Dear Apple, Google & Microsoft

Dear Apple, Google & Microsoft:

I am a teacher and I like it when technology empowers my students, gives them voice, and helps them to create, design, share, and discuss. Your tools are great and they are used in education to do all of these things. Thank you. Sometimes the tools are free and sometimes they have to be paid for. Fair enough. It’s business. And the competition between you will keep the tools sharp, useful and relatively cheap. I hope.

I’ve even checked out and tried out many of your certification programs that you offer for your tools. I have certifications from all of you but I decided early on not list them; I didn’t want to be, or appear to be, aligned or biased towards any specific tool or company. Students and learning are my focus. Nevertheless, I am tempted to list them, sometimes, when I look at other educators’ social media profiles with strings of certification letters. It shows that they have met a certain standard and now, other people know it, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely pleased with the availability of your various high quality tools, both hardware and software, for my students to use. And I don’t for one minute think less of any teacher who achieves and/or lists certifications from Apple, Google and Microsoft in their profile. As I just said, I have a bunch of certifications, too. My concerns don’t rest with my colleagues at all. My concerns rest with three specific issues I have:

  1. a feeling of ‘being used’ as part of advertising
  2. losing sight of what really matters
  3. that one company’s technology has everything you need

I know ‘being used’ might sound a little harsh… and it is probably hypocritical, as well, since I have certifications from all of you. But I am getting more and more suspicious of these certifications. Are they really helping teachers to learn more about how technology can be used to empower students and transfer agency to them? I read the rationales in your ads about your certification programs and I wonder. The ads say things like: “You’ve spent the time growing your skills, now get certified to be recognized for the work you’ve done” (1) or “As an Educator you can build skills on iPad and Mac that directly apply to activities with your students, earn recognition for the new things you learn, and be rewarded for the great work you do every day” (2) or “The Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) certification validates that educators have the global educator technology literacy competencies needed to provide a rich, custom learning experience for students” (3).

Recognition. Validation.

But in every certification process I have participated in, I’ve never been asked to critically compare similar tools from different companies in terms of their efficacy with students. I’ve never been asked how I could combine tools from different companies to best meet the needs of students. I’ve never been asked to explore in-depth how a tool, combination of tools, could help students think, learn, and share. (Interestingly, there was one certification process where I did do all of these things quite regularly—but that was in university.) So, I cannot help but feel that these certifications (and the constant encouragement to share them) are more about business competition and advertising and less about empowering modern learners.

What is most important in education is learning. What helps kids to learn better? What barriers are in the way of learning? What empowers kids? To me, these are the essential questions and these are the things I find that I have to constantly keep reminding myself of. As cool as Google Expeditions are, for example, one must ask how specifically it will help kids learn better? I’m not saying that it will or it won’t… My point is that one must take care not to lose sight of what really matters. I admit it; I am guilty of it all the time… and, all the time, I have to work hard to center my thinking on learning, and then surround myself with these essential questions: What helps kids to learn better? What barriers are in the way of learning? What empowers kids?


5 thoughts on “Dear Apple, Google & Microsoft

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    1. I hear you! The certifications can certainly can be a motivator for many teachers, akin to badging. Nevertheless, I have witnessed a kind of automatic chauvinism regarding a certain company’s tools pop up too many times…

  1. I really like this post, Jim. I think we should question everything and show our students that we are critical thinkers. You probably know that I’m a big supporter of open learning like with Ontario Teachers’ Federation and TeachOntario. My question is….what makes the Apple/Google/Microsoft PD so appealing? Why can’t the Ministry of Ed or ECOO as @dougpete says in his podcast this week ( or even our school boards make recognition and levelling up a real part of these certifications? Where’s the pedagogy? Where’s the content expertise? I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this topic.

    1. Hi Alanna! Thanks for your reply! I think it is appealing because there really is knowledge and skill involved in using these tools and it takes hard work and practice. I think the certifications motivate many people… and it also provides some recognition of work they have done.

      But I do strongly think that, because these certifications are created and awarded by the companies themselves, that one should be aware that students and learning may not really be the whole reason they exist… These are businesses, after all, and they do need to make money. They are competing. In a certain way, it is a bit like indoctrination or a bit like a very exclusive club (but I do not mean to imply a nefarious connotation)…

      The more one is pulled into the fold, the more invested one is, perhaps one might be less likely to look seriously at other ideas, options, tools that would support learning… As I noted in my post, in university, in my grad program, I was required at all times to think critically about all the tools available to students and teachers and how using them might, or might not, support learning and teaching, no matter who created them or why. I found that to be quite liberating and wonderfully devoid of the marketing hyperbole.

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