The Big 3 In the Classroom: Apple, Google, & Microsoft

You can view the related Office 365 vs. G Suite Smackdown as well.

Event Overview


New York City schools do things a little differently than most places. Due to the sheer size and complexity of needs, there is no overriding educational technology solution that’s chosen to work across the board. Yes, there is a citywide Office 365 domain set for managing some correspondence and payroll functions, but it’s not set up to be an instructional solution as there isn’t student access. That may sound a bit chaotic (and it can be) when dealing with multiple schools across hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of domains and sites. Alternately though it allows for schools to choose the structure and tools that best suit their needs. That and the sheer size of city schools also allows for great opportunities like today when Nick Schepis, JoJo Farrell, and Lisa Nielsen brought together representatives from the education departments of Apple, Google, and Microsoft to discuss the benefits and pain points associated with their offerings.

Often when schools or districts debate whether to use one platform over another, administrators and technicians debate pricing, setup, and management. These are all important issues to consider, but they are not the most crucial. Teachers should be integrated into the decision-making and you should be asking:

  1. What can best enhance instruction, engagement, and retention in the classroom?
  2. How are we going help teachers become proficient in making it happen?

While I’m sure the vendor sales teams may view it differently, I didn’t see this as some sort of competition. And if it were, the winners would be the teachers who attended and, in turn, their schools who will learn about what is possible for their students through the skilled use educational technology.

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I have personally trained to become certified in a wide variety of educational technology including being an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Trainer, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. I think that’s important, not for the badges or accolades, but because I think it is in the best interest of educators and students to familiarize themselves with as many resources as possible so they can use whatever will best engage students in effective personalized learning. I’m a strong believer in using the right tool for the job, so it makes sense to fill your toolbox with as much as you can. And what’s great about finding the right tool is it will save you time to clear your workload and have time to improve instruction even further.

NYCDOE Educational Technology Vision

NYC Schools Tech Logo Final.pngThe NYC Department of Education’s Division of Instructional and Information Technology (DIIT) heads up all things tech in our schools, but, as I said, it isn’t a very centralized model. That means it’s been up to schools to form their own technology visions and sometimes it’s even been just 1 person at an institution pushing for change. The CIO agrees that we need to look at what are the most powerful things tech can offer our students but agrees that the city has failed to offer a consistent and compelling vision without the individual support and infrastructure necessary for sustainable success. He’s seeking a path to remedy that.

There are some things that city has done very well (like keeping student data secure) and others they have struggled with (building a robust infrastructure for a city this size). The DOE’s central personal have remained content to influence school practices rather than implement everything as a directive, so moving quickly when seeking consensus is difficult. In that manner, the DOE is looking to improve citywide technology in 8 areas that the Big 3 will play a big role in. They are:

  1. Developing a compelling and crystalized vision for citywide technology integration that is put into action
  2. Developing a common vocabulary for educational technology
  3. Adopting and implementing the ISTE standards and begin socializing their practices while measuring outcomes
  4. Improving device procurement for easier purchasing and fewer wasted tools
  5. Developing technological capacity amongst staff
  6. Assessing our readiness
  7. Improving the technology infrastructure (i.e. bandwidth, please!)
  8. Guiding the city in the use of digital communication tools

So let’s take a look, in turn, at what the Big 3 can provide.

Big 3 Info


Apple EducationApple has been providing technology to schools for 30+ years and they continue to be at the forefront of many educational innovations. They brought the first successful smartphone, tablet, and Siri. They made digital art and filmmaking possible for the masses. They long challenged us to ‘think different’ and we, in turn, should continue to challenge our students to do the same.

I was asked to present alongside Apple about their latest educational offerings and how they have been used in my classroom. There are still things I think they do the best. Here’s an overview of what they currently bring to the table. You can see a full overview of the latest updates they covered in their recent keynote, but here is an overview.

