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Schools shift from textbooks to tablets

A new $299 tablet from News Corp.’s Amplify is the latest digital device to target students

Discovery Education updated its digital textbooks to incorporate Superstorm Sandy within weeks of the storm making landfall.

Well before the cleanup from Superstorm Sandy was in full swing, students could read about the weather system that slammed the East Coast in their textbooks.

Welcome to the new digital bookcase, where traditional ink-and-paper textbooks have given way to iPads and book bags are getting lighter. Publishers update students’ books almost instantly with the latest events or research. Schools are increasingly looking to handheld tablets as a way to sustain students’ interest, reward their achievements and, in some cases, actually keep per-student costs down.

“We must use technology to empower teachers and improve the way students learn,” said Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chief who now leads News Corp.’s education tablet program. “At its best, education technology will change the face of education by helping teachers manage the classroom and personalize instruction.”

News Corp. officials planned to debut their Amplify tablet during a breakfast March 6 at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Priced at $299, the 10-inch unit runs on a school’s wireless internet system and comes with software for teachers to watch each student’s activities, offer instant polls, and provide anonymous quizzes to gauge student understanding.

Orders placed by June 30 will be ready for the start of the school year in the fall, officials at Rupert Murdoch’s company said ahead of the official announcement, adding yet another platform for schools to consider.

Putting a device in every student’s hand is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. Some 2,000 schools already have partnered with Google to use its lightweight Chromebooks, which start at $199. Some 20 million students and teachers are already using them, company officials said.

And a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that more than 40 percent of students or teachers use some sort of tablet in their Advanced Placement and National Writing Project classrooms.

“When you think about it, these are AP classes and National Writing Project classes, and four in 10 say they are using these devices,” said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “That’s six in 10 who aren’t using them. We still have a lot of room for growth.”

In coming years, growth seems to be the norm.

(Next page: A look at schools’ plans to adopt tablets—and some keys to success)

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