Declaring that “we must use technology to empower teachers and the way students learn,” former New York City school chancellor Joel Klein, now CEO of Amplify, News Corporation’s education unit, unveiled Amplify’s new $300 open-source 10-inch tablet, a device designed and produced specifically for K-12 classrooms, at a webcast and conference call. Klein formally unveiled the new device at a presentation at SXSWedu, an educational conference held prior to SXSW Interactive, the annual technology festival in Austin, Tex.
Announced at the UBS Global Media and Communication Conference back in December, the Amplify Tablet is designed to facilitate all manner of conventional teacher/student interactions, in addition to being driven by software and curriculum materials tied to Common Core standards. The tablet, specifically designed for teaching and learning, is a key feature of the business/educational plan driving Amplify: to integrate technology into the K-12 classroom and digitally enhance the learning process. The Amplify tablet, designed specifically for adoption by schools, is not available to consumers.
The new 10” tablet is wi-fi enabled and has been produced by Asus, the electronics manufacturer. It runs on a customized Android (Jelly Bean) operating system and will sell for $299 (when purchased with a two-year subscription at $99/year). There is also the Amplify Plus tablet, with 4G LTE data plan, which can be purchased for $349 with a 2-year subscription for $179/year. In both plans the devices come pre-loaded with educational content, and are also integrated with Amplify software, reference tools, class management software and support/customer service. If purchased before June 30, the devices will be delivered before the fall 2013 school year starts.
In a webcast presentation, Klein and other Amplify executives showed off the tablet’s functionality and how the device will be used in classrooms. The device is apparently being used in a number of pilot programs in classrooms around the country—Amplify claims 200,000 educators and 3 million students spread over 50 states have been testing the device since fall 2012—although Amplify officials declined to name the school districts.
The tablet’s most prominent features allow teachers to control what students are doing on the tablets while in class—outside the classroom the devices can be used for learning or play like any other tablet—allowing teachers to see who is in class, assign quizzes, upload customized content, plan lessons or view and direct students to content on the web. The demo showed how teachers can communicate with the entire class or focus on individual students, generate instant feedback graphs from data on tests and quizzes and lockdown each tablet with the message “Eyes on Teacher,” or prevent any use of the tablet for games or web surfing while class is in session. The tablet will also offer an app store and distribution channel where students and teachers can purchase and download a variety of educational and recreational content.
While it has been reported that HarperCollins, Amplify’s sister company in the News Corp publishing division, is supplying some content, the initial preloaded content on the device seems to be Amplify’s classroom management software and content from Encyclopedia Britannica, Merriam-Webster, Google Apps and a few other digital content producers like the online video teaching site, Khan Academy. Asked if Amplify is working with traditional publishers serving the K-12 market, Amplify officials emphasized that the Amplify Tablet is built as an “open platform” and will support a wide variety of content and that “we’re in active discussions with a number of publishers,” although they declined to name them.
While the presentation of the device was impressive, questions about the pricing and the ability of cash strapped school systems—not to mention how current educational cuts forced by the sequestration will hamper local budgets—to purchase a device for every kid in the class were essentially left unanswered. Asked how will school systems pay for these devices, Klein said, “in my experience, school systems want mobile devices in the classroom and are procuring them now," emphasizing that despite strapped budgets, schools will “fund things that faciliate learning.” Asked why put out a device at a time when designing educational software for the iPad—like such companies as Kno or Inkling—seems to be the current trend in digital educational publishing. But Klein emphasized that both the Amplify tablet and its software are specifically designed for teaching and learning, “technology by itself will not work. It must be designed for schools.”
Pressed further with questions about the ability of school systems to buy the devices, Amplify officials said, “a variety of school systems do have the funding via [the Obama administration’s] Race to the Top initiative and in other ways. Large school districts in L. A. and Houston are moving in this direction. There are challenges but this is an investment.”
“At it’s best, education technology will change the face of education by helping teachers manage the classroom and personalize instruction, and by better engaging students in learning,” Klein said during the conference call. “And that’s our goal at Amplify.”