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Google and the Line Between Good Marketing and Good Deeds

If a company offers free curriculum materials and training to teachers for one of its products or services, is this a flat-out marketing exercise, or does it count as professional development? Think, for example, of the efforts that pharmaceutical companies put into "educating" health-care professionals about their latest drug or medical device.

So, it left me scratching my head when I heard that Google offered Fairfax (VA.) County Public Schools teachers a weeklong tutorial this summer in how to use Google Earth to teach geography, history, science, math, and other subjects. Is this philanthropy or a sales pitch by one of America's largest and most successful technology companies?

Google not only provided training but also stipends to teachers to work in teams to develop standards-based curriculum packets using the company's mapping and imaging software. These packets will then be disseminated during this school year to other teachers in Northern Virginia and throughout the world.

Pretty cool, pretty useful, or pretty self-serving?

While you may come down on one or another side of this question, it seems to me that "all of the above" would be my answer. Many educators already use Google Earth, so why not get support for training and curriculum development and distribution of new curricula? Businesses can, and should, be engaged with schools, teachers, and students to help improve learning, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't pursue their own business interests.

If there is a line to draw to prevent salesmanship masquerading as corporate engagement, and Google's foray into Virginia schools doesn't cross it, where should it be? (Or, does it matter, if everyone truly benefits?)

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