To Get Tablets in Schools, Clever Amplify(ies)

To Get Tablets in Schools, Clever Amplify(ies)


AMPLIFY(ING) CLEVER: Or a Clever way to Amplify. Two companies with headline-rich names are teaming up to bring tablet technology to schools. Clever's software connects its partners with a school's student information systems. (The application company pays Clever a cut when the school uses the technology; it's all free for schools). Amplify Education, the division of News Corp. run by Joel Klein, has now signed up to use Clever to connect to those school systems.

The deal is huge for Clever, which has already started to connect Amplify technology in pilot programs in a number of top 20 U.S. school districts.

So what exactly will Clever be connecting to the schools' student information systems?

Amplify's "learning platform" was designed to let students (and teachers) sign in once to reach all the software that's been loaded onto the tablet. Amplify Tablets come preloaded with reference and content tools including such as Encyclopedia Britannica or Desmos graphic calculator. (Here's a longer description from the Amplify Tablet's debut at SXSWedu.)

The company is also building its own multimedia curriculum which it is slated to debut in early 2014, around the same time that the Common Core standards formally kick in.

Schools will be able to add other, third-party edtech software to their tablets--provided that software is written to run on Android tablets and "has been approved for us by the schools," say Amplify execs.

The Amplify Tablet arrives at time when the debate about who is deciding what to buy and what to use in the classroom is at a fragile point: Startup companies hope that teachers will be the decision makers and that individual teachers will decide which products will serve their students--and fit their teaching styles--best.

At the same time, another class of edtech products--particularly those that integrate the use of "big" data into the products--are most effective when implemented across a larger group--a school or even an entire district.

Investing significant buying authority in people who are far removed from the classroom has a complex history. Traditional education companies built their business around developing relationships with district leadership, who, lacking significant evidence of "effectiveness," often bought products from people they trusted. (The burden of making those products work then fell on school IT managers and ultimately on teachers.)

Such "relationship selling" is hardly the stuff of an "open"--and for that matter--innovative marketplace, where products succeed on their merit.

Arguably no one in the education sector understands these conflicting dynamics better than Amplify's Joel Klein, who spent years as the U.S. Department of Justice's anti-trust chief, fighting the tight hold that Microsoft had on its customers.

Insiders insist that Amplify strictly monitors its sales force, even to the point of discouraging them from building the classic "old boys" network. Even so Klein's tenure as New York City's schools chancellor made him intensely pragmatic, willing to do whatever it takes to "transform" the way teachers teach and students learn. "Technology has revolutionized the world but not the classroom," Klein said in a statement. "Our goal at Amplify is to help change that."

And certainly the fastest way to create change is to sell a tightly controlled package to a large number of people as quickly as possible.

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