Google for Education tools have taken off “like grass on
fire,” industry analysts say.
- The software is completely free and Chromebooks, which are
laptops manufactured by other companies running the Google Chrome
operating system, are deeply discounted for classrooms.
- These tactics have worked: Google-powered devices made up
almost 60% of computing devices purchased for US classrooms in
2017, up from 5% in 2012.
- Eighty million teachers and students use the platform
worldwide, and there are 30 million Chromebooks
- Teachers have expressed suspicions about why the
mega-corporation is giving away the valuable software.
- “There is a bit of a mistrust to Google in some way from the
teacher standpoint because it is such a large corporation
offering everything for free,” Danny Wagner at Common Sense Media said.
Michelle Alphe’s French classes in Franklin High School, about 40
miles southwest of New York City, begin the same way most days:
with a Chromebook.
“Before class, I’ll post their assignments [on Google Classroom]
and the students get right on the computers, log into Classroom,
and can start working right away,” Alphe told Business Insider.
Advanced classes might read an article in French, then record a
video in which they discuss what’s different between the US and
the country they read about. They then post the video on Google
Classroom, and their peers watch and comment on the video.
“At first I was resistant to it – I’m a technophobe,” Alphe told
Business Insider. “Now, I really like it. It’s made my life a lot
easier. I think it has made students’ work easier too.”
This scene is repeated in classrooms around the US, where
education is increasingly starting to revolve around Google for
Education apps and Google’s Chromebook laptops.
Google says there are 80 million educators and students globally
Suite for Education, which allows users to access Gmail,
Google Cloud, Google Docs, and other productivity tools. There
are 40 million global users of Google Classroom specifically.
Worldwide, there are 30 million Chromebooks in classrooms, the
majority of which are in the US. Fifty-eight percent of the
classroom laptops ordered in the US
last year were Chromebooks. These laptops, which cost from
$179 to $999
for typical customers, are manufactured by brands like
Lenovo, Acer, and HP.
Google is not alone in trying to making inroads on the hardware
and software sides of the classroom. There are software tools
like Canvas, where students can access documents and information
for their classes, or Safari Montage, a repository for textbooks
and other class materials.
The average cost for learning management software is $5 to $8 per
student annually, according to Ben Davis, a senior educator
analyst at the market-research firm Futuresource Consulting. For
a district such as Baltimore, which has over
113,000 students, that could cost nearly $1 million a year.
But Google Classroom and G Suite for Education are totally free.
Google has tens of millions of users for its education software,
but it chooses not to make a cent off of them.
As for the laptops, they’re deeply discounted. Institutional
pricing for an iPad, once the standby education hardware
is $299 while Microsoft devices start
at $189. Google said a single Chromebook starts at $149 per
unit for classrooms.
- Andy Kiersz/Business Insider; Google, Apple, and Windows education pricing
Google has created
teaching courses and certifications, engages in educator
outreach nationwide, and creates tools like a closed-captioning
function for students giving presentations on Google Slides.
“You could argue that part of it is philanthropic,” Jonathan Rochelle, a
product management director for G Suite for Education, told
Business Insider. “But for us, having educators and students
experience our products is important.”
He added: “Our motivation is to make sure people have an option
to work better.”
But Google for Education has raised suspicions for ed-tech
analysts and educators.
“They are still selling their Google products to kids, who are
being taught to trust them,” Keith Chiappone, an eighth-grade
English teacher at Conackamack Middle School in Piscataway
Township, New Jersey. “Then, when they are of age where they can
legally make decisions, that’s going to be their default.”
The first push for educational tech came from state
legislatures, not Silicon Valley
Classrooms like Alphe’s, where students have their own laptops,
may seem over the top to those who managed to learn to read and
write without computers or with occasional visits to the school
But districts that furnish each student with a laptop aren’t
doing so by their own choice alone. Since the late 2000s,
legislatures in states such as Florida, Virginia, and California
passing laws to call for digital classrooms and textbooks.
“There’s an increasing push to have our students become digitally
literate and move into the workforce seamlessly through the use
of digital tools,” said Elita Driskill, the director of
technology for Arlington
Independent School District in Arlington, Texas, which serves
61,000 students. “The state recognizes the need for students to
be ready for the workplace.”
Initiatives for “digital content” initially put undue pressure on
district administrators, said Dwayne Alton, who is in charge of
information technology for the School District of Lee County in
Fort Myers, Florida, the 33rd-largest in the US with 93,000
“The legislature thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to be super modern,'”
Alton told Business Insider. “‘We think that books are
old-fashioned. Kids should be learning with technology and school
districts should be required to transition from paper to digital
- Kevin Jarrett/Flickr
At first, digital content meant PDFs of textbooks. Now teachers
can track students’ progress through in-class activities in real
time and assess where a student is excelling or needs help. It’s
allowed for individual learning beyond separating kids into slow
and fast reading groups.
“We know that students move at different paces,” Alton said. “We
want to make sure we’re not just teaching to the middle, but
providing enrichment for the higher levels and remediation for
the lower levels.”
Tech companies have taken advantage of the shift to digital
That shift to digital has fueled fast growth in the US ed-tech
market, which has been growing by 8.8%
since 2014. Ed tech is expected to hit $43 billion in value
by 2019, just under half of which is based in K-12.
