Schoolchildren in San Jose

Tablet-less schoolchildren in San Jose. (Ben Margot / Associated Press / January 24, 2013)

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is set to unveil a tablet computer for public schools on Monday at the SXSWedu education technology conference in Austin, Texas, Bloomberg reports.

The $299, 10-inch tablet is the brainchild of Amplify, News Corp.'s education division, which is fronted by former New York City schools chancellor (and current News Corp. executive vice president) Joel Klein. A 2-year subscription will cost $99 per year.  A 4G model will also be available for $349, for students without Wi-Fi at home, at an annual cost of $179.  The device will come loaded with curriculum materials and apps, including a graphing calculator, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Some content will be provided by other News Corp. units such as HarperCollins. 

The Amplify tablet supposedly uses a "blended learning" model, combining high tech with traditional teaching, but seems to be solidly millennial in practice.  When a student becomes distracted, a big-brotherish "eyes on teacher" message appears, and quizzes will be accompanied by emoticons so teachers can collect real-time feedback from students. According to the tech site GigaOm, teachers will also be able to see on their tablets what students are doing on their own, and can shut off students' apps or entire devices remotely if too much goofing off is going on.  Likewise, Mashable reports, the old rite of morning attendance will be made obsolete -- when a student opens her digital notebook, her name will automatically appear on the teacher's roster as "attending."

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed.  Reportedly, the Amplify tablet will also be used to store student data--which has some concerned, given News Corp.'s record when it comes to privacy.  And some question the motives of Klein himself.  Long an advocate of technology in schools, he has been a controversial figure among unionized teachers, who are been critical of his attempts at technology-driven reform.  Now that he is part of the private sector, others have suspect him of a conflict of interest, given his past advocacy work in this area. "You can't at the same time go out and present yourself as a civic citizen talking about how public schools right now are horrible and then say, 'Oh, I have a product that is going to make it better,'" Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, told the New York Times

A larger concern is whether schools can afford the devices at all, though Amplify is betting on grants from the Education Department's Race to the Top program. 

When News Corp. splits into two companies this summer, Amplify will join the publishing division, along with HarperCollins and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal. Klein told the New York Times that he hopes the Amplify Tablet will eventually contribute 40% of the division's revenue, with another 40% coming from its curriculum, which will be available for use on other devices.

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