Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amazon's WhisperCast - Worth Shouting About

Amazon introduced its WhisperCast service about a month ago, which is a free service that allows schools to deliver Amazon content to school-owned devices or school-related accounts.  Sounds kind of ho-hum, right?  Maybe, unless you've ever tried to manage a class set of Kindles or eBook content!

Why is this worth shouting about?  Here's a quick list (in no particular order):

  1. Purchasing happens from a web-based centralized account that isn't tied to a "regular" Amazon account.  This means that you could potentially use a PO (if your district has entered into a purchasing agreement with Amazon) or a gift card to buy class sets of books.  Unfortunately, a credit card is required (that is due to verification of residency -- WhisperCast is only available for US customers right now, and the credit card verifies location).
  2. You don't have to use a Kindle to access content.  This service also works for Kindle Apps and Amazon's cloud reader.  So, you could purchase eBooks and send them to students, even if students don't own a dedicated eReader.  That. Is. Awesome.
  3. You can set up unlimited groups of accounts or devices for sending different (of differentiated) content.  Need to buy books for first grade but don't want them to show up for fourth graders?  Just set up different groups and send the content ONLY to a certain group.
  4. You can create policies for certain settings.  Turn off social networking, block web access, and/or create a wireless network policy.  The settings are sent wirelessly to the Kindles so that changes occur on the fly.  And those policies can also be differentiated by group (browser could be blocked for first grade devices but available for fifth grade devices).
  5. Manage your Kindles from anywhere.  Having lived in the Apple Configurator world (yuck), being able to log into a website from any internet-connected machine is a time-saver.  Control Kindles from your laptop, iPad, or another web-enabled Kindle from anywhere.
  6. Create "pseudo-accounts."  If you have Kindles that will be shared in a classroom, you can create accounts with emails that don't actually exist.  The emails are never used unless you need to log into a Cloud Reader, which makes them perfect for sharing with primary grades.
  7. Bulk create accounts.  If you will be sending content to large groups of students or staff, you can upload an entire list and group them. This makes sharing content with an entire school or grade really easy, especially if they are using Cloud Reader or Kindle apps on a mobile device.
  8. Send documents to student accounts.  You can wirelessly send Word docs & PDFs to devices or user groups.  Could be really handy if you had students create a "book" to share but you didn't want to publicly publish it for the world. Also could work well for guiding questions related to books for class.
  9. Supports BYOD.  Soon, you'll be able to send wireless configurations to student-owned devices.  That could be really powerful if your network isn't open but you want students to be able to access Kindle content on their personal eReader.
  10. Inventory management.  If you have purchased school Kindles with the WhisperCast account, you can download a spreadsheet of the serial numbers for inventory purposes.  Already have Kindles in your inventory?  You can email the serial numbers to Amazon and they will add them into your WhisperCast account for you.
  11. FREE.  Did I mention this is FREE???