“The market is right at the beginning of digital transformation
with devices coming into student hands, and so lots of companies
across the education ecosystem are investing in digital,” Davis
of Futuresource told Business Insider.
Education-only companies such as Blackboard, which was founded in
1997, and corporations like Microsoft and Apple had been long positioned in
the classroom, and they looked poised to benefit from this
But then Google entered the fray, and in a big way.
Wagner was a middle-school science teacher in his native
Kentucky for nine years before he moved to the Bay Area to become
a tech lead at San Francisco Unified School District. He was a
teacher as Google Classroom first made its big push into the
ed-tech market in the early 2010s, when state legislatures were
pushing for digital classrooms.
“Going paperless was a big deal, and Google Classroom was the
first tool that solved that problem,” Wagner, who is now an
editor of ed-tech reviews at Common Sense Media, told Business
“Google Classroom took off like grass on fire,” Gartner Research
vice president Kelly Calhoun Williams, who focuses on K-12
education and was in public education for 25 years, added. “Just
Chromebooks and other Google devices made up 58% of all devices
purchased for US classrooms in 2017, according to
Futuresource data, up from 5% in 2012. Not every
Chromebook-enabled school uses Google Classroom, and many
classrooms without Chromebooks use Google Classroom or G Suite
- Futuresource Consulting, Andy Kiersz/Business Insider
In contrast, Apple’s market share in mobile devices for education
sank by 33 percentage points from 2012 to 2017, while Microsoft’s
decreased by 21 percentage points, according to Futuresource.
Franklin High School has had G Suite for Education for only about
four years, but Maggie Muir, who teaches Spanish at Franklin, has
been using Google products in her classroom for a decade.
Muir is enthusiastic about Google Classroom’s features. She can
quickly see how her students are performing on certain tasks.
Absent students can keep up with assignments and activities by
simply checking the Google Classroom homepage. It’s easier for
clubs to organize and for teachers to share learning resources
with each other, she said.
As for the Chromebook, Muir said she’s happy her students, many
of whom are low income, have access to the technology. All
Franklin students have Chromebooks thanks to a one-to-one
initiative, in which each student has his or her own Chromebook
starting in middle school. Davis of Futuresource said between 20%
and 30% of US classrooms have similar one-to-one programs.
Muir has used Angel, Blackboard, Canvas, and other education
apps, but says Google is just better.
“I can edit a Google Doc on my phone,” Muir went on. “I can
connect with Google Classroom on my phone no matter where I am.
There are a lot of options and accessibility. It makes it so
easy. Everything is there.”
According to Rochelle, the G Suite for Education product manager,
Google created Google Classroom as a response to educators using
Google Docs as a collaboration tool among other teachers and for
Google Classroom doesn’t address every classroom need. Muir still
uses Genesis to record grades, attendance, and higher-level
demographic and conduct information. Its simplicity is part of
why it’s won over so many teachers, Williams of Gartner Research
“It was hugely popular because it was just so darn simple,”
Williams said. “Anybody could pick it up and understand what it
was for and use it.”
- BUF Simrishamn/Flickr
Jennifer Guzio, a teacher at Parsons Elementary School in North
Brunswick, New Jersey, said Google Classroom is incredibly easy
to use, particularly because she already had a Gmail account.
That familiarity with Google products is good for tech-averse
educators, she said.
“I know a lot of teachers who are overwhelmed by the technology
and feel a little lost,” Guzio told Business Insider.
But one benefit overshadowed all the rest, Wagner of Education
Reviews said. “It was free. You cannot [overstate] how important
that was for Google Classroom’s success.”
Digitizing classrooms is expensive. Driskell said that Arlington
purchased Chromebook carts, allowing one laptop for every
student, because it was “an affordable option.”
Alton said the Lee County School District is using more free
content, such as Khan Academy, and that its spending on
technology has increased over the years. It has 70,000
Chromebooks in the district.
Google’s motives are ‘clear,’ but teachers use it anyway
Joanna Petrone, a middle-school English teacher in the Bay Area,
uses Google Classroom every day, but finds the tool “a little
She said she feels that with Google’s teacher-certification
suggested curriculum plans, the company is overstepping
certain legal boundaries. While including corporate messaging in
schools is typically
met with resistance, Google for Education liberally includes
its branding in digital citizenship
courses that several teachers told Business Insider they had
their students take.
So through Classroom, Google can acclimatize millions of children
to its products.
“It’s pretty clear what motive Google has,” Williams at Gartner
Research said. “This is not a product they’re selling; this is
not a commercial product. It’s getting lots of people very used
to working in a Google environment.”
- BUF Simrishamn/Flickr
Even teachers who feel squeamish about the product don’t have an
option but to use it. Chromebooks are the technology furnished in
Petrone’s district, while Chiappone of Piscataway said he was
required to use Google Classroom in his previous district.
“It’s not our choice what software we use,” Chiappone said.
“Every school district will purchase a license for specific
software. We can’t really go and say, ‘I’m going to go use this
other software,’ because just about everything has a subscription
Above all, teachers said they were already strapped for time and
energy. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to ponder how
their district-provided software might be affecting them and
“There is a bit of a mistrust to Google in some way from the
teacher standpoint because it is such a large corporation
offering everything for free,” Wagner said. “They know there’s a
manipulation at work, they are aware that there’s a manipulation,
but no one really knows to what end.”
He added, “But while we ponder these overarching questions,
teachers still have to get things done.”