The Amplify tablet: K-12 education's future, or News Corp.'s cash cow?

Published: Monday, March 11 2013 1:26 p.m. MDT

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, attends the launch of The Daily, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 in New York. The Daily is the world's first iPad-only newspaper.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

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Backers of a new digital tablet unveiled in early March say it will makes teachers’ jobs easier, allow students to complete coursework at their own pace, carefully screen Web materials, lighten backpacks and even nudge shy children to participate more in school discussions, said an NPR story.

But can News Corporation’s new Amplify tablet deliver on that dazzling list of promises?

The entrance into the K-12 school curriculum market by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has been expected, the New York Times said, but word that News Corp. will market its own 10-inch Android tablet to schools came as a surprise.

Amplify is News Corp.’s fledgling education division headed up by former chancellor of New York City schools Joel I. Klein. Besides marketing tablets and curriculum, Amplify will provide schools with technology for storing student data, the New York Times story said.

NPR described an Android tablet in a silicone jacket meant to survive the kind of treatment kids give to textbooks, loaded with Amplify’s curriculum, which is aligned with Common Core requirement adopted by all but five U.S. states. The tablet can be customized with apps that allow teachers to run quizzes and determine student progress.

The New York Times story sparkles with talk of take-home educational games “like the one in which Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters,” and quizzes filled with emoticons of smiley and sad faces that let teachers instantly gauge which students understand what’s being taught and which need help. And, it's inexpensive enough that schools might be able to provide one for every student.

“A preloaded tablet, training and customer care . . . starts at $299, along with a two-year subscription for $99 a year,” the New York Times said. “A higher-end Amplify Tablet Plus, for students who do not have wireless access at home, comes with a 4G data plan and costs $349. Amplify estimates that many school districts could use grants from the Education Department’s Race to the Top program, which brings technology and personalized learning to schools.”

Not bad. Clearly, News Corp. hopes it created the must-have device that will disrupt the educational technology market the way the iPhone upended that wireless phone industry. But NPR brings up concerns that the Amplify tablet might as much to do with shoring up News Corp.’s bank balance as improving education. Critics say that Amplify, and its competitors in the education technology world, are bent on luring politicians with devices “that enable teachers to handle more students per class — and thus reduce how many teachers school districts will need to employ,” the NPR story said.

Klein denied such talk, telling NPR that Amplify is about developing educational materials designed by leading experts, without a “subsidiary agenda.”

Gregory Ferenstein, an education technology watchdog at Techcrunch.com said the Amplify tablet marks the advent of News Corp.’s “long-awaited plans to disrupt education.”

Ferenstein noted the announcement of a powerful new player in the education technology market left more questions and than answers. However, “there’s a good possibility Amplify has the power to become a major education player, simply by virtue of its significant resources,” he said.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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