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New Technology in the Classroom: Amplify Tablet

Mike Maravilla,

In education today, the one constant that we seem to be able to count on is change. While some of these changes are both quite easily identified and implemented, one exists that proves more difficult adding (and keeping up with) 21st-century technology in the classroom.

Although there will always be naysayers to change, the obstacles that prevent this ubiquitous problem from being solved haven’t been conservative opposition. Instead, the ed tech solutions are impeded by other roadblocks like tightening (or non-existent) budgets and the fast-paced nature by which technology seems to evolve. After all, how can school districts confidently commit to a tech platform when the next latest and greatest may pop up three months from now?

Certainly, in the last decade there have been front-runners in this race to equip the school-bound generations of today and tomorrow with the best tech tools – the iPad is an undeniable presence here, along with some most cost-conscious offerings from the Android and PC world. But like I said before, the cost of these devices is really only one part of the problem – keeping pace with the seemingly exponential evolution of tech hardware is quite another. So it seems almost certain that introducing yet another device to the market would find itself a victim to the same pitfalls as those who came before it.

Until now.

A collection of like-minded innovators, educators and tech purveyors of change have taken a good hard look at tech in the classroom and, rather than just create a piece of kit capable of outpacing the current on-the-shelf offerings, they have chosen to enhance the experience that K-12 students (and the educators that empower them) can have with technology overall. It seems quite fitting, then, that the device itself is named after its intended function – Amplify.

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Indeed, this new tablet is meant to do just that – not only in the realm of performance, relevant features and ease of use, but also in build quality, digital curriculum and support.

“Amplify has collaborated with Intel® Education to offer a ruggedized tablet built for K-12 from the inside out. The Amplify Tablet, designed by Intel Education, is part of the Amplify Tablet System that also includes instructional software, K-12 content and apps, filtering, MDM and strong implementation support – everything districts need to make the digital transition.”

We had an opportunity to chat with the boffins behind the Amplify movement to delve into the nitty-gritty of what this tablet is all about and what it means for the future of education:

Q:  Can you talk a little bit about the hardware behind the Amplify tablet? 

A: The industrial design of the tablet itself is really built from the ground up to withstand drops and spills, all of the standard cautions any user. But we also took into account K-12 students putting these devices into backpacks and sitting back onto them in the way we designed the unit. It is very robust and rugged.

We partnered with Intel on an upgraded version of their educational tablet because we truly believe that they understand this (education) space. We also incorporated MIMO for wi-fi, which was originally designed for conference spaces and environments. MIMO boosts the connectivity so that when you get 30+ tablets in a small room with today’s school infrastructure, it’ll work and work well.

Q: What about the software? Are there any apps preloaded on the device?

A: We’ve spent a lot of time building a reliable and easy-to-use software system around the mobile device and preloaded, vetted content and applications that we believe students and teachers need (Desmos Graphic Calculator, StudyBlue, Encyclopædia Britannica, etc.). Regardless of your technological proficiencies, we’re confident you’ll be able to power up our tablet and go.

Q:  On a related note, can you talk a little more about getting reluctant teachers on board with ed-tech?

A: Not all teachers are on the same level as far as technology … we all know that and that’s why our support is all about providing context – how can I use this in my class?

If you look at other consumer products being sold in the education space, this is often a missed area. They’ll drop hardware off on the loading dock and bid you farewell and this, especially for reluctant teachers, doesn’t bode well for encouraging teachers to adopt the new technology successfully into their learning spaces.

Q: Very true! Could you expand a bit more about Amplify’s support and training?

A: Support is a critical pillar for our solution. Support starts as soon as students and teachers hear that this (tablet) is coming. We have a whole program to really get them relevant information, to set their expectations about what the Amplify tablet is, what it can let them do, what it can let their students do, and we also offer professional development classes to sit down with teachers to really walk them through different ways to integrate this device into their classroom. And it’s not just a one-time interaction either – we have an online community where we engage with teachers everyday where they’re asking questions and collaborating with one another. Ultimately this stems from the realization that 1-to-1 isn’t a light switch – change isn’t going to happen overnight, but we’ll get there with the right help.

We try to make the experience very simple and very intuitive so that when you turn it on for the first time, you don’t have to ask a lot of questions.

Q: Speaking of 1-to-1, do you definitely see this movement being a part of education’s future?

A: The need to have access to resources in the moment coupled with the need to communicate and collaborate with others really helps develop critical skills for students. Without the ability to have that, both at school and at home, is a big blocker. It’s difficult for teachers to really encourage their students to utilize tools that can expand their learning portfolio and prepare them for the future when it’s not guaranteed they have those capabilities at home and that’s where a 1-to-1 system can really have an impact.

Q:  Could you walk us through a typical 1-to-1 class using the Amplify tablet?

A: When you start the device up for the first time, you’re presented with a set of notebooks. For students, these represent the classes you take while as teachers, they represent the classes you teach. These really are the hubs of activity for that class – the activities, discussions, assignments, collaboration, etc.

Classroom management resources are baked into these notebooks, so when you push the big button that says “Start Class,” it links all the tablets together in the classroom space in real-time, and teachers can then do a variety of things to manage what goes on from there without having to walk around and monitor the activity on each student’s device. For instance, you can set a limit on which programs are accessible within the notebook for a particular day – so today we’re using the Chrome browser, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Evernote, and those are the only apps available to them during those 45 minutes. After that time, all the apps reappear for the student to enjoy.

Q: How do you combat the tablet from being more of a distraction than an aid?

A: Well we definitely know that teachers don’t want students to just be completely immersed in their tablets, and so we have a custom classroom management feature called “eyes on teacher” that locks down each tablet with that very message. While it sounds like it was built strictly for control and curbing off-task activity, we see that teachers are using it vastly more regularly for instructional purposes – being able to pause action during reading or group activity to assess, regage or if necessary refocus students with assessment and dive deeper into the meaning of texts, etc.

Q:  That sounds incredibly useful! How can we get our hands on a tablet of our own?

A: There are both leasing and buying options for schools. Obviously we understand that some schools are more well-equipped to buy these devices outright while others simply do not have the funds to be able to do so. Ultimately, we try to be sensitive to these differences while still attempting to provide an opportunity for more schools to enjoy a 1-to-1 system.

Sitting down with the Amplify team was a truly great experience. I really got the sense that they took a very thorough look at the K-12 space and built a product that listens to what teachers and students within those parameters want (and need). The Amplify tablet is undoubtedly a valued newcomer to the technology available to this generation’s youth, and one very key next step in rolling out a legitimate 1-to-1 reality for students to come.