News Corp bids for education market with new classroom tablet
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News Corp's education division, Amplify, on Wednesday introduced the first tablet computer built specifically for the classroom, in a bid to capture a slice of the billions of dollars spent in US 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."
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