The Google Ecosystem: An Educator’s Guide

By Scott Sterling

These days, you have many choices when you are adopting technology for the classroom. However, there are really only three categories from which everything else branches: Apple, Google, and Microsoft Windows. This is the second post of a series meant to cover the ins and outs, pros and cons of each—this time, Google.

The lay of the land

Google recently made news when it was revealed that their Chromebook laptops make up more than half of all the classroom devices purchased in the US, more than iPads or any Windows machine. Google has also started better integrating its existing software offerings with the needs of the classroom (held under the umbrella of, fittingly, Google Classroom). Google’s Android mobile operating system is also the most-used in the world, with hundreds of different devices using it for their backbone.

The pros

Let’s just get this out of the way: Google products, if not free, are really cheap. Chromebooks are available for half the cost of an iPad. These aren’t laptops in the traditional sense of the word. Chromebooks place heavy emphasis on using Internet software, like their Google Docs, rather than software and storage held on the computer itself. That makes them cost-effective to produce. They are also produced by a wide range of manufacturers, so competition brings prices down even further.

With the Google ecosystem comes their software suite, which is also free. Google Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheet), and Slides (presentation) are all free as long as you don’t require a lot of bells and whistles. Of course, Google’s free Gmail is the most popular email service in the world. Google Drive, their cloud-based storage solution, is free up to 15 GB. After that, storage is still incredibly cheap.

Because most of their software is cloud-based, work can be accessed using any device (even non-Google gadgets) and shared very easily with everyone. Collaboration is also easy, with everyone being able to work on something together without having to be on the same computer.

A login to any of Google’s services carries over to the others, which insolates the ecosystem and helps minimize IT headaches.

The cons

Google doesn’t make all of these free/cheap toys out of the goodness of their hearts. It is all built around people, including students, using their search engine and exposing themselves to their massive advertising offerings. Although the education offerings are better about shielding students from these sorts of practices, it’s still unknown what kinds of data are made available to Google. There are also ways for the savvy IT professional to work around it.

When things are cheap, you can expect a lower level of support than you would get from something more expensive. That isn’t to say that if you get a lemon Chromebook that the manufacturer won’t return your calls, just that if a student or teacher has a problem with some of their software, Google would much rather you search online than call or email support.

The Google productivity software suite lacks some features that the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite includes. It’s better for you to investigate features that you are particularly interested in rather than list them here. And although they are slowly getting better, using Google Docs and Office interchangeably requires a few more steps. That being said, Microsoft Office licenses are incredibly expensive, even for schools.

The bottom line

There are reasons why Google is having such success in the education space. Their products are relatively stable, their software is synonymous with working online, and they fit into almost any adoption budget. If you investigate their features and find what they offer would work for your students, you can be very happy in the Google ecosystem.