As investments and interest in ed tech intensify, News Corp today took the wraps off its own newly-formed education technology business, Amplify.
The new brand and business unit will be led by CEO Joel Klein, the former NYC schools’ chancellor who joined News Corp in Nov. 2010 to advise on digital education opportunities, and builds on technology developed by Wireless Generation, a digital education company acquired by News Corp in late 2010.
Partnering with AT&T Mobility, which will provide 4G tablets to schools participating in an upcoming pilot program, Amplify intends to bring a tablet-based digital curriculum to k-12 students across the country.
“[It’s] an ability to take the really smart work of Wireless Generation – the data, the analytics, the ability to customize – to really help teachers understand the specific needs of their kids [and] put on top of that a very sophisticated immersive and interactive curriculum play and make sure we have meaningful ways to distribute it,” Klein said. Since its founding in 2000, Brooklyn-based Wireless Generation says it has provided digital learning and assessment tools to schools nationwide.
Klein declined to comment further on the possible school districts that might participate in the pilot or the kinds of devices that AT&T would be providing, but said Amplify would provide more details closer to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, which is when the pilot program is set to start.
Using technology developed by Wireless Generation, Klein said, the new business will focus on three areas:
- Insights, which involves tablet and smartphone-based tools that enable teachers to assess and use data-driven approaches to analyze student progress;
- Learning, which includes immersive, interactive, gamified and other kinds of digital curriculum offerings that adapt to students’ progress; and
- Access, which entails the development of distribution and delivery mechanisms that support teachers and student ( in particular its tablet-based platform offered with A&T)
Over the past couple of years, schools across the country have increasingly adopted tablets, particularly Apple’s iPad, into classrooms. Earlier this year, Apple said 1.5 million iPads had made their way into schools nationwide A small survey of technology directors in U.S. school districts, revealed by Piper Jaffray Apple analyst Gene Munster last October, found that within the next five years, they expect to have more tablets per student than computers.
Some data is starting to emerge showing the value of incorporating tablets into learning. In January, for example, textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said a pilot study conducted in partnership with Apple found that 20 percent more students score “proficient” or “advanced” in subject comprehension when using an iPad text for an Algebra 1 class. (Results, however, were most pronounced in only one of the four districts involved in the study.)
Despite momentum building behind digital tools for learning, some educators say that teachers are often left without adequate support for integrating tablets and other technology into the learning experience. It’s one thing to give teachers and students tablets and laptops, it’s another to actually create a ground-up experience that combines good teaching with good technology.
When asked about how Amplify will make sure that teachers effectively take advantage of the platform, Klein said they’re working closely with teachers and students to make sure that the experiences they’re building seamlessly fit into the classroom with integrated lesson plans and other supplementary products. Aside from Wireless Generation’s track record of providing its tools to more than 200,000 teachers and 3 million students over the past decade, he said the core team members leading Amplify have deep backgrounds in teaching and learning.
“So much about education and technology is about will the schools, will the teachers learn more about technology,” he said. “We think that for education to really be affected by technology in a positive transformative way, the technology is going to have to learn more about teaching and learning.”