Edtech, Advertising, and Media Literacy

policyThe rapid increase of technology in the 21st century has impacted every sector, and education is no exception. While the benefits are numerous, the drawbacks have included the advertising and commercialism tactics that have permeated the many technologies, especially free technologies that educators are using. If educators are not careful, we could be inadvertently endorsing products and services to students, parents, and other educators as well.


The endorsement of products and technologies can be quite unconscious, especially because every day new apps, programs, and hardware are being created to target educators and education initiatives. Some technologies are tested and backed by educational ‘experts’, and research. Businesses are able to promote their products through many of the free technologies that educators can access. Many businesses even provide teaching resources and other incentives in exchange for advertising. Regardless of advertising techniques in the 21st century, there exists a heightened necessity for all educators to be diligent when making decisions about technologies for learning. These decisions are essential to protect all students, parents, community members and all stakeholders in public education.

When using technologies for education, there are ethics to consider, particularly when considering how ads may be used to ‘sell’ or endorses products. In our quest as educators to infuse new technologies for collaboration and sharing it is important to pay attention to the advertisements that go along with them.

Further, always asking yourself the questions of what it is you are promoting, why, and what messages are being conveyed, consciously or unconsciously. For instance, some free online curation tools, blog posts with valuable information etc., also come with advertisements.

New and advanced technologies that permeate the education sector provide opportunities for advertising to crop up, therefore, where does one draw the line? The education and corporate sector may find themselves working together in many different situations and can be quite unconscious to educators.

Products used in education may inadvertently sell or endorse products and services that are not approved of, nor warranted in our quest for equity and accessibility to education for all. This can be both counter productive and counter intuitive to the goals of public education.

Some of the negative effects of inadvertent advertising come from an unquestioned acceptance of messages at face value, particularly from individuals who are defenceless and vulnerable to the messages. Public education systems are entrusted to be ethical pillars of society, promoting equity and access to quality education.

Here are some questions we as educators can ask ourselves:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is the purpose/learning goals of the technology of choice? For instance, curation? Sharing? Collaboration? Building new knowledge? Developing an understanding of what is important to the learners in your classroom, school, community, or Board? Sharing blogs and information with parents, educators, students?
  • Am I inadvertently promoting any companies or technologies that create an uneven playing field for students?
  • Aside from selling or endorsing products and services, am I aware of possible data collection tactics employed by advertisers?
  • What reputation am I looking to convey, keeping in mind that I represent my school and school board as trusted establishments in a Public school board that represents everyone equally.

One thing is necessary however, and that is that public education not be a conduit for commercialization.  It is unethical to use students and parents and teachers as captive audiences for subliminal advertising. We as educators need to model critical thinking, digital citizenship, and medial literacy practices as opposed to inadvertently ‘selling’ products and technologies that create unequal playing fields in education.

It can be difficult to avoid linking products to education goals, including iPad apps. For purposes such as sponsoring literacy initiatives, and using principles of neuroscience to apply to new products created for the education sector. This can create pressures for families, inadvertently promote dominant culture status over another, and increase the learning gap for students from different cultural backgrounds including First Nations, Metis & Inuit and socioeconomic status.

Educators need to teach about commercialization and be consciously aware of it ourselves. The importance of teaching digital citizenship and media literacy for students, also serves as important reminders regarding our own pedagogy and practice to help educate students, parents, and communities.

In public education we also need to protect against indoctrination within our schools. Critical thinking and careful conscious attention are required to understand propaganda, advertising, mass-mediated messages, and to encourage students to make effective decisions based on their appropriate needs, not based on our own motivations or the newest trends in technology just for the sake of being trendy. In our quest for new technologies and ways to connect learners we can sometimes lose sight of this.

In the end, we want our students to be intelligent and informed consumers of knowledge.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




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