More tablet trouble for schools: School district pauses program with News Corp.’s Amplify

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It’s not a good time for tablet programs in schools. Last month, Los Angeles schools learned that students had managed to hack into school-issued iPads (which have since been taken away).  And now, Guilford County Schools in North Carolina have suspended a tablet program with News Corp.’s Amplify after reports of defects.

The district reportedly spent  $16.4 million of a $30 million Race to the Top grant to pay for the tablets and content. But according to the school district’s website, 10 percent of their 15,000 devices have been returned to Amplify because of broken screens.  About 2,000 cases have also been problematic and, in one instance, a student returned a defective charger, reporting that overheating cause the plastic to melt.

While the district said it expected a few glitches to accompany the rollout, school officials decided to pause the program out of safety concerns.

The decision is a big setback for Amplify, which launched its education-optimized tablet at South by Southwest earlier this year. The device is a 10-inch Asus tablet running the Jellybean Android operating system. It comes pre-loaded with content and apps curated by Amplify and it enables teachers to distribute content across a class or grade level and control the content on students’ screens.

Since its launch, skeptics have wondered how schools would respond to the price ($299 for the device when purchased with a 2-year subscription at $99 per year), privacy questions it raises and the prospect of doing business with Amplify’s parent company News Corp. (given its phone-hacking scandal). This suspension could give schools additional reason for pause when it comes to embracing the new technology.

In an email, Justin Hamilton, Amplify’s SVP of corporate communications said that “one potential defect is too many in my book,” but he emphasized that just a small percentage of their devices have been found to be defective.

According to the manufacturer Asus, out of 500,000 chargers of its kind that have been shipped globally, only the one in Guilford overheated and melted. And, Hamilton added, the broken screen rate in Guilford is much higher than what they’re seeing in other school districts (where the average tends to be 1.9 percent).

“We’re working very closely with the district on this and hope to have things resolved and the program back up and running very soon,” Hamilton said.

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