Online education specialist Amplify has come out with an open-source tablet custom-designed for the primary and secondary school system. The idea is to help create a consistent connected approach to learning among school students in the classroom.

[EdTech] An open source tablet specifically designed for education

School classrooms are now increasingly equipping themselves with infotech tools designed to enrich the learning experience and guide pupil-teacher interaction. Joel Klein, former New York City Schools Chancellor and now CEO of Amplify, News Corporation’s education unit, declared on leaving the NYC post that he 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.” Accordingly, US-based multinational media organisation NewsCorp brought in Klein to head up Amplify with a view to bringing the business sector into the public education field, and that’s just what he has now done. The new Amplify tablet is a 10-inch Android-based slate, which will be pre-loaded with study materials in line with the school curriculum. As part of the subscription service, Amplify will also provide schools with infrastructure for storing pupil data.

Tools for students and teachers

The new Amplify device is one of the first-ever tablets customised for the use of school students and their class teachers. With simple, clean interface and intuitive functioning, the device is attractive and easy to use, characteristics which will be crucial for its adoption by K-12 primary and secondary students. It comes with distinct pupil and teacher packages, both either wifi- or LTE-connected. The students’ interface is designed to help them work through their lessons and class exercises and also enables them to access extra information from educational platforms such as pre-loaded Khan Academy videos or from the internet. Meanwhile the teacher’s device comes loaded with a range of software monitoring and intervention tools enabling him/her to spot pupils in need of one-to-one assistance, provide tutorials and correct students’ work easily. Features include a template to create a mini-quiz in real time to test students’ comprehension. Promoting this ‘blended learning’ approach – a combination of tech and traditional teaching methods – Amplify now plans to begin marketing the device and package initially to middle schools. The intention is also that students take their tablet home at night and continue to use it, for example to play educational games which help them to learn outside the classroom setting.

Enhancing the classroom experience

The Amplify package potentially enables administrators and teachers to distribute and control unified curriculum content across a whole class or even an entire grade at district level. The company also argues that this approach could help to overcome technological inequalities that may exist between students, as many schools may well be able to finance their purchase of Amplify tablets and subscriptions through the US Education Department's ‘Race to the Top’ grant programme, thus ensuring that all students are able to work with the same platform in school and at home.  And even if grants prove not to be obtainable, the tablet itself ($299) is less expensive than others, like the iPad. Not least, the tablet has the potential to bring connectivity to every classroom and familiarise school students with the language of the online world. “We wanted to use the language of the Web,” underlined Stephen Smyth, President of Amplify Access, the division that produces the tablet in collaboration with hardware manufacturer Asus. The Android-based open-source device also gives teachers plenty of room for manoeuvre. Nevertheless, while it may be an attractive product, the Amplify Tablet is entering a market crowded with competitors, including online commerce giant Amazon, trying to tap into primary and secondary classrooms.