet is huge and a skill I feel our children are going to need when using it through their lives is the ability to look beyond the 'free, shiny website' they are being shown and deduce for themselves why they are being offered it.
    I feel that some of the google applications are being used because they are pretty much the best. Google search for example seems pretty much accepted as number 1.
    Some of the apps will be used because they are free. Surely children using google word processor is better than them using a pirate copy of word.
    Some of the apps offer things which are offered nowhere else on the internet.
    Some of the apps we might use because we trust the google brand to deliver quality over a brand/software developer we've never heard of.
    Whatever our reasons for using anything in the classroom I feel it comes down to a question of 'Are the skills/knowledge we want the children to have at the end of the lesson best served by using this method?' If it's yes, and there are no negatives from it then we should go for it.
    We can always, in the plenary even, debate the rights and wrongs of using different pieces of software/hardware ect with the children.

  8. I think I'd like a UK GTA and as you said they have produced some of the most powerful tool for education in the last few year. I have started to use many of their tool only recently, but the more I do, the more I see the potential for use in Education!
    Yes, they might have a hidden agenda and a questionable maketing strategy, but I think we should worry about the educational opportunities and let the wars between Google and their competitors for themselves.

  9. I think the question is slightly misleading after reading the post made on google group – there really can be no 'academy' in the sense that no accreditation is offered and Google are not supporting it. I think what you are proposing essentially is a way to share ways of using the tools Google has to offer but with a focus on the learning. A really good example of this is the National Schools History Project conference – should there be an e-learning equivalent where all the tools we use are discussed in different sessions? and

  10. I think for many years that there was a particular software company that we all used, with their office programmes setting the standard for what we expected from other newer tools. But there was a certain fruity competitor – and we were deciding whether we were pc or not. And then there was open office, and linux, and……..

    It goes on and on (and I may have got the order muddled) – but isn't it having the range of tools available that keeps our providers “on their toes”, looking for better ways of doing things, improvements that will secure their niche in the market?

    And as educators we are consumers and helping younger consumers to use thinking skills – to choose with discernment the best tool for the job – and if we are to choose the best tools for the job, we need to know what they are, how to use them effectively ourselves….

    There is a wealth of new possibilities out there and does being a google tools-user preclude us from using other tools, too? Or sharing with our pupils why something might be better for a job sometimes and not others?

    But the adverts must be considered carefully in the context of the young people we teach – isn't that a consideration we need to discuss with the children too? I'm glad to see in a previous comment that they can be turned off for the purposes of sharing with the children in school – but can they be turned off when they are accessed at home? And if not, don't we need to teach our children skills to deal with this?

    In summary, yes to google teacher academy in UK but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater (the tools that do some jobs well already); yes to anything that raises standards and enhances possibilities for learning; but with all of it, teaching the children skills that will help them make wise choices is important.

  11. I suppose the acid test would be:

    1. Would we want to do this if Google's tools weren't free?
    2. Would we want to do this with any other companies offerings?
    3. Is Google's definition of 'openness' one to which educators can subscribe?

  12. Jose – I think in response to your point on objectivity – if at the event suitable time was given to those who have concerns about Google should address objectivity. Open debate on the merits of systems like Google Apps is always needed and if it is encouraged at something like this then I think it is a good idea.

  13. Hi Tom,

    I agree with your concerns about this GTAUK – the googleisation of education is a concern but then again we have certainly had a fairly definite Microsoft stranglehold on education for quite some time in the usage of Windows and Office. The fact that Google is achieving this ubiquity is I think an encouragement to organise something like GTAUK. If it is independent but represented at by Google it will allow those with concerns to express them and hopefully gain something from it.

    I think Microsoft's Live@Edu and Google Apps are a sign of the way forward for educational technology infrastructure in schools. Having a get together like this will be a positive means of helping decision makers develop a strategy which keeps the best interests of pupils (learning and safety!) at heart.

  14. I was a recent attendee of Google Teacher Academy this December. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about new tools. However, the MOST VALUABLE parts of the experience centered around learning from other valued professionals in the field. While Google Tools were clearly the focus of the experience, every good teacher knows that “best practices” can be implemented in a variety of ways. Google is surely one way, but it is clearly not the only way. I believe that all of the organizers communicated that fact through the materials that they presented. All in all, GTA is a great experience for teachers.

