For the past three years, South By Southwest (SXSW) has designated a portion of the conference-festival to education, hosting panels, “makerspaces,” and workshops for attendees. This year’s SXSWedu, taking place from March 4 to 7, didn’t disappoint its growing body of devotees. Former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools Joel Klein announced that his fledgling company has created a new tablet-based platform designed specifically for K-12 classrooms.
Klein is the chief executive of Amplify, the new education brand and subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Klein says that the Amplify tablet will revolutionize classroom technology. “This is more than just a tablet and some apps,” wrote Klein on the Amplify homepage. “This is a fully integrated teaching and learning solution. It comes packed with classroom management and organization tools, basic reference material, and access to millions of multimedia resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”
For teachers, it has the trifecta of immersive learning tools, assessment elements, and professional development.
The tablet is open platform but comes bundled with special software designed for teachers and students. For example, educators can track student understanding in real time with a quick poll feature. They’ve included textbooks from open content provider CK-12, Khan Academy videos, Project Noah’s science app, and the Desmos graphing calculator. Common Sense Media’s ratings and reviews are also included. The tablet also has a feature that helps address students’ loss of concentration during school lessons. Any time a student’s attention wanders, an “eyes on teacher” prompt pops up on the screen.
According to New York Times reporter Amy Chozick, the tablet also incorporates emoticons and other “language of the Web” into its quizzes, and has educational games designed to keep kids engaged outside of school.
Klein is in many ways putting his money where his mouth is. As he told Chozick, “When I left [the NYC school district] I was convinced of two things: If we didn’t see a dramatic technological change, we were not going to be able to move this country forward, and second of all, that the private sector had to get much, much more involved.”
Amplify also has plans to market its own education curriculum, which uses the “blended learning” model that combines technology with traditional teaching methods. The curriculum will be bundled with the new tablets, as well as available for purchase separately for other tablet platforms.
Chozick reports that schools can purchase a preloaded tablet, training, and customer care for $299 when they spend $99 for a two-year subscription. For kids who don’t have the internet at home, there’s the $349 (plus $179 a year subscription) Amplify Tablet Plus, which comes with a 4G data plan.
Tech Forecast writer for FastCompany.com Anya Kamenetz reported that Amplify is also developing an application programming interface (API) to host an app “ecosystem” that may one day rival the 20,000 educational apps hosted through Apple. In addition to the API, tablet, and curriculum, the company aims to provide schools with an infrastructure to keep track of students’ performance.
In what might have been a moment of breathless hyperbole (after all, we’ve seen many such proclamations) Klein claimed, “It’s going to transform the way teachers teach and students learn because it is designed just for them, by them.”
Klein wasn’t the only one shaking things up at SXSWedu. Our very own Rebecca Randall took part in a panel called “How to Build a Culture of Digital Citizenship.” She and her team focused on the importance of having a roadmapto help navigate issues like cyberbullying, privacy violations, and general internet safety with students.
Speaking of roadmaps, we’re getting ready to unveil our newest resource, “1:1 Essentials,” an all-encompassing guide to implementing a successful 1:1 tablet, laptop, or BYOD[evice] program in your school. Sign up to be the first to know when it’s available!