What They Offer

  • HARDWARE: A new cheaper $299 9.7″ iPad with a powerful A10 chip and Apple Pencil compatibility along with newly integrated accessories is available for schools. The Macs are top of the line, reliable computers with great features and software with a price tag to match. The usual complaint is the cost.
  • apple_ipad_schoolwork_app_03272018-100753316-largeWORKFLOW MANAGEMENT: Improved classroom management is available through updates to the Classroom app that allow teachers to guide and monitor student iPads from an iPad a Mac. It also no longer requires MDM setup. Apple also came out with the Schoolwork app that allows you to share content, track app progress, create grouping and differentiation, collaborate, provide feedback, send announcements, and easily view the progress of your whole class or an individual student across apps.
  • PRODUCTIVITY: There were major creative updates to the iWork suite, already the most visually engaging productivity software, that includes mark up abilities for teachers that stay connected as students edit their work.
  • DIGITAL STORYTELLING: There were improvements to create digital books including a new advanced book creation update available for Pages on the iPad
  • iPad_Everyone_Can_Create_photos_03272018CREATIVITY SOFTWARE: The iLife suite is an amazingly easy-to-use and extensive platform for movies, music, and photography.
  • CREATIVITY CURRICULUM: Apple is taking their curriculum development to the next level with Everyone Can Create which is meant to focus on creative development in the classroom using music, photography, film, music, and drawing. It is a project-based learning initiative meant to make all subject areas, not just the arts, more visually accessible, engaging, and applicable to a student’s life experience.
  • COMPUTER SCIENCE: A complete computer science curriculum for K-12 and beyond called Everyone Can Code was released to make use of Swift Playgrounds and other CS education apps. Right now the SwiftPlaygrounds (middle school) portion is limited to the iPad.
  • ACCESSIBILITY: Accessibility is an integral part of Apple’s system which is why they still do it best. Right out of the box, their products are able to be used by people with disabilities smoothly. Check out all about Apple accessibility.
  • Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 2.55.08 PMMIXED REALITY: Increased AR integration is now part of every iPad and can be seen in apps like Froggipedia which offers the ability to fully dissect a frog and bring it’s translucent body to life in your classroom without enduring the smell of formaldehyde
  • PRIVACY: All the platforms follow privacy guidelines regarding student information, but Apple famously went against the FBI to maintain the privacy of their users.
  • DIGITAL SIGN:– Using an Apple TV and Airplay you can project nearly anything to an external display.
  • TRAINING: The Apple Teacher Learning Center provides training, certification, and lesson ideas and materials for teachers along with the latest updates from Apple Education. If you need a more hands-on touch, they offer Teacher Tuesdays where you can meet and collaborate with other like-minded educators and Apple professionals to learn how to make the most of what’s available in your class. Anyone can also attend any of the Today at Apple training offered regularly at Apple stores on topics for kids, artists, and educators.

What’s They Do Best

SMany of the things at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy and skills inherent to 21st-Century Learning like creativity and critical thinking through challenge-based learning are what Apple does best.



For creativity, whether movies, music, art-there are a number of options.

iPads with iMovie are my go-to for student film projects and documenting work. Clips and stop-motion improve give you more options.

For music, there’s no comparison. Teachers aren’t using pro tools and the iPad functions as an awesome instrument itself. We’ve created iPad bands in the district for to make musicians out of students who struggle with standard instruments. Even simple apps like Keezy & Mad Pad are only in iOS.

Art-wise Pixelmator is my go-to editor for creating student badges and logos like for my school and NYC Schools Tech. I’ve used it with student animation and digital art & photography.

My students struggle with literacy which is probably true of a lot of kids across the city- so digital storytelling is a big part my work. And Apple’s partnerships make that easier for me. Whether it’s the simpler Chatterpix or Sock Puppets to the more advanced Book Creator & iBooks Author for making interactive textbooks with built-in assessments, I only find them on Apple.


