Wednesday, March 06 12:10:31
News Corp's education division, Amplify, today introduced the first tablet computer built specifically for the classroom, in a bid to capture a slice of the billions of dollars spent in U.S. public schools.
The Amplify Tablet hits the market at a time of soaring interest in digital learning. Global textbook companies and scrappy startups alike are flooding the market with products that let students dissect a virtual frog, manipulate fractions on a touch screen or learn about the Constitution through an interactive game.
Amplify is betting that school districts will be willing to spend several hundred dollars per student, even at a time of steep budget cuts, to run all that software on a custom tablet. Among the features: A kill switch that lets teachers disable applications on her students' tablets so she can be sure they aren't playing Angry Birds when they should be working. Another feature lets teachers send frequent multiple-choice quizzes to student tablets to check their comprehension mid-class.
"It's going to transform the way teachers teach and students learn because it is designed just for them, by them," said Amplify Chief Executive Joel Klein, who headed the New York public school system before joining News Corp in 2010.
But rivals said most of the new tablet's signature features already exist on Web-based software platforms that can run on any device - iPads, Android tablets, smartphones or laptops. Textbook giant Pearson reaches nearly 20 million students a year through two such platforms, according to Jonathan Harber, chief executive of Pearson's K12 Technology Group.
The platforms are flexible enough that some school districts have opted to let students access digital content through their personal devices. Other districts have chosen to buy devices for each student, but no one device has emerged as the most popular choice.
"There's still a lot of experimentation going on," said Scott Kinney, senior vice president of Discovery Education, a leading provider of digital content to classrooms. "Do I think there will eventually be one winner? I doubt it."
Executives at Amplify, which projects an operating loss of about $80 million for this fiscal year, said they are confident school districts will want to spend on hardware. They pointed to a recent speech by Houston schools superintendent Terry Grier, who said he would like to see as the district buy a laptop for each student. They noted, too, that the Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced plans to spend $50 million on tablets, though the district has not specified which brand it will purchase. Reuters