Does Google Have Class?


Google recently launched its latest education offering: Google Classroom. Classroom enables a teacher to create a “class” at the touch of a button. She or he can upload syllabus materials, whether text, audio or video, and send out assignments on the class news feed. Is this a good deal for educators? (NPR)

Use our resources to see how Google got started, and watch this video to see where it’s going.

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through the NPR article and watch the short, Google-produced video above. What might be some advantages to classroom teachers using Google Classroom?
    • Google Classroom introduces students to genuine, real-world business software. Thousands of businesses run on Google Drive and Gmail. Being familiar with operating these programs prepares students for work in an office environment.
    • One of the teachers who tested Google Classroom admired the app’s ability to provide more instant feedback on her students’ progress. In particular, she was able to help her students learn proper citation techniques and avoid plagiarizing.
    • Google Classroom eliminates some of the costs associated with classroom management—paper, pens or pencils, calculators, etc.
    • One NPR reader supported the program by saying it “streamlines the non-learning, non-teaching aspects of education”—data entry associated with distributing materials, collecting materials, and entering and monitoring grades and feedback. Google Classroom prides itself on “More teaching. Less tech-ing.”


  • What might be some disadvantages to classroom teachers using Google Classroom?
    • Critics worry programs like this widen the so-called “digital divide,” the gap between people with technological knowledge and those without. Without tech skills, students and workers have less social mobility.
    • Google Classroom is not an entirely altruistic venture. It’s a form of advertising. In the words of the NPR article, “Google’s business motive here is to expose young users to the Google brand. To hook them early.” The program preferences Google products, such as the Chrome browser, Google Drive, and YouTube. As students enter the workforce and start to purchase their own devices, they are more likely to stick with these products. (This is why advertising in schools is such a controversial subject.) Browsers such as Firefox, business software such as Microsoft Office (including such programs as Word and Excel), and video services such as Vimeo are put at a disadvantage. (Never mind start-ups and free and open-source software.)
    • Some educators are skeptical of immediate and passionate embrace of the latest technology—technology that changes very, very quickly. One teacher interviewed in the NPR article says “sometimes the amount of time it takes to set these things up ends up being more than it’s worth. A few years back our districts spent many thousands of dollars on interactive whiteboards, and it was a waste of money.”
    • Technology in classrooms is notoriously unreliable.
    • Big Brother. Google Classroom users are subject to Google’s terms-of-service (TOS), which can be updated to expand and contract user privacy at any time. Until very recently, Google admitted to “data mining” student emails in order to provide targeted advertising.
    • Investing in proprietary software is a political decision. Watch this video from Richard Matthew Stallman, who pioneered the free software movement. It’s in Spanish, with English subtitles, but his outlook is immediate and clear.


  • Google Classroom, like Google Drive, Gmail, and the company’s mothership search engine are all free for consumers to use. Yet Google is a billion-dollar, blue-chip company. How does it make a profit?
    • Ads! Companies pay Google a lot of money for their businesses to be listed above your search results and alongside your email.
    • Google Enterprise is a service that Google offers to businesses for a fee. Google Enterprise customizes Google services, such as Gmail, Google Drive, calendars, and Google Hangouts, for the specific company. (Full disclosure: National Geographic is a Google Enterprise customer.)


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