3032886-inline-i-1-this-app-shows-kids-the-science-behind-fun.gifI think the most effective instruction is hands-on. Apple partners with robotics groups for tangible computer science and the quality of scientific discovery and inquiry are uniquely amazing. In fact, the NY Sci apps like Playground Physics are only for iPads.


In addition to engaging through hands-on learning, There are great game-based learning apps across platforms, but there are some great ones that are Mac only like some of Motion Math and therapeutic games for the treatment of substance abuse and ADHD. Even Minecraft EDU, an awesome Microsoft-owned game was, due to no fault of theirs, could only be played for a while on Macs since we didn’t have Windows 10 yet.


App Store AccessibilityAnd while the other platforms have definitely being improving their accessibility, the gold star goes to Apple for integrating it into every part of their systems. This inspires 3rd-party accessibility tools and applications which is why most District 75 communication devices are iPads because the best AC apps like LAMP and Proloquo are only there.


No other device has consistently been at the top of the board in terms of software and hardware reliability. Part of that has to with Apple’s closed ecosystem which some see as a limitation where Apple apps only run on an Apple device. Since they are mainly a hardware company and not as heavily focused on software, search, or advertising they have to keep their devices solely theirs. It means less flexibility sometimes but it also means they’re more consistent and reliable.


Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 3.38.22 PMonline training, their pilot program The Apple Teacher Learning Center provides training, certification, and lesson ideas and materials for teachers along with the latest updates from Apple Education. If you need a more hands-on touch, they offer Teacher Tuesdays where you can meet and collaborate with other like-minded educators and Apple professionals to learn how to make the most of what’s available in your class. Anyone can also attend any of the Today at Apple training offered regularly at Apple stores on topics for kids, artists, and educators

What We Still Want


While teachers tend to love Apple’s tools are great for revolutionizing classrooms and bringing them to life, they aren’t always favorites of administrators looking for an inexpensive 1:1 option and IT guys looking for easy rollout and management We want easier management. Yes, not having an integrated MDM gives schools options, but it doesn’t provide the level of Apple interconnectivity we’re used to experiencing. The new Apple Configurator is vastly improved and Apple School Manager is easy for user creation, but we want to be more.

We want improved cross-platform collaboration. They’ve improved Apple’s ability to work on other computers through iWork online and connection to G Suite and O365, but if collaboration is key then it needs to be more integral. We also want elementary and middle school computer science and coding that works beyond the iPad. Swift Playgrounds isn’t even available on a Mac. And while we’re at it, forging ahead with the latest tech, doing away with cd drives, headphone jacks, and standard USB may be the future but it makes carrying around adapters in the present a pain.


Google is all about scope. They are making devices and platforms to serve billions around the world and the compatibility, ease of use, and licensing to other manufacturers are why they’ve succeeded in achieving that goal. Their skill at managing massive device deployment and while allowing for maximum collaboration through Google Classroom and Google Docs are what have sent them to the top of the EdTech of charts. If you’re interested in being on the cutting edge you can sign up for Google’s pilot program.

