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K–12 Books Added to Google Play for Education, Along with New Devices

Digital books give teachers more flexibility, and the popular line of Chromebooks gets new family members.

After announcing a curated suite of education-focused apps and games for Android tablets and smartphones last year, Google is upping the ante even more by adding digital books that can be used in the classroom, replacing aging or irrelevant paper textbooks. The company made the formal announcement today at the 2014 Florida Education and Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Fla.

Google is eager to solve both hardware and software problems for schools, and its move into digital books is part of the company’s broader strategy for the education market.

“Google is building a content solution from the ground up that's radically educator-centric,” says Rick Borovoy, lead product manager for Android for Education, in an interview with EdTech: Focus on K–12 ahead of the announcement.

One of the ways Google wants to rethink education is by revolutionizing the concept of the classroom set of books. These books represent a capital expense for schools, which means teachers are expected to get as much out of the class set as possible, even if they’re no longer interested in using the books.

“Once you've bought a classroom set, you have to use it year after year,” Borovoy says. “It becomes a decision about inventory, not what you want to teach your kids.”

But with Google’s digital books offering, a teacher can assign one book for her class one year and teach a completely different book the following year without incurring the cost and headache of ordering hundreds of books for the classroom.

“We see positive development in coming up with a flexible book model,” Borovoy says. So far, Google is piloting the program with select schools, with a broader rollout slated for the coming weeks.

More Chromebook and Android Tablet Choices

You may have heard that Chromebooks are popular, but do you know how popular they are? Swallow this mind-boggling factoid: Chromebooks made up one in four devices shipped to U.S. K–12 schools, according to analysts’ preliminary data for the final quarter of 2013.

HP and Samsung have been key partners in creating the Chromebooks that schools have been buying. Now, more manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Lenovo, are joining the Chromebooks party.

“We now have 8 OEMs on board,” confirms Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Chrome for Business and Education.

Toshiba’s new 13-inch Chromebook is available now and starts at $299. Lenovo will release its new ThinkPad 11e Chromebook series this spring, starting at $349. And the new LG Chromebase, a desktop computer that runs Chrome OS, will be available in April. In addition to these new Chrome OS devices, Samsung announced a new Android tablet made for education at FETC as well.

It’s clear that Google has a struck a nerve in education with its Chromebook line, but what makes it so appealing to the ed tech set? Sheth believes it’s simple, really.

“It's super easy to manage and deploy,” he says. “We have so many classrooms that are using Google for Education, and it fits really well with what they're trying to do."

Of course, the affordability of Chrome OS devices also doesn’t hurt.

“You can get a very, very powerful device at a very inexpensive price point,” Sheth says, which means that a school's budget can go a lot further.

Interested in learning more about Chromebooks in K–12 education? Sign up for our upcoming webinar on Chromebooks on Feb. 11 and hear first-hand from educators using the devices.

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Jan 29 2014 Spice IT

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