12 November 2008

Guest Post: Fear vs. Educational Possibility

I was going to open this post with a quote from Allen Ginsberg, but then I realized, it isn't my generation that worries me.

I recently got to see Jeff Keltner, one of Google Apps' for Education evangelists, present on the advantages of cloud computing and Google Apps for universities. I learned a few things—Google Apps is free to education and non-profits, Docs Spreadsheets now have an automatic form input, Google Moderator is like a pre-meeting Today's Meet—but I was ultimately disappointed. Not by Mr. Keltner, but by some faculty members who chose to dominate the question period.

Google Apps is used by Arizona State University, Trinity College Dublin, and dozens of other universities and colleges. So it's obviously legal and the lawyers make sure it's FERPA-compliant, and we can worry about other things, right?


In the half-hour Q&A, only one question was asked about the educational affordances of the Google services (no, it doesn't support LaTeX or MathML). Every other question was about the EULA. That might be unfortunate anywhere, but we weren't assembling as the faculty of the nuclear physics, this is a top-rated College of Education.

Remember, of course, that institutional users are covered by the institutional agreement, not the consumer EULA, and don't see advertisements.

No one asked about resources or communities for teachers and professors. No one asked about examples of how to use the tools in classrooms. No one even asked "Why? What would we gain?" Instead, everyone wants to play lawyer and internet privacy expert.

Why? Those don't seem like exceedingly fun jobs. No one in this room, not even me, knows exactly what privacy measures are in place down in the IT department. We don't understand the interplay of FERPA and the US PATRIOT ACT. We don't know if we hired anyone to install the local e-mail system or built it from scratch.

The Law, though, is the perfect excuse for fear. The Law says we can't. We'll get in trouble with The Law.

Too often too many members of the faculty are so afraid of losing control—even of something they don't actually control, like e-mail—that they'll call on the big, mean Law to protect what's "theirs." They are paralyzed by that fear; they can't move.

And if they can't even give up control of their e-mail servers, how will they ever give up any control to a learner-centered classroom?

- Sent by a friend who'd rather remain Anonymous

Just a note on Google Apps. For free (zero money) your school (primary, secondary, higher ed) can have a self-branded (.edu), institutionally controlled, email and interactive document system - a system which encourages collaboration, accountability, accessibility, and maybe even creativity. How much is your school paying for an email system? Whate else might you do with that money?


Tim Lacy said...

Perhaps, rather than fear of control, this is a situation where fear of a large corporation exceeded the fears of the incompetent linking of many small .com suppliers by the university itself? Perhaps the questioners were forgetting that universities rely on many companies to supply services?

Maybe this is a sign that Google has some repairing to do with the academic community after their failed attempt to create access to proprietary books?

- TL

irasocol said...


I don't doubt some PR issues, and I surely don't doubt the misinformation fears. There's another thing, many university administrators have been pumping up fear of Google because they like having absolute ownership of faculty (and student) work.

There will always be tensions at moments like this - Google has figured out how to profit from the free flow of information, and those that have yet to make that leap are scared and confused. But as I sat this morning waiting for our university email system to return from a four hour breakdown, I couldn't help wondering how many tuition dollars ($1 million? $10 million) are being wasted when a free system is not just available - it is demonstrably better. And then I wondered if those most afraid would be willing to pay that bill, so the rest of us don't have to.

- Ira