What They Offer

  • HARDWARE: Google does make Chromebooks and Android devices, but most of the ones used throughout classrooms aren’t theirs. The key to their success (despite being improperly labeled as online-only devices) is that they are easy for IT teams to deploy and manage. A generally smaller price tag helps as well.
  • Image result for google classroomWORKFLOW MANAGEMENT: Google Classroom is the learning management system that all other LMS aspire to be or at least be connected to. You can manage student workflow, grades, post material, and link assessments and they’re updating it constantly. Find out what’s new. Watch Google Classroom 101 or visit the training center for more information.
  • PRODUCTIVITY: Their suite of Drive apps may not have all the bells and whistles of other platforms, but they make up for it with simplicity, compatibility, and ease of collaboration. With add-ons and new features like explore they are making it easier to bring your ideas to fruition.
  • jamboard.pngVISUAL LEARNING: Jamboard is Google’s foray into the interactive display market. The board itself isn’t that impressive as many of the features have been common to SMARTBoard for some time. It does do written collaboration well as you would expect from a Google product.
  • PORTFOLIOS: Google Sites can be used to create multimedia student portfolios.
  • ASSESSMENT: With recent improvements, Google Forms has become a well-rounded assessment resource capable of differentiation and game-based learning. AI features digital breakouts as well as 6 ways AI is making quizzes better.
  • CREATIVITY: The Google Draw app offers basic art tools while the Chrome Music Lab is good for early childhood understanding of music. y online music tools They have a number of
  • COMPUTER SCIENCE: Google hopes to inspire students to Be Internet Awesome by teaching positive digital citizenship skills. They also encourage coding through their CS First initiative that gives the tools for creating coding clubs and leans heavily on the Scratch platform. Now they also have an applied digital skills curriculum that covers a variety of technical problem-solving skills necessary for success.
  • Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 7.47.31 PMMIXED REALITY: Google has several tools for exploring our worldTour Creator my Google Expeditions AR experience.
  • ACCESSIBILITY: updates with Lookout tandem keyboard (Tania video voice) Overall though their accessibility features are not as extensive and they require add-ons and extensions (which are sometimes blocked) to be comparable with other platforms. Google translation offers text, audio, and visual translations for non-native speakers.
  • DIGITAL SIGN: The various varieties of Chromestick offers the ability to project using things like Google Slides.
  • TRAINING: online training, their pilot program The Apple Teacher Learning Center provides training, certification, and lesson ideas and materials for teachers along with the latest updates from Apple Education. If you need a more hands-on touch, they offer Teacher Tuesdays where you can meet and collaborate with other like-minded educators and Apple professionals to learn how to make the most of what’s available in your class. Anyone can also attend any of the Today at Apple training offered regularly at Apple stores on topics for kids, artists, and educators.

What They Do Best


SuiteFeatures.pngIf you want to work with others on productivity projects, Google did it first and they still do it better. Collaborating with Google applications just works the way you expect it to includes never having to hit save and unlimited storage space. Even the way Google approaches VR, an inherently escapist & isolating experience, includes collaboration through Google Expeditions and Google’s other exploration tools in this category. Now teachers can even create and share those experiences with Tour Creator.


Since Google’s platform is almost entirely web-based it is made to work on any device. Even if you’re using an iPad or Windows PC, you’ll likely want to have access to Google Drive and Classroom and they’ll work just as you would expect on a Chromebook.

Device Management

What has really sold Chromebooks to IT departments is the initial ease of set up and ongoing management (CTRL, ALT, E to enroll) for large groups of devices. The Google Admin platform can even be used to push apps, install system updates, and even manage iOS devices.

Workflow Management

Screencast-of-Co-Teacher-2.gifLike I said, Google Classroom is so well integrated with Google productivity apps that others have tried to emulate it but fail to keep up. A variety of 3rd-party applications have been connected to Google Classroom as a major goal since it opens up access to a larger market which benefits Google as well.


Computer Science

While other platforms also have tools for learning to code, Google’s efforts at teaching digital citizenship and other digital skills along with their compatibility and versatility for learning these across platforms give them an edge.


Many of the best in-person training I’ve attended in New York (except for my first one which was not great) has been with Google at their offices through certification and meetups. The collegial and personal sharing atmosphere that welcomes discussion of other platforms and tools should be a model for others.

What We Still Want

youtube_video_editor.pngWhile the suite of Docs apps are great for collaboration, they aren’t as full-featured for creation. There are features for editing images, graphs and other multimedia content. The ability to link to online content and search for images within the app make creating visual HyperDocs easier even if editing options are limited. On that same token, we would love it if there were built-in creativity tools for art, music, and film. YouTube does offer a platform and some editing features and Drawings is limited. As great as online options like Soundtrap are, we want more for creative collaboration that’s integrated with Google.

