How Google’s leadership shakeup could affect education

Ed-tech experts expect Gmail to remain popular in K-12 and higher education.

Google Inc.’s announcement last week that co-founder Larry Page would replace CEO Eric Schmidt might be appealing to educators who long for the company’s free-wheeling days, but educational technology leaders said a less structured, more risk-taking approach might make some ed-tech chiefs hesitant to embrace Google’s education services.

School districts, small colleges, and large universities alike have adopted a range of Google education products, primarily the company’s hosted eMail service, Gmail, which has allowed schools and colleges to save money by using Google’s servers instead of their own.

And as the company’s reins are being handed over to Page, 37, educational technology leaders said the change might be welcomed by students, teachers, and professors who have grown skeptical of the massive company since its days as a technology sector upstart with the motto, “Don’t be evil.”

Announcing Page’s new role as CEO “brings the coolness back” to Google, said Bill Edgette, executive director of IT services at Austin College in Texas, where campus officials have considered switching to Gmail in recent years.

For IT’s business side, however, Edgette said that “coolness” doesn’t matter. In fact, if Google returns to its days of introducing products that are in test mode, technologists will be wary of “going whole hog with Google.”

“We don’t want to hitch our horse to something that’s in perpetual beta,” Edgette said. “This is a pivotal moment for how [Google] relates to education. … Now, it really depends on which direction they go in.”

Gmail has proven more reliable than many school-run eMail systems, educational technology officials said, despite occasional outages that haven’t dissuaded schools and colleges from continuing to use Gmail.

Raymond Rose, a longtime educational technology developer, said he expects ed-tech directors in K-12 and higher education to “wait and observe” while Google transitions leadership and hints at which innovations the company will focus on in the coming months and years.

Google, Rose said, can retain student and faculty loyalty if the company continues to deliver sleek tech tools, such as an Android-based tablet that could rival Apple’s iPad.

“The tech-savvy faculty don’t care as much about the infrastructure issues [at Google] and are probably more interested in the cool tech uses,” he said.

Continuing to market web applications that operate through cloud computing would be a surefire way to keep school and campus decision makers interested in bringing Google products to educators and their students, ed-tech officials said.