Is Google Play for Education a Superior Version of Apple’s VPP Store?

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At the Google I/O developers conference today, Google announced plans for the new Google Play for Education. In many ways, it sounds a lot like what Apple do with their Volume Purchasing Program for iPads, but Google are looking to take it to a whole new level with some very interesting features for educators looking to manage Android tablets in a school environment. Here’s what they have to say:

Schools will enjoy the ease and portability of tablets together with highly engaging educational resources. And whether it’s one classroom or one thousand, schools can easily manage tablets, and discover, purchase, and distribute content and apps with ease.

Now, I appreciate all that Apple have done with the VPP Store and their efforts to provide management software for iPads with Apple Configurator, but how many school districts can say that this is a process that they manage “with ease”. Critics may well point to the fact that this has yet to be proven, but if you have had any experience with managing Chromebooks in a school setting, you already know that Google has already shown that it has the knowledge and expertize to break down the barriers of device management and make it a seamless, user-friendly experience.

In their information for Android developers looking to add their apps to the new Google Play for Education, Google offers some insight into what else we can expect from the new education storefront.

Google Play for Education provides a simple and secure environment in which educators can buy apps in a way that’s easy for schools — through purchase orders. Your apps must support this environment by ensuring that they:

  • Sell all content and services through Google Play for Education
  • Permit Google Play to offer teachers limited free trials before purchase (through business terms only, no development work is needed)

In addition, it’s highly recommended that your apps:

  • Disable in-app purchase in any UI accessible to students.

More information is included in their “safety first” section:

To participate, your apps must be designed to be usable and appropriate for the K-12 market. The basic requirements that your apps must meet are:

  1. Apps and the ads they contain must not collect personally identifiable information other than user credentials or data required to operate and improve the app.
  2. Apps must not use student data for purposes unrelated to its educational function.
  3. Apps must have a content rating of “Everyone” or “Low Maturity” (apps with a “Medium Maturity” rating are allowed, if they have that rating solely because they allow communication between students).
  4. App content, including ads displayed by the app, must be consistent with the app’s maturity rating. The app must not display any “offensive” content, as described in the Google Play Developer Program Policies and content-rating guidelines.

Apple undoubtedly has some of the same kind of requirements for iOS developers, but one or two of the recommendations above stand out as being somewhat unique to Google. For instance, the chance for teachers to get a free trial before they buy, or the recommendation to disable in-app purchases. I am sure there are many iPad schools that would love to have those options.

I’m a fan of the iPad. I love its potential for the classroom and I know first hand that it is one of the most versatile devices a school could buy. However, managing these devices is in no way as easy as it could be. Without a dedicated IT dept, it can be very frustrating for schools who are looking to push out apps and update devices.

So, the new Google Play for Education might be the best thing that happens to the Apple Education program, because for the first time in a long time, Apple has some competition, and may just be forced to raise the stakes further in order to compete. Let the games begin!

Chromebooks 101: A Guide for Which Chromebook to buy?

Is your school looking at Chromebooks? Unsure which one to buy? Although there might seem like a lot to choose from, there are infinitely fewer than if you were looking to buy a new Windows laptop. This guide takes a quick tour of the current lineup and gives some pros and cons for each in order to help you decide which Chromebook to buy. Prices listed do not include the $30 management console fee, which is in addition to the retail price and is charged per device for schools who want to manage their Chromebooks from a secure online Dashboard.

Acer C7 – $199

Acer c7

Pros:

  • Price – $199
  • 320GB of local storage – plenty for all your offline docs
  • VGA and HDMI ports
  • 100Gb of Drive storage for free for 2 years
  • HD webcam
  • Ethernet port

Cons:

  • Intel Celeron Processor
  • HDD not SSD so slower boot times and resume
  • 4 hour battery life – the least of all Chromebooks and not enough for a school day
  • No Bluetooth

Samsung Chromebook – $249

Samsung Chromebook

Pros:

  • Price – $249
  • 0.7 inches thin and only 2.4 lbs
  • 16Gb Solid State Hard Drive for 10 second boot times
  • 6.5 hour battery life
  • 100Gb of Drive storage for free for 2 years
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Dual core ARM processor

Cons:

  • No VGA out
  • Perhaps not as durable as some others?
  • No Ethernet port
  • VGA Webcam

HP Pavillion Chromebook – $329

HP Pavillion Chromebook

Pros:

  • 14-inch screen – the largest of any Chromebook
  • HD webcam
  • 16Gb Solid State Hard Drive for 10 second boot times
  • Multi-format Card Reader
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Ethernet port
  • 100Gb of Drive storage for free for 2 years

Cons:

  • 4.25 hour battery life
  • No VGA out
  • Weight – 3.96lbs

Continue reading Chromebooks 101: A Guide for Which Chromebook to buy?

The Awesome Read&Write Chrome Extension

The Read&Write Chrome browser extension from texthelp.com is a great accessibility extension for Google Apps schools. It includes text to speech, a talking dictionary, a picture dictionary, vocabulary tool and study skills tools that collect highlighted selections of a Google Doc. Best of all, it is free! You can get the extension here. HT to the awesome @mmcowell.

The text to speech functionality is particularly impressive, and is reminiscent of the Speak Selection or VoiceOver features found on the iPad. It has a choice of voices, and is a great feature for students who need text read aloud to them, or who would benefit from hearing their typed work read back to them for proof reading purposes. The speech to text also works on dictionary definitions of selected words.

