Recently I had the opportunity to interview Stephanee Stephens, an 8th grade Spanish teacher at a school in Fulton County, GA, which is piloting the new Amplify tablet computer from News Corp’s Amplify brand. Introduced this spring as a challenge to the Apple iPad, which is the most popular classroom tablet, Amplify is the first touchscreen tablet designed from the ground up for the classroom. The tablet can be used to run any app or curriculum, but it incorporates special classroom management features at the operating system level such as instant polls, a timer, a classroom timeline that works something like a Facebook news feed, the ability to block a custom list of apps, and an “eyes on teacher” button that suspends the student’s app and network connection with a message to focus on the teacher in the room.
Stephens’ on-the-ground observations suggest both the possibilities and the limitations of teaching with devices in every student’s hand.
Over all, Stephens said, her experience and those of others in the program was “pretty positive.” Stephens had previously tried one-to-one computing through a BYOD–bring your own device–program. Here are some of her observations from the first four months of using the Amplify tablet.
On the importance of one-to-one computing:
“[All my colleagues and I have] agreed that there are struggles with this, but this is the way our kids need to learn to make them college and career ready. We’ve all been transformed into believing that wholeheartedly.”
On the realtime flipped classroom:
“The other day we were revieweing for our final exam. I started off with a series of formative assessments through the poll feature. Each one addressed a different topic through the year; that’s a lot of information. The ones that provided the most problems were where I directed study. I can look at those results and segment them, creating small group breakout sessions. It’s definitely student driven–the differentiation was real time. The groups would then collaborate to complete the study guides. I can check in remotely while I’m moving around the class.”
“The anonymity has helped the students be more truthful rather than hide behind their peers. These are middle school students, and sometimes they don’t want to admit what they don’t know. I can quiz students directly through the tablet and find out–I need more help here, I don’t understand that. It is a one to one outlook to the teacher, without peer involvement.”
“We have special ed kids that have huge executive function problems–they can’t finish a worksheet. Some of this is life changing for some of these kids.
You’ll always have outliers, whether those who need remediation or enrichment. The tablet has helped bring all the kids into the fold, top or bottom, and keep them engaged. You don’t lose anybody through boredom. Every kid is engaged throughout the class.”
On time saved:
“I can really transform my instruction to get at what’s most important. Rather than it taking a day or two to go through a stack of papers, I can do that realtime in class. It’s been really nice to be able to use the spot check topic by topic, to see if we’re ready to proceed or need clarification.”
On special Amplify features:
“Eyes on teacher has been critical.”
“The timer has been really essential– it can be hard to get kids to move from activity to activity. When we were using BYOD I was having to project a timer and walk around with a sign that said screens down eyes up–it was a lot more involved.”
“I was doing some microblogging prior to this. Now the class feed operates like a microblog. The students and their parents can look back class by class and see what we’ve covered on a daily basis. They can get any PDFs right there in the feed. It’s a seamless process.”
“The one feature I have not used as much is the App Controller [which allows a specific list of apps for each class and blocks others.] I really don’t feel the need to use the blocker. We use a long list of apps in class: Google Drive, Microsoft Office, Studyblue for flashcards. Google Translate–they’re really good about using Google right, but we do have Netnanny. They make movies, and use the sound recorder and some audiovisual production apps. Evernote’s Skitch for notetaking. Khan Academy.“