  15. Why are we falling over ourselves to adopt Google? Beacuse its fast becomign the standard and its a kind of lingua franca for education. Microsoft could have been that but it isn't free. Web 2.0 ytools could be, but there are so many and so diverse, and many have very limited shelf lives that to pour effort into them is to risk going down a blind alley in evolutionary terms. To date, and that's the caveat, I have not foiund too much wrong with google, and provided we are all looking for any possible threats on the horizon (like meerkats) we should be ok.

    If long term (whatever that is in ICT rems) we do not end up using Google as it stands, it certaonly has a lot to recommend it to an eduational settign where we know that things are going to get mighty tough over the next few years, adn where tha ability to share and develop is goign to be so important.

  16. Does it really matter what Google's motives are? Microsoft does the same thing. I thinks Adobe has too.

    What's important is how useful their product is in the classroom. I can't really see anything unethical about earning advertising revenue from customers. It's up to the customer to decide whether they pay attention to the advertising, and critical judgement is something that teachers should be teaching to children anyway.

    I'm fairly new to the tools on offer from Google but they seem to have great potential for the classroom (I'm particularly impressed with Google Wave). For me, that's enough reason to run some trials, and to take part in an Academy if possible.

  17. Unlike cigarrettes, which are bad for your health .. the content and Web tools that Google gives for free present helpful life-sustaining information to people .. it's about access to all. One does not even need to reference the content-based ads that Google includes to be able to offer the service to us for free. It's elective. A cigarette addiction is quite a bit less elective. Maybe things will change in the future … but for now, Google has helped open doors and minds … and their products are top quality. You really appreciate that when living someplace with there is no competition (everything is monopolized), no quality incentive, and opportunistic forces driving the markets. I guess it's all a matter of point of view.

  18. Hi Tom,

    I may be biased, as a Google Certified Teacher (NYC '07) myself, but I would say that yes, the GTA is “a long overdue professional development event for UK teachers.”

    My advice is that everyone read this thoughtful post by Mark Wagner on the GTAUK (unofficial) Google Group:

    He does a wonderful job laying out the particulars associated with getting a GTAUK event off the ground.

    I think it's totally understandable that those who have not experienced a GTA might question its value.

    I also think it's virtually certain that those people will absolutely, positively change their tune once they've experienced one!

    Good luck getting yours put together! You are on your way!


    “Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”
    – Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

    Kevin Jarrett
    Technology Facilitator, K-4
    Northfield Community School
    Northfield, NJ USA

  19. Hello Tom,

    I have no moral objection to using Google as a tool to enhance teaching and learning. On the contrary. The point I was trying to make, rather clumsily, is that we educators must not be blind to Google's objectives, which you have encapsulated above much more clearly than I could have.

    Google is well on its way on the path to achieving ubiquity, following on Microsoft's footsteps. Both Google and Microsoft have helped and are helping education enormously and as long as Google is useful and the trade-off between the services it provides to education and any moral objections we may have about mortgaging our pupils' future is one we can live with, then it is fine to take advantage of everything that Google has to offer.

    As regards GTUK, after further consideration, I still think that focusing an event on the services of one company, whilst gaining focus (this is often pointed out as one of its main benefits), it would loose objectivity.

    I think remaining objective and impartial is key to making the most of what the internet has to offer us without becoming sycophantic walking advertisements for the products of a company.

    Hope that makes sense.


  20. I think you are right to open the commercialisation of education debate. I have always been wary of using tools that are too openly commercial although I do think that creators are entitled to a little praise so there is a balance with these things.

    My rules on these things are
    • Does it have adverts? We have had a Google Educational domain for about two terms now, firstly for staff and then rolling out for pupils. The ability to turn off the adverts across the domain was a contributing factor to rolling it out to pupils.
    • Does it have controls that give me as a teacher the ability to keep my kids safe? For my Google domain the fact that I could decide what tools to use, so for my primary pupils I have turned off chat because I can’t monitor if it is used to bully etc. The addition of Postini to the email filtering service is also a great boon on helping to keep my kids safe.
    • If I stop using it can I get my work out? We can export work out really easily in a variety of formats so if we decide to stop using it users can still keep all their work.

    Google have clearly worked with educators to get what we want from a product. As long as they continue to listen then I am happy to use this in my school.

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