In alphabetical order, they’re Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They go by a few handles. One is “the companies that testified before Congress a few weeks ago.” The other is “the four horsemen,” as in the apocalypse. At PYMNTS, the outlook is a bit more positive. These companies and other tech giants may be known for the occasional offensive action, but they are also essential cogs in the global commerce machine. They’re not harbingers of doom – they’re the “fab four.”
Over the past few weeks, three of them have stepped up to the plate on education. Of course, each company has a stake in the game. They’re expanding product usage, increasing consumer engagement and building brand loyalty among a key cohort: kids. As parents and students grapple with what is amounting to an existential crisis regarding the return to classrooms, Google and Apple both made announcements to facilitate the return, regardless of the form it takes.
Google Advances Virtual Education
Google’s moves were the most substantial. On Tuesday (Aug. 11), it debuted a virtual approach to education with The Anywhere School, bringing Google for Education announcements to more than 250 countries around the world. The initiative offered more than 50 new features across Meet, Classroom, G Suite and other products.
Google Meet, which had lost its fire as a Zoom competitor, has been upgraded for educational purposes. In September, the company will introduce a larger tiled view of up to 49 people and an integrated Jamboard whiteboard for collaboration. Meet will also feature new moderator controls. Google will also release new controls enabling moderators to choose to always join first, end meetings for all participants, disable in-meeting chat and more. Breakout rooms and attendance tracking will also be launched for all G Suite Enterprise for Education customers, hopefully enabling more engaged classes and participation.
“Google takes pride in the number of people who choose our products; we’re even prouder of what they do with them,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “From the 140 million students and teachers using G Suite for Education to stay connected during the pandemic … to the five million Americans gaining digital skills through Grow with Google … to all the people who turn to Google for help, from finding the fastest route home to learning how to cook a new dish on YouTube.”
Apple Codes for HBCUs
Apple’s activity this week was more targeted. The company announced last month that it expanded its partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), adding 10 more HBCU regional coding centers that will serve as technology hubs for campuses and their communities. This effort is part of Apple’s Community Education Initiative, designed to extend coding and workforce development opportunities.
“Apple is committed to working alongside communities of color to advance educational equity,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives. “We see this expansion of our Community Education Initiative and partnership with HBCUs as another step toward helping Black students realize their dreams and solve the problems of tomorrow.”
Apple’s education program now operates in 24 locations across the US — 12 of which are HBCUs and 21 of which predominately serve majority Black and Brown students. It has already introduced thousands of students and adult learners to coding and app design, via Apple’s Everyone Can Code and Everyone Can Create curricula.
“Apple has been working with Tennessee State University for the past two years to launch and expand the school’s HBCU C2 initiative, which brings coding and creativity experiences to all 100-plus HBCUs,” said the company in a statement. “Tennessee State University now serves as a national hub for training educators and supporting its peer institutions as HBCUs expand coding and creativity opportunities to their own communities. A recent virtual HBCU C2 summit brought together nearly 300 educators from across the HBCU community to share best practices and hear from colleagues about workforce development, connecting with their communities and bringing coding to students of all ages.”
Facebook Faces a Pod Problem
As per usual, the story for Facebook is a bit more complicated. Over the past two weeks, teachers, parents and students have found themselves in a “pandemic pod” controversy. These pods happen on several levels, all inspiring different intensities of controversies. At level one, educational pods are being formed with virtual and physical components by groups of families and teachers or tutors. Many of the pods have an entry fee, some quite high. This phenomenon has led media outlets and other parents to cry foul.
“Justifiably, pandemic pods are inspiring outrage. Headlines are blaring that pods will increase inequality by creating solutions that are unavailable to all students,” says Boston’s WBUR. “While the pod phenomenon will likely deepen the inequities that plague our education system, it would be a fruitless effort to try to prevent them. The more important question is: What do we do for the pod-less?”
Facebook has an answer. In fact, according to journalism news resource the Poynter Institute, the idea started on Facebook, but not as an exclusive avenue to alternative arrangements. A Facebook group called Pandemic Pods and Microschools was formed in San Francisco in early July. The group, which has grown to nearly 10,000 members in the last two weeks, aims to link interested people by zip code. According to Poynter, parents of children with disabilities have been especially eager to make the idea a reality.