The Picture Dictionary will pop up when you highlight a word and activate the Picture Dictionary button. Even if a student has read the dictionary definition, or had it read aloud to them, the pictures can be great for helping put things in context and give some visual clues to the meaning of a word. You can even use the images from the Picture Dictionary in your Google Doc by simply copying and pasting the image.

Study guides can be quickly and easily created with the vocabulary tool. Simply highlight a number of key words in a document, click on the vocabulary tool, and a new tab will open with a vocabulary table that includes the word, a definition of the word, and a number of associated clipart images. It works best, or causes the least confusion, with words that only have one meaning, but it is still a great feature to have.

So, if you are a Chrome user, and you have not yet taken Read&Write for a test drive, you absolutely should. It sits, unobtrusively, in your menu bar and only leaps into action when you want it to. The video below goes over its capabilities in more detail. Feel free to leave a comment on how you could use this tool to help benefit the students in your classroom.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/wW3gRv9gRCI]

Google+ Comes to K-12 School Domains

Google announced today that their social network platform, Google+, is now going to be available for K-12 schools. Previously it was only available for businesses and government organizations. Google+ is similar to Facebook, but works on the premise that you sort the people you follow into circles. You can share information, links or media with circles of your choice.

Embedded within Google+ are the popular Hangouts – a video conferencing tool that lets you host multiple people at once in the same video call. Part of the announcement today was that Google has raised the limit on the number of people you can have in a Hangout. You can now have up to 15 people on the same call! The Hangouts have lots of built-in extras like screensharing, doc sharing, visual effects, and more. They can be scheduled in Google Calendar or joined right from Gmail.

Google+

Lots of Google based schools have been wanting to add Google+ to their arsenal of Google tool because the potential it has for the classroom could be huge. When you couple the Docs suite of tools with Google+, you could have something akin to an all-in-one learning management system that students could use to complete assignments and participate in class discussions.

Google+ should be available to all Google Apps schools in the next few days. Will you be among those first in line to put it to use, or are you waiting to see how others implement it in their schools? Leave a comment below.

Google Docs Storybuilder

So, have you seen the new Google Docs Stroybuilder tool? It’s very cool. Google have been promoting it with some fun videos like the one below, and it could be a big hit in the classroom if you are looking for a novel way for students to tell a story of their own, collaborate on a joint tale, or even just to help demonstrate the value of the editing process! Take a look at Google’s take on Hall and Oates…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0hHaQgdypI]

How does it work? Simply visit the Gone Google Storybuilder and hit the big red button to get started. Then add the names of the characters you want to star in your story. Then fill out what you want each character to type, (overwriting or correcting the previous character where needed, and add some music. Once you are done you get a URL to share your story with others. Easy and fun.

Have you created a story that you would like to share with us? Leave a link in the comments below and share the creativity of your students or show us your own talents!

Adding an Apple Touch Icon to Google Sites

You’ve seen it before. You add a Google Site to the homescreen of your iOS device, and you get that generic Google Sites logo as your icon. For an individual user, it’s no big deal. However, for Google Apps schools, it is much more of an issue. They may want their students (or staff) to bookmark several different Google Sites websites. So, what would be a good way to differentiate between these sites on an iPad or iPod Touch homescreen? An Apple Touch icon.

The Apple Touch icon is a small image that will replace the generic Google Sites logo as the homescreen icon and help your bookmarks stand out more. They are easy to create, and require very little technical expertise. So, if you are interested in creating an Apple Touch icon for your Google Site, watch the video below. I made it in less than 5 minutes, and with a little bit of practice, so can you. All you need is a royalty free image, and a little imagination.

The ease at which an Apple Touch icon can be made will quickly compel you to add these to the default list of things you add to a new Google site, but don’t stop there, because you can add a favicon to a Google Site just as quickly.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/fvvRhaYn5e4]

Chromebooks: A Worthwhile 1:1 Device for Education?

There are a growing number of 1:1 districts in Iowa, and a variety of devices are being deployed in these districts. The Macbook is very popular, as are PC laptops and iPads, but what about the Chromebook? Is it a viable device for schools? Google certainly seems to think so. In fact, it recently announced that it was currently being used in over 500 school districts in the USA and Europe.

Courtesy of Samsung.com

Here in Iowa, Council Bluffs has deployed 4,300 Chromebooks. In South Carolina, Richmond School District has 19,000 Chromebooks, while another 3,500 are found at Leyden High School in Illinois. It has a ways to go in order to come close to the inroads made by the iPad or even the Macbook, but as a portable, viable device, it is catching on quick. Chromebooks in education are a growing force.

Device management is a major plus. The Google Dashboard console is easy to navigate, intuitive to use, and has almost all the options that schools are looking for with mobile device management software. When you compare this to what you would have to do to manage a collection of iPads, there really is little comparison. Apple’s Configurator is a great start, but it is not without its faults and random bugs.

I’ve been using a Samsung Series 5 550 for about a week now, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed using it. It is quick to start up, and even quicker to resume from sleep. The battery life is decent, but maybe not quite as good as it could be for classroom use. The Chrome OS has evolved well over the last few months, and there is an increasing number of offline apps available so you can still check your mail, write notes, or browse your calendar and docs without a wi-fi connection.

Does it take time adjusting to the Chrome OS? Absolutely, but if you are a Google Apps school, the transition will not be as big as you might think. There are apps for almost anything you want to do now, so Chromebooks in education are becoming more relevant by the day, especially with the introduction of the new $249 Samsung Chromebook that weighs less than 2.5lbs and has a battery rated for 6.5 hours of continuous use.

So, are you considering Chromebooks in your school district? What are the pros and cons that you have come up against while weighing up the merits of this platform?