The socio-material implications of digital ecosystems for school systems: the limitations of exclusive alignment to Microsoft, Google or Apple

Year: 2019

Author: Corser, Kristy, Dezuanni, Michael, McGraw, Kelli

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper outlines how schools and school systems tend to choose a dominant digital ecosystem for use in teaching and learning and argues that such exclusive alignments tend to limit student and teacher choice to the detriment of learning outcomes. Since the 1980s, technology companies have identified education as a market for their products. As early as 1978, Apple’s ‘Kids can’t wait’ program aimed supply an Apple II computer to every Californian school. Each wave of technological innovation in personal computing since that time has seen fierce competition for domination of the education market. Currently, Microsoft promises to “bring learning to life through personalized learning and provide the right tools to spark creativity” (Microsoft, 2019); Apple claims to prepare “students to thrive and shape the future” (Apple, 2019); and Google claims to organise “the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google, 2019). Despite marketing hype, how teachers and students can use these systems is frequently limited by systemic policy and purchasing decisions. For instance, the Queensland government’s contract with Microsoft involves a tender with a third-party supplier valued at $20 million to provide and support Queensland state schools with Microsoft products and training. This contractual agreement seems to limit Queensland teachers’ engagement with other digital ecosystems, particularly Google’s G Suite for Education.

The paper defines a digital ecosystem as a company specific technology system that hosts a platform and offers technology services and devices to consumers and education systems. The paper introduces a socio-material conceptualization of digital ecosystems to consider how the use of technology in schools involves both the social ways in which technology is taken up, and the material ways in which it has a presence in classrooms. Different ecosystems invite and require particular socio-material interactions that enable and constrain teaching and learning. The paper draws on data from a qualitative case study of one government school in South East Queensland, where the Google ecosystem was introduced as a pilot, disrupting the usual expectations for the use of technology in the classroom. Classroom observations, interviews with teachers, focus groups with students, student produced artifacts and policy documentation were analysed using an approach that draws on socio-materiality. Analysis revealed the importance of education departments considering the impact of alignment to specific digital ecosystems and the need for educational technology policy to be driven by student and teacher choice and learning needs.