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UTSA researchers expose tech giants’ communication strategies in education

UTSA researchers expose tech giants’ communication strategies in education

Vittorio Marone

JUNE 9, 2023 — A new study by UTSA researchers provides a cautionary tale for educators, students and consumers about how major technology companies promote their educational products and services.

College of Education and Human Development Associate Professor Vittorio Marone and doctoral student Bruna Damiana Heinsfeld examined the strategies technology companies use in shaping the role of technology in education.

The researchers analyzed the educational homepages of tech industry titans Google and Microsoft, exposing hidden tactics and dynamics that could potentially impact educational systems across the globe. Their findings were recently published in Computers & Education Open.

“Major players like Google and Microsoft have a big influence on how technology is perceived, and that perception can influence the purchase of technology and the expectations about its role in education,” said Marone, Learning, Design and Technology program chair in the Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching Department. “Therefore, it is important to consider how these companies describe technology and how they present their products and services. By understanding how they do that, we can all become more informed consumers and make better decisions about technology.”

Bruna Damiana Heinsfeld

The researchers found that examining how corporations represent technology’s role in education is crucial for understanding its potential effects on educational systems, people —including students, teachers and decision-makers — and society at large.

“This really requires a continuous effort by all consumers, and by critically approaching how companies promote their products, we can make them more accountable for what they do and how they talk about it,” Marone said.

Marone and Heinsfeld used an “unmotivated looking” approach to investigate the Google and Microsoft educational homepages. They weren’t looking for anything specific in their analysis, just how these corporations present technology and the language they use to discuss it.

Marone said one finding is that these companies seem to focus on instilling in consumers a “fear of missing out” or “FOMO” about the future. They claim that the future is challenging and uncertain, and they seem to imply that it can only be seized by using their technologies.

The study also raised concerns about the blurred lines between products created for profit and acts of corporate philanthropy. Marone said Google discusses its charitable activities in conjunction with its products, thus creating an image of a “force for good” and suggesting that by buying their products you’re also contributing to the good in society.

The authors also examined the corporate narrative of “free” and “low-cost” products and services, which provides the perception that they come without costs, perpetuating the belief that surrendering personal information is an acceptable trade-off for progress.

“We are used to giving away our email or information for free in exchange for products and services, and of course this is not free,” Marone said. “We know what happens with our information — or rather, we don’t, and that’s the problem. It’s never really free.”

Discover the research in the College of Education and Human Development.
⇒ Read more about Vittorio Marone’s research.

The study also exposed a concerning trend of portraying technology as the major force in education, overshadowing teachers’ crucial role in supporting students’ learning and development. The research highlighted the marginalized position of teachers in educational technology advertising and the vague promise that technology can solve longstanding and complex educational issues.

Overall, the study provides a framework for analyzing corporate discourse to empower users and decision-makers to critically evaluate claims and make informed choices

Brooke Crum

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