Big Brother would love the Amplify tablet


A recent New York Times story said:

[Joel] Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and the current chief executive of Amplify, News Corporation’s fledgling education division, will take the stage for a surprising announcement. Amplify will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet for K-12 schoolchildren.

In addition to tablets and curriculum, Amplify will also provide schools with infrastructure to store students’ data.

An early look at the Amplify tablet revealed a sleek touch screen with material floating against a simple background. If a child’s attention wanders, a stern “eyes on teacher” prompt pops up. A quiz uses emoticons of smiley and sad faces so teachers can instantly gauge which students understand the lesson and which need help.

“We wanted to use the language of the Web,” said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify Access, the division that produces the tablet, which is manufactured by Asus.

Outside the classroom, children can use it to play games, like one in which Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters.

I predict (hope) this whole venture will be a complete bust. Not just because the market isn’t exactly clamoring for another Android tablet. Not just because the Android apps ecosystem isn’t as robust for P-12 students as Apple’s. Not just because having historical literary characters battle each other is both educationally dubious and less than engaging to today’s students. The ‘eyes on teacher’ announcements, the built-in ability to monitor students’ screens at all time, the student response system features, extensive back-end ‘data’ collection and analysis, the push-out from the teacher to all students’ screens, pre-loaded tools, filtering software, teacher-created content playlists, one-button device tracking / locking / erasure … nearly everything about this initiative screams replication and amplification of traditional instructional techniques in which teachers are the focal point and students are passive recipients. All of the features touted by Amplify are ones that amplify control over students’ learning with computers. Need further evidence? Here’s a quote from Klein:

The teacher can personalize (the tablet.)  A teacher can also click on and see what skills (the student) has mastered.

Notice who’s ‘personalizing’ the device. Notice who’s using data analytics to monitor skill mastery. Not the student, that’s for sure.

Who’s going to buy these devices? My guess is probably some large, vulnerable urban districts with deep pockets who 1) are susceptible to the big-time sell from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, 2) think that Joel Klein’s work in New York City somehow was successful and worth adopting (despite lots of evidence to the contrary), and 3) think that a desirable feature for student technologies is the ability to lock them down and control them as much as possible. That means even more instances where poor kids will yet again experience being programmed by computers rather than having the ability to use technology in meaningful, authentic, relevant, and powerful ways.

13 Responses to “Big Brother would love the Amplify tablet”

  1. I’d add too that these devices are designed to go home with students, and as such are equipped with 4G. The surveillance heads home in their backpacks. This is a particularly important equity issue, I think, as it means that students that do not have WiFi at home will have only have access to (the school’s? News Corp’s?) filtered and monitored Internet content.

    • Supporters will probably say that filtered/monitored access at home is better than nothing… 😐

    • As of right now, the filtering is handled by NetNanny. In the future, the tablets can be VPN’d to the schools servers (thank COPA).

      I do not see how no access at home is greater than filtered access.

  2. Pat Buoncristiani Reply March 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    This is a potentially very dangerous device both in its origins and in its power. I have written abou this at

    What a pity tools that could be such useful adjuncts to real teaching have to be viewed in this way.

    Thanks for helping point this out.

  3. Technology that promotes the teacher-centered lecture model of education is not promoting 21st century skills (collaboration, creativity, literacy, etc.). how do these devices invite students to explore, ask questions, and work with other students if alerts constantly refocus them on the teacher?

  4. Couldn’t agree more. As I mentioned on my blog yesterday, this has all the ear-marks of the classic two-stage tech FAIL. Having spent some time in that biz, I’m always amused to see people who don’t really get the tech sector come in and try to prove they’re smarter than the average bear…

    The corpses of all the rocket surgeons who’ve tried that just in the past decade or so are more numerous than zombies on The Walking Dead…

  5. For a bunch of folks who have never laid hands on the device, you sure are quick to pass judgement. The potential for this device to disrupt is far greater than one that offers less control/support to schools and educators.

    In the classroom of a skilled educator, this device is far more useful than any others I have worked with.

  6. I was seduced by this Tablet when I first saw it but I agree that this one is nothing more than digitizing the old way of doing things. The $99/year price tag is going to be the ultimate deal breaker for this tablet. Why pay a yearly fee on a device that is priced just $100 less than an iPad?

  7. I wonder how many people will trust something associated with Rupert Murdoch. I would be more inclined to trust someone who actually had Education experience, for example Educational Resources have been around for more than 26 years and they have an award winning solution called the LearnPad.

  8. I think there is a lot of judgment posted here. Our county was awarded a Race to the Top grant and they de ided to go withe Amplify tablets over other devices. The Amplify tools and ability to control (from the tech side) were factors that played heavily into their decision. The teachers were trained this summer on the basic use of the tablets but the push is ultimately personalization. Yes, probably a lot of the personalization will stem from the teachers in the beginning but I believe that as we grow comfortable with having these devices in our classrooms, the possibilities of how they can be used will be endless. Personally, I would rather have one of these Amplify tablets than nothing at all (which is what we had before). Now, my students can collaborate, explore, learn/process/produce content in a variety of ways and choose how they do it using technology that is familiar to them and, for many, was previously inaccessible.

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, there is a lot of judgment here on my part because you also could have been provided a tablet computing device that was neither designed nor touted as disempowering students. That device would do all of the same things the Amplify tablet does and more since it would be premised on the idea of liberation, not control.

    I understand that the Amplify tablet is better than nothing at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s for what we should be advocating.

    Also see Three Competing Visions of Educational Technology. Which is Yours?

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