Let’s start with the very simple kinds of things, like being able to do spot checks to take the temperature of the classroom. The teacher wants to know, for example, are the kids getting it? It is the easiest thing in the world for students to click on the tablet and say I’m getting it. She can see which kids are getting it and whether the predominant group is getting it. She can do a test quickly to see whether people understand the concepts. If the class is lost, there is no purpose in going forward.
On the other hand, if a few kids are lost, there comes a time, and our tablet enables teachers to do this, when the teacher can then say to certain kids, “Okay, this group of five, you work on this core concept together and come back with a report, or you work individually, read this thing or do these examples.” Then, the teacher can focus on the kids that she now knows are not getting it. For kids who don’t like to raise their hand in class, the tablet provides a very convenient way to let the teacher know that they have comments.
Then, there is content that we put on the tablet. Every kid starts with an Encyclopedia Britannica. Every kid gets a dictionary on there. Every kid gets access to CK12 open source textbooks. They get access to Sal Khan’s videos. These are things that are building blocks. Over time, there will be more and more content that will be made available. Schools will want this particular book or that particular video; we will be able to get those as well.
How did your experience as chancellor of New York City public schools inform your approach to the Amplify Tablet?
One of the things I started pretty early on in New York was to create an innovation zone to look at new and different ways of really improving the teaching and learning experience. The School of One was developed on our watch; it combines four years of high school and two years of community college and you end up getting certificated as a technologist. What I began to see is not tech for tech’s sake, but tech for changing the learning experience of our kids. I found that very, very exciting, and that’s why I thought a rich school-focused tablet could become the platform to do that in a much larger scale.
A Wi-Fi enabled Amplify Tablet costs $299, when purchased with a 2-year subscription at $99 per year. And the Amplify Tablet Plus, with a 4G data plan, is priced at $349 with a 2-year subscription at $179 per year. Is this something that cash-strapped districts can afford?
I think so. We all wish districts today had a lot more money, and we are hoping over time that that occurs. But I do think that districts have discretionary money for things that are valuable.
I also expect that we will generate through these processes real cost savings, in terms of teachers’ time, the ability of teachers to be more effective and to do things in the future that they couldn’t do in the past. I think it is a compelling financial proposition.
Some of your critics worry that, with the Amplify Tablet, you are depersonalizing education. The kids get their instruction from a computer instead of a teacher. What do you say to this?
I think you certainly want the teacher to be the core conductor of this orchestra. There is no question about that. This is not like saying to kids, here is eight hours, go sit down on a computer and then go home at the end of the day. It is not about the machine.