Software giant Microsoft Corp. launched Bing in the Classroom Wednesday, an ad-free, high-security Web browser that will compete with the search engine from Google Inc., which has come under fire recently for data mining student emails in its Apps for Education tool suite.
Bing in the Classroom started on a trial basis earlier this year in five large districts as Bing for Schools. It will be accessible to all eligible K-12 schools in the United States, the company said in a statement. The service strips ads from Bing search results, uses strict filters to “help block adult content,” and disables the use of student searches for targeted advertising.
More than 5,000 schools are participating now, Cameron Evans, the chief technology officer for Microsoft’s education division, said in an interview. “It gives them an opportunity to get online and use search in a clean, transparent way…We turn off the technology that builds ad profiles.”
Bing in the Classroom also offers educational content for teachers with daily lesson plans on its home page, where three learning activities are featured every school day.
While the service is offered at no cost to schools, it appears that it will generate ample activity beyond the school walls.
Microsoft is marketing Bing in the Classroom to school communities with a kind of “Box Tops for Education” approach—encouraging parents to repeatedly use the “ads-in” version of the browser at home enough times that they can “earn” Microsoft Surface tablets for their schools. The company estimates that about 60 regular Bing Rewards users can earn a Surface in a month for a school, with no limit currently on the number of tablets a school can earn.
In a report on commercialism in education that was released earlier this year by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, researchers noted that removing ads “is a positive for students, compared to other search engines that link ads to searches.” However, the authors said that Bing’s marketing strategy “creates a mutually reinforcing environment between school and home: the district and school’s adoption of the product influences parents to adopt it too, and so children are ‘branded’ in both the school and home environment.”
“Every corporation in the ed-tech space is ultimately trying to build some brand awareness and brand loyalty,” Evans said this week. “There is nothing that is immoral, unethical, or wrong about that. The challenge is, are you doing it in a way that has a high degree of responsibility for the people you’re serving?”