Google today announced an effort to give a billion dollars to various philanthropic causes aimed at mitigating the effects of technology on jobs and work over the next five years. It has apparently already given away a tenth of that sum over the past few months, with 1% of the total coming in a donation to Goodwill to create educational programs. Much of the money will likely go towards programs which help workers learn new skills which will be more relevant in the future workplace, a worthy and important goal in a world where educational systems are mostly still the same ones designed over a hundred years ago by industrialists looking to train good factory workers. Google and other big tech companies have obviously played a role in creating this change, for better or worse, and so aligning their philanthropic efforts with mitigating its negative effects is a sensible strategy, if nothing else than as a useful PR counterpoint to recent criticism of the company on other fronts. Google joins Microsoft as a big philanthropic spender, with the latter recently announcing a big project to help provide broadband in rural America.
via USA Today
Google’s Education Strategy Profiled in New York Times (May 15, 2017)
Microsoft today held an education-focused event in New York City, at which it announced a stripped-down version of Windows, new end-user and teacher/administrator apps, and new hardware for the education market. This is by far the biggest and most comprehensive education push we’ve seen from any of the three big OS vendors, and is clearly intended to reassert Microsoft’s pre-eminent position in the education domain. What was evident from the first part of the event was how committed Microsoft is to making this work, and it began with an impassioned and personal talk from CEO Satya Nadella about his own family background and how education made a difference. Just as Microsoft’s AI mantra has been about democratizing the technology, so he now talks about democratizing educational opportunity. That’s a worthy goal, and Microsoft’s new announcements are a great way to try to bring that about, but Microsoft was also admirably realistic about the role technology plays in education: it assists and empowers but can’t replace committed teachers and parents or educational institutions. I have separate posts about Windows 10 S (here) and Surface Laptop (here). But I like the way Microsoft is introducing education into many of its existing products, including Office, Minecraft, Intune, and so on. Treating education as a first party audience alongside consumers and enterprises makes perfect sense, and is the route others have already taken. What Microsoft announced today feels like it will move its story forward in education considerably. Both Google and Apple have developed more comprehensive stories in education over the past couple of years too, but Microsoft’s arguably goes further, though developer events from the other two in the next six weeks could redress that balance a little.
With Project Torino, Microsoft creates a physical programming language inclusive of visually impaired children (Mar 15, 2017)
Technology has enormous power to provide opportunities to children and adults with disabilities which otherwise wouldn’t be open to them, but it can also exclude students in educational settings where tools are designed for those without disabilities or visual or other impairments. This Microsoft project is a great example of using technology to reinvent a concept – coding – in such a way that both those with normal vision and the visually impaired can participate together. It’s just a beta project on a very limited scale for now, but hopefully it will expand into something broader down the road. Even better, of course, is building accessibility technology into the devices and services we use every day, something Microsoft has long been committed to as well.
This trend has been a long time coming, with Google becoming very aggressive about getting deeper into schools in the last few years, and having quite a bit of success, while Apple has lost ground despite some good enhancements to its own education offerings, including the Swift Playgrounds app. Apple used to have an outsized share in education thanks to the simplicity of both using and managing its devices, but Chromebooks have some of the same simplicity and manageability benefits at a much lower cost, and are starting to displace products like Macs and iPads in schools. And the education market is much more important than the relatively small amount of revenue it generates in the overall context of the tech industry, because it influences the devices and services kids will continue to use as they grow up. A kid reared on Macs and iPads in school will likely continue to use them when she goes to college, but one raised on Chromebooks and Google Apps will favor those when he graduates. This battle is by no means lost for Apple, but it needs to continue to up its game if it’s to claw back some of that lost share.
via New York Times
Apple now offers Final Cut, Logic, and other pro apps for $199 through education bundle – 9to5Mac (Feb 4, 2017)
Apple has always been strong in the education market – a much higher percentage of schools than homes use Macs as their primary computers, and hardware discounts have been part of that strategy for a long time. But recently Google has made significant inroads in education with a combination of Google Apps and Chromebooks, and of course a big part of the appeal is that the software is free or very cheap. By contrast, both Apple’s hardware (whether iPads or Macs) is expensive, even with discounts, and its pro creative software runs to several hundred dollars each for the core apps. This new bundle addresses that by bringing the price down quite a bit (given that the bar a customer has to clear to qualify for the bundle is pretty low, it can’t be priced too aggressively or it’ll undercut sales much more broadly), making it more affordable for schools. Many schools, of course, won’t require anything beyond iMovie or GarageBand for movie and audio editing respectively, but for those teaching higher-order creative tasks, this will help bring down the costs of those programs.