Back in June, Google announced a major plan to enter the education app space. The search giant promised incredibly simple roll outs, painless Mobile Device Management (MDM) of tablets for busy educators, and a better selection of education apps. Now that the Google Play for Education store is here, is it everything we hoped it would be? In many ways, yes, but there’s still work to be done to make it more attractive to libraries.
Google Play for Education is the name that Google has given to their MDM, app store, and entire tablet K-12 program, launched late this fall after being previewed at Google I/O in early Summer. To take advantage of Google Play for Education’s offerings, schools have three tablet options: The Nexus 7 (a seven-inch tablet), the ASUS Transformer Pad (a 10-inch device), and the HP Slate Pro (an eight-inch tablet). The ASUS and HP devices will be available in early 2014. Education pricing starts at $229 for the Nexus 7, and management costs $30 per device. The management fee is high compared to other MDM services like those from Meraki or JAMF. However, schools familiar with Google Chromebooks will find managing tablets in this program easy to use, as the two dashboards are quite similar.
Speaking of Chromebooks—which work well shared in a lab environment or among multiple classrooms by allowing devices to be used by many students in a single day—Google Play for Education tablet deployments are made to be 1:1. By contrast, some of the MDM options for iOS allow for checking devices in and out, facilitating use among groups of students.
Support for multiple-user accounts on the same device is something that’s built into the Android 4.2 operating system. However, Google Play for Education does not support multiple accounts on a single device, devised for the consumer environment.
The good news is that if your school is on board with an Android 1:1 tablet deployment, then Google Play for Education has just made your life a lot easier. Student tablets are deployed by tapping each one with an administrator’s device, and it’s a quick process. You can acquire apps with a purchase order and deploy them to groups of students that you’ve set up in Google Apps for Education over the air. Schools must be using Google Apps for Education to participate in Google Play for Education. The tablets back up wirelessly to the students’ Apps for Education account, saving time and tears. Discovering apps by grade, subject, and Common Core standards is very convenient, and Google has worked to bring education app heavies like Explain Everything and ClassDojo into the store. While the number of education apps formatted for the tablet is not as high as what one can find on the Apple App Store, Google seems determined to close that gap. Books are not currently available for purchase, but Google reps promise that they are actively working on this issue. In the interim, they’ve made a selection of classic PD books available for deployment.
How’s it working so far? We spoke with the pilot school to get insight. “The Google Play for Education store has been very easy to use,” says Joel Handler, IT director for Hillsborough (NJ) Public Schools, who piloted the program. Regarding setup and daily use, he says, “With very little training, our teachers were able to navigate and find apps and content appropriate for use on the devices. Having a 1:1 deployment of Nexus 7′s, the teachers are transforming their classrooms and differentiating their instruction. They are able to effectively target each student’s personal needs and interests with content appropriate to that student’s levels in all subject areas.”
While Google appears to deliver on several promised items, including simpler management and purchasing, the full potential of the program has yet to be realized. In particular, without support for shared devices, this program is not suitable to library settings. Google has not released a timeline or any indication of plans to roll out support for library and other places where devices will be shared, but promises to listen to feedback from the K-12 community.