With the introduction of a paid version of Google education, people got nervous that a free platform might be a disappearing. While Google assures us it will remain free, I can’t be certain that system updates that may come (like a full-featured attendance and grading system) might not be under that free umbrella. Also, there is a concern that if students venture outside the core apps to YouTube or other additional services that student data may be at risk. Again Google claims that they are at the forefront of keeping information secure.


You may think of Microsoft as the old system that used to be required for any enterprise but wasn’t very innovative or agile and that’s understandable. They helped businesses run smoothly and efficiently for years and according to studies they can do the same for classrooms. They stuck with XP for way longer than was necessary and the NYCDOE chose to stick with it even longer. Even when we shifted over to O365, it was done en masse with little explanation and no access for schools and students to oversee individualized rollout and management.  That’s why you may not be aware of all of the exciting changes their new CEO has brought with Windows 10 in the last 3 years.

The great strength of Microsoft is their holistic approach that is not just about technology but starting with pedagogy, training for teachers, and the proper structure to support student success. To know it all your school would need to set up its own O365 client. To see all that’s possible on the new platform, check out their full presentation.

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What They Offer

  • HARDWARE: The Windows devices many teachers are used to can do a lot more with updates to Windows 10 and Office 365 and the Surface is an impressive (although very expensive) machine. Separately though there are many other vendors offering Windows 10 systems which gives them the greatest variety of configuration options for as little as $189 though the variety can lead to inconsistent experiences for users. On a positive note, their systems are easy to get set up and managed quickly. Check out Intune for Education for IT management.
  •  Office-365-Edu-Teams.jpgWORKFLOW MANAGEMENT: The Microsoft Classroom experiment died, but Teams took its place and it offers a full-fledged collaboration LMS with built-in Skype video conferencing, OneNote integration, and shared storage. You can connect staff, classes, and personal learning communities. While, like most other Microsoft products, they offer so much in one application, but that can lead to confusion and occasional glitches as it gets worked out. OneNote is also available to use as a digital binder for creating and grading student work.
  • PRODUCTIVITY: Their productivity suite is a full-featured as it comes, but you give up a little in simplicity. O365 does offer full-fledged collaboration, but it isn’t quite as intuitive as with Google yet. OneNote remains the stand out as a multimedia lesson creation and delivery tool, especially with its built-in accessibility.
  •  VISUAL LEARNING: Sway and OneNote both offer a wide variety of ways to easily present multimedia content to students. With recent updates, the various version of OneNote is much more similar and adaptable. This includes the availability of inking feedback in OneNote
  • ASSESSMENT: Microsoft Forms is new but is continuing to improve.
  • CREATIVITY: Windows Media Player, Movie Maker, Windows Paint, and Paint 3D offer the ability to create and edit a range of multimedia.
  • COMPUTER SCIENCE: Microsoft’s MakeCode platform was created for coding instruction alongside their curriculum. If you’re looking to make it more fun and tangible, Minecraft EDU offers Code Builder.
  • PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: They offer a number of great PBL lessons which focus on the ISTE-aligned 21st-Century Skills kids need for success.

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  • GAME-BASED LEARNING: I believe there really is no better cross-subject learning game any game that unlocks creativity as well as Minecraft EDU. Microsoft also is the major desktop gaming platform in general. So there are many options available.
  • MIXED REALITY: With the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive only working with Windows (along with several other Windows-only visors) they rule the high-end VR market. You can even create 3D experiences directly in the Windows 10 Photos app. They also offer the Hololens which, though still not totally prime-time ready, shows us what’s possible for the future of education.
  • ACCESSIBILITY: The Immersive Reader is one of Microsoft’s best learning accessibility features to come out in a while and now it works across all O365 apps. With Office Lens, their accessibility checker, and a full suite of accessibility options they have shown that making learning available to all is a high priority for their company. Their new Microsoft Translator, which functions like something out of Star Trek, is still being refined, but it is already clear that it could be useful for conversations with non-native speaking parents and students.
  • DIGITAL SIGN: There are several options for wirelessly display using Miracast. The ScreenBeam is a particularly good connection device.
  • TRAINING: Their online training platform is probably the best because it offers far more than training on their tools. You can learn about general pedagogy and instructional practices as well as becoming MIE Certified. They also engage in PD partnership, in-person training, and offer visits to showcase schools like the other platforms.Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 12.46.21 PM.png

What They Do Best

3rd-Party Collaboration

The sheer volume of educational technology partnerships that Microsoft makes worldwide make them a very versatile and flexible platform. This includes partnerships with companies that will train your staff in the use of their products.

