Many companies now sell products aimed at making Google Apps even more useful for schools
Student use of Google Apps is on the rise, and Google Chromebooks have exploded in popularity  within K-12 education. In response to these trends, a new niche market has emerged in ed tech, as many companies now sell products aimed at making these tools even more useful for schools.
Some of these companies were on hand at CUE’s annual conference  in Palm Springs, Calif., last week to demonstrate their products.
The Toronto-based company Synergyse  offers what it calls an “interactive training system” for Google Apps. The product gives schools an easy way to improve the productivity of staff and students by delivering user-friendly, guided instruction in how to use these tools, said Synergyse founder and CEO Varun Malhotra.
The training is accessible directly within Google Apps, so users don’t have to leave an application to learn how to use it. Synergyse is an extension for the Google Chrome operating system that integrates audio, text, and video guides into the Google Apps interfaces.
As of press time, Synergyse provided training for Google Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sites, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The product—which includes training in English, French, and Spanish—is hosted on the Google Cloud platform, and school leaders can generate reports on usage within their schools.
Synergyse costs $10 per full-time employee, per year, and if a school or district buys licenses for all of its employees, then student use of the product is free.
(Next page: A teacher dashboard that overlays Google Apps; a cloud-based web filter that integrates with Google Apps; and more)
California-based Hapara  has created a Teacher Dashboard for Google Apps that organizes activity within these apps by class and student. The software gives educators a “bird’s-eye view” of their students’ use of these tools, Hapara says—saving teachers time while allowing them to track students’ Google Apps usage and improve outcomes.
“The value of Google Apps for our organization has increased a thousand times with Teacher Dashboard layered on top for our teachers,” said Chris Liang Vergara, director of instructional technology for FirstLine Schools of New Orleans, in a promotion for Harpara.
An optional add-on to the Teacher Dashboard, called Remote Control, allows for real-time classroom management of Google Chromebooks. With Remote Control, teachers can see what their students are doing online, close student browser tabs, open specific URLs on students’ machines, and send students priority messages, the company says.
Teacher Dashboard licenses cost from $4 to $6 per student, per year.
Securly , another California company, sells a cloud-based web filtering solution built on the Google Apps Directory instead of Microsoft Active Directory.
Securly says it can block inappropriate search terms on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines, as well as filter out age-inappropriate pages from social media websites. The software also lets educators provide a white-listed version of YouTube to their students—or, they can enforce the “safety mode” on YouTube to provide an “open but safe environment” in which videos flagged by the YouTube community are filtered out.
Because it’s built around the Google Apps platform, Securly integrates seamlessly with Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks, the company says. Take-home Chromebooks can be set up to rout web traffic through Securly with a simple setting in the Google Apps for Education control panel.
The devices don’t have to be provisioned individually; using Google’s zero-touch, cloud-based policy pushdown, they are provisioned with the Securly filtering policies automatically when students log in the first time.
Though it wasn’t at the CUE conference in Palm Springs, Spanning Cloud Apps is another company that sells a product aimed at making Google Apps use more productive for schools.
Spanning Backup for Google Apps  offers automatic or on-demand backup of the information contained in Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Sites, and Drive, with a user interface that is so easy, students and teachers can resolve their own data loss issues, the company says.
The cost of the service is determined per user, per year, for an unlimited amount of data: $15 per year for staff and $10 per year for students, with a minimum of 50 users. Spanning Cloud Apps highlighted the service during the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) annual conference  in February.
Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis .