This March at SXSWedu, an educational conference in Austin, News Corporation’s educational unit unveiled their new tablet specialized to teaching. Spearheaded by former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, now CEO of Amplify, the Amplify tablet aims to change the classroom environment into one that students more readily understand. In Klein’s opinion, schools need to embrace technology instead of banning it if they want to move forward: “Kids use media and technology of all kinds but they’re told they have to turn them all off when they get to school,” says Klein.
The Amplify tablet will be preloaded with content and resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards Initiative and pre-programmed with customized software before a student even turns on the device.
Amplify aims to speed up daily classroom tasks and free up more time for active instruction. When each device is brought to class, attendance is automatically counted for the teacher. Alerts can also be programmed into the device to send reminders to students about upcoming tests or projects.
The hope for the tablet is that there will be a more clear view of how the class is fairing with a specific topic. With the push of a button, teachers can send a quick poll to students asking how well they grasp the topic, using emoticons to gauge their feelings. This way everyone’s feeling is noted, even those who are shy or may not feel comfortable admitting out loud that they don’t understand something. Tests and quizzes can also be sent to students through their tablets, with the results instantly tabulated so teachers can see who may need some more help. Teachers can then send individual students more information about topics the student is struggling with.
What makes the Amplify tablet different from other tablets like Apple’s iPad—which has been making a push into the education market—is the control teachers will be able to have over students’ devices. With its classroom management system, teachers will be able to pull focus back to them and off the screen, with options like locking down certain applications, such as the Internet or games, or simply locking the whole device to display the message “Eyes on Teacher.”
Not everyone is on board with the technology push. Some have commented that Klein wants to eliminate teachers, while others believe that the price may be too steep for many schools to afford. The Wi-Fi version of the tablet starts at $299, plus $99 per year for a content and services subscription. A version with access to AT&T’s 4G LTE data service is $349, plus a $179 annual subscription fee. When asked about the cost, Amplify offices stated that “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.”
Another tablet on the market means more possibilities, and those schools that can afford to try devices like Amplify may pave the way for marking out the pros and cons of such technology in the classroom.