Variety of Options

If you want a high-end system capable of advanced VR or you need a cheap machine that still has a DVD player, then Microsoft can cover you for both. They offer collaboration similarly to Google through Office 365 and they offer full-fledged creativity applications akin to Apple’s iLife. They are the platform of options for those who need adaptability above all else.

 Project-Based Learning

images.jpgTheir lessons and curriculum for hands-on learning show they’re in favor of moving to a more open instructional model. They have also sought out what is essentially a digital PBL platform with Minecraft EDU They continue their efforts to spread the word on GBL and gamification. Minecraft EDU is such a powerful and engaging learning platform that it may be reason enough by itself to get an O365 domain.

Mixed Reality


As I said before there implementation of high-end VR capabilities for EDU along with being amongst the first to give us a tangible look at mixed reality show us the Microsoft isn’t content to be part of the old guard and that they are looking to be at the forefront of advancements in EdTech.

Ease of Adjustment

Let’s be clear that many teachers even under 25 will say they struggle with technology and will thus put their hands up when asked to try something new. While Microsoft has shown that they are recently willing to venture into new educational frontiers, they are also the same tried and true system that many adults are accustomed to. Sometimes the only (and even best) way to bring change is through baby steps and Microsoft will make it an easier transition.

Platform Training

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Microsoft’s online training is the best of the Big 3 platforms and that’s not just because of the fun badges and variety of tutorial videos. It’s because their training goes well beyond their platform to learning about hands-on instruction, accessibility, and basic pedagogy. This is important because one of the biggest obstacles to implementing technology is teaching others to use it.

What We Still Want

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One issue is that Microsoft products don’t always work as you’d expect. The wide variety of options from the online version vs. the client or on HP vs. Surface can lead to confusion. While giving multiple options gives schools a chance to individualize knowing whether your doc is on the Sharepoint, drive, or teams can lead to inefficiency as well as glitches and lost material. One major problem which is not really Microsoft’s fault is keeping the OS up to date. I know NYC was not alone in waiting until this year to finally have a functional Windows 10 image which delays and prevents all the other new options available.



I hope it’s clear that there are a variety of ways each of these platforms can be used to advance instruction in your school, but I also hope it’s clear that a device alone won’t make learning better. Drill and kill worksheets on a new laptop or a getting a shiny new keyboard to replace your pencils are meaningless without changes to the larger instructional model. It is an exciting time to have access to tools that can allow to move from providers of information to facilitators of learning. It’s less about new technology in itself and more about reinventing our classroom with the technology. It’s about reshaping the role of the teacher and revolutionizing to provide an open space for student-driven personalized learning that prepares students for a future that we can’t yet know.

To begin that process check out 16 Keys to Successfully Implementing Technology In Classrooms. There are also steps suggested by Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President on how to implement your school’s technology vision. AMongst those are her efforts to expand what’s available for Reso A funding and creating a CS teacher line item for schools. She advocates for participation in STEM programs like First NYC who partners with LEGO for robotics instruction and competitions as well as instruction on blockchain API. She also let us know about two exciting opportunities in New York. They are:

  1. The National Science Foundation Grant that will install and improve the wireless network throughout Harlem.
  2. The NYSDOE Learning Technology Grant which provides  3 years of funding and procurement opportunities for schools throughout the state.

For those outside of NYC there remains Donors Choose for funding as well as a variety of federal grants. And for training there remains Tequipment Online PD which offers training across all major platforms.

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