[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.