Google Play Books

Submitted by: Clint Lalonde, Manager, Education Technology, BCcampus

Today’s app covers 2 topics; working with open textbooks and using the app Google Play Books.    

What is it?

If you haven’t jumped into the world of e-textbooks and open textbooks, now is your chance. Google Play Books is an ebook reading application that can be used with ePub open textbooks, like the open textbooks found in the BC Open Textbook collection. Open textbooks are Open Educational Resources published with a Creative Commons license that makes them free to use, copy, and redistribute.

What can it do?

Google Play Books is an ebook reader that is both a mobile and a cloud-based ebook reading application. Users can purchase books from Google Play or (for our purposes) upload their own books, like an open textbook, to use.

Because it is both a mobile and cloud based app, content, notes, annotations and bookmarks can be synchronized across multiple platforms and devices.

Customization options allow users to adjust the font size and style, highlight and annotate passages, create notes, bookmark sections, access a built-in dictionary and Google search, a built-in text to speech option. Notes, passages and bookmarks can be stored and synced in Google Drive.

There is also a language translation feature that will translate highlighted text from one language to another.

Download App

Google Play Books can be used on Android and iOS mobile platforms, and from any web browser. A Google account is required to take advantage of some of the features, such as uploading and storage of personal books and notes.

To find open textbooks that can be used with Google Play Books, check out the open ePub textbook files in the BC Open Textbook Collection.

How does it work?

While you can purchase books from Google Play to use within Google Play Books, our interest is in working with the app as a general purpose e-reader for open textbooks published in the ePub format. While there are many other ePub readers for both Android and iOS devices that have similar features, what sets Google Books Reader apart is the integration that it has with Google Drive, which gives you the ability to both expand on your notes and annotations in a Google Document, and invite others to collaborate on your notes and annotations.

Uses in Teaching & Learning

While there is continuing debate about learning comprehension and student preferences of materials read electronically vs. in print, there are a number of pedagogical affordances of digitally born e-textbooks that some learners may find beneficial. When used with an ePub file (which is the standard native open format for eBooks), an e-reading application can help students interact and understand the material in ways that are both familiar and new. Specifically with Google Play Books, learners can;

  • highlight and annotate passages of content, and create notes within the book. These annotations and notes can then be exported to a Google document where ideas and annotations can be further expanded and refined to form the basis of longer works such as essays. Once in a Google document, the notes can also be shared and made available to others allowing for annotations and notes to form the basis for collaborative projects around a text.
  • adjust the reading experience to fit their requirements, making e-textbooks more flexible and accessible for students with disabilities. Google Play Books features a built-in text-to-speech engine, and allows students to increase or decrease font size and contrast to fit accessibility needs.
  • access built-in dictionaries and reference sites (like Wikipedia and Google search) to help define key terms and further explore concepts that a student cannot fully understand within the textbooks.
  • access language translation tools, which can be helpful for students who are not native English speakers to better comprehend the material in their own language.

A Short Activity

In this activity, you will download an open textbook from the BC Open Textbook collection, annotate or add a note to the book, and then publish that note or annotation to a Google document which you can then share out on the Twitter hashtag or in the comments as an artifact of this task.


  1. You will need a Google account to fully complete this activity.
  2. You will also need to use a computer & the web interface to upload the book.
  3. These instructions were completed on an Android device. The iOS interface may be different.
  4. Support for Google Play Books if you need to find help and support.

Download the application and install it on your device. If you are already have an Android device, Google Play Books may already be installed on your device.

Download an open textbook

Once the application is installed on your mobile device, you will need to add an open textbook to work with. For this activity, we are going to add a Canadian History textbook from the BC Open Textbook collection to your library.

For this process, use a computer & the web interface of Google Play Books.

  1. Download the ePub version of the Canadian History: Post Confederation open textbook. Please ensure that you are downloading the ePub version of the book.epub
  2. Save the file to your desktop or in a folder locally on your computer.
  3. Open a browser and go to the web interface for Google Play Books If you are not logged into your Google account, you will be prompted to log in.
  4. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, you will see an Upload Files button. Click it, and upload the Canadian History ePub file from your local computer.
  5. Once the book is uploaded and processed, you will see it in your library. From here, you can click on the book and begin to interact with it on the web.
  6. Now open the Google Play Books app on your mobile device. You should see the book in your interface. Tap on the book cover to open the book.

Once you are in the book, a short tap on the page should open the navigation and settings options across the top of the screen. We are going to set up the book so that any annotations or notes you make will automatically appear in your Google Drive in a special folder called Play Book Notes.

  1. In the book, open Settings.
  2. On the Settings screen, ensure that “Save notes, highlights and bookmarks to Google Drive” is On. If not, tap the setting to enable it. You will be prompted for a name for the folder in your Google Drive that you wish to use to store your book notes. The default is Play Books Notes. You can leave it at that.
  3. Once you have set the notes up, use the back arrow to go back to the book. You may have to short tap the screen again to get the focus of the app back on the full age.
  4. Try highlighting and annotating a piece of content. A long touch on a word will open up a popup screen that will allow you to highlight a passage, annotate it, launch a Google search on a word, or translate the word.
  5. Adjust the blue dots to highlight and annotate a section of the book.
  6. Once you add some text to annotate the book, save the annotation.

Now, using your computer and browser, go to your Google Drive. You should see a folder called Google Books Notes and, within that folder, a Google Document for the book that you have annotated. Open that Google Doc and you can see your notes and annotations stored and ready to be edited or shared.


Here are my annotations shared with you from the Canadian History: Pre-Confederation book.

Extend your Learning

Did you try this activity?

Leave a comment below with your impressions of the app and we will enter your name into a draw to win a $25 gift card from Google Play or iTunes stores (see conditions). Some things you may want to comment on are;

  • Other ideas or ways that this app could be used in teaching & learning?
  • What skills or knowledge do students gain or enhance when using this app?
  • Are there other apps or services that you know of that are similar to this app? How is the app different from that app?
  • What are the terms of service for this app, and what rights did it ask for when installing it on your mobile device?
  • Based on your experience, what is one thing instructors should know when using this app?
  • Things that worked or didn’t work in the app?
  • How easy/difficult was the app to install and use?

Some Christmas Cheer

A bit of visual holiday humour for you for making it this far down the page. From one of my favorite holiday movies Elf.


CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.