Amazon's making digital homework easier to assign, ugh

If you've ever seen a 6th grader lugging around a 30 pound backpack, you'll understand the allure of e-readers and tablets as a replacement for traditional textbooks. To help school districts make the digital transition from physical textbooks, Amazon launched Whispercast, a free content management and distribution tool. Schools can buy or rent books directly via the online tool and push them to anything that supports the Kindle app including: Kindles, Fire Tablets, iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and Chromebooks. Today, the free two year-old online tool gets an upgrade with tiered administration, support for purchase orders, an easier-to-use online interface and an assisted setup service for new schools.

Whispercast aims to make distribution of digital media in schools and businesses as easy as a few clicks. The service enables central content administration of e-books, documents, apps and other media on multiple devices.

Today's update adds more administrative deployment options. Instead of just having the IT department in charge of everything, tiered permissions can be given to teachers and other staff members. Educators can now control which of their classes get which documents with the online tool. "You want the ability to have this centralized, but when it comes to reading material, you want to give schools and teachers the power to deploy," said Rohit Agarwal, general manager of Amazon Education.

To help those teachers deploy materials, Amazon says the tool itself has been redesigned to make it easier to create groups and distribute items thanks to a new step-by-step setup wizard. Of course, setting up an entire school or school district is another matter. To handle that, Amazon has launched a Digital Transition Service for K-12 and higher education customers. A representative will help get a school up and running.

Finally, the service now supports purchase orders and purchase cards for digital goods -- something most schools require to help tracks costs. When it comes to shrinking school budgets, Whispercast could be the solution to buying physical books, especially books available in the public domain. Also, it'll help reduce the chances of kids having lower back problems.