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.

K-12 education officials said they don’t anticipate a major shift in how Google approaches educational technology, since the company’s change didn’t introduce a new decision maker into the mix.

“The brain trust is unchanged,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in California. “They are changing chairs, not people.”

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