Google Play for Education Gets Test Drive in New Jersey

Associate Editor

While it’s too soon to tell whether Google Play for Education will become a direct threat to iPad’s presence in schools, it has received that level of attention since the announcement in May that the educational app store with management tools—which will reportedly be available on the Google Nexus 7 tablets—is due out “this fall.”

A Google spokesperson said the company is not ready to announce a launch date, or to verify how it will be packaged, since it is in the pilot stage, but teachers and students in the Hillsborough, N.J., public schools got a sneak preview after being selected as a beta site in the spring. And Google itself appears to be marketing to educators about its Nexus offering.

“Google Play for Education is a mechanism for teachers to select grade-level content and specific apps that have been prescreened by educators, and that can be pushed out automatically to all devices in a classroom,” explained Jorden Schiff, the superintendent of the Hillsborough Township public schools. “You select, ‘download to your class,’ and boom, it appears on every student’s Nexus 7.”

A destination on Google Play, the education section also will make it possible to distribute apps purchased in bulk to an entire school.

Hillsborough, a district with 7,400 students in nine schools, received 3,000 Nexus 7 devices loaded with Google Play at no cost. Schiff said they are valued at $750,000—or $250 per device. The district also received a $100,000 allowance to spend on app purchases.

“The teachers went through a relatively brief training. That’s a kudo to Google, that they were able to quickly communicate how simple it is to use,” Schiff said.
Participation was voluntary, and 90 percent of teachers chose to give it a try, using it for subjects from mathematics to mapping programs in social studies, to language arts. Schiff said it also has a function like the iPhone’s Siri, where users can ask a question and the device will generate a spoken response.

Hillsborough was already undergoing a digital conversion when it was contacted by Google about the pilot. “We had decided to go with Chromebooks over iPad,” said Schiff, explaining the choice of ChromeBooks this way: “We put together a complex rubric, including effect on instruction, qualitative data from parents, teachers, and students, and a consideration from the tech department about how we support these devices.”

In July, we reported on a study that more than 80 percent of district technology officials said their schools districts use or plan to use iPads over the next year or two.

Google Chromebooks came in a distant second—at 31 percent— according to the results released by Interactive Educational Systems Design, Inc. Twenty-seven percent said they are using or will use “mixed technology” supplied by students, as part of bring-your-own-device approaches. Android Tablets were next in line, the choice of 17 percent of respondents.

Los Angeles’ Unified School District’s announcement this summer that it had chosen Apple for a $30 million contract to supply iPads, with carts, charging stations, infrastructure, monitoring, and mobile device management systems was considered a coup for the Silicon Valley company. The tablets will come with a new app to deliver the Pearson Common Core System of Courses, as well as other third-party educational apps.

The iPad and Nexus are by no means the only tablet choices available to schools. MindShift, a blog that explores learning for KQED, recently looked at schools’ choices in tablets, covering Samsung, Amplify, and more.

For Schiff, he is pleased that all of the children from kindergarten through 4th grade in his school system are in a 1:1 environment, with each child having his or her own device in school.
“Google was interested in us because we were working with them on our pilots in grades 5-12. This was an unexpected and very welcome surprise,” Schiff said.

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