News Corp rebranded its educational unit as Amplify in July. Since then the Joel Klein-headed company has been working with AT&T to develop a tablet expressly designed for the K-12 educational market. After months of testing the Amplify Tablet, an unspecified 10-inch Android slate loaded with custom software, is ready for its official debut. Lots of things have changed since we first caught a glimpse of the project many months ago. For one, the UI has been completely redesigned to be clean, modern and simple. The new look is much more in line with Google’s Holo, with extensive use of action overflow buttons, the sharing menu and solid blocks of color-coded material. The default home page offers a grid of app icons, but it also displays student information and lists “notebooks” on the right hands side. Those notebooks deliver quick access to different subjects for students, but they also give teachers direct links to materials for their classes, categorized not just by subject, but also by period. Klein and company don’t stop at simple organizational tools and reference materials, however.
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The touch screen tablet will mostly land in the hands of middle-school children, and it will feature emoticons for student-teacher engagement, an “eyes on teacher” prompt for wandering eyes, and a unique design that marries technology with traditional teaching. Students can also take the tablet home at night and use it for fun.
Amplify aims to be not just a tool but a platform for managing a 21st century classroom. Where past efforts to incorporate tablets into a K-12 environment have been satisfied with simple (and carefully controlled) social features and some reference materials, this actually offers features to teachers aimed at delivering instant feedback and differentiated instruction. Everything from taking attendance and blocking distracting apps, to polling students’ comprehension and pushing supplemental materials to those that need it can be managed from the educator’s unit. There’s also the ability to build custom lesson plans called Playlists, that can incorporate material from locally stored textbooks, pre-loaded Khan Academy videos and the internet.