Amplify – it’s powerful, it’s also dangerous.

I have just watched a promotional video for a new piece of educational technology called an Amplify. It’s a tablet that has been specifically designed for the classroom and it is powerful.

Powerful is a word I often find associated with another word – dangerous.

You can read about it here:

You can also watch a demonstration of the tablet here:

OK. So what’s the danger? It looks wonderful.

We know from looking at successful school systems around the world that the teacher is the single most important influence in learning at school. Yep. It’s Finland again! The meta studies done by Robert Marzano reinforce this.

But what is the first thing the teacher does with an Amplify tablet at the start of the lesson? She starts the class by “pressing a button” and she checks who is in her class by looking at her screen. Whoa!  I thought the first thing a teacher should do at the start of a school day or lesson is establish a relationship with her class. I thought the most important thing was to look at the kids, scan the room, make a couple of encouraging remarks that set a tone of shared endeavor, not look at a screen and press a button.

So here is my first fear – that learning becomes mediated through the tablet rather than through the teacher, that learning ceases being a shared human activity and becomes an interaction between a screen and a student.

Of course this is not inevitable. We can hope that teachers will see that the Amplify is a tool to make the art and science of teaching more effective. But pressures on teachers, administrators and school districts are growing and the main pressure is to pass the standardized, multiple choice tests that are sweeping across and bedding down in GERM countries.

The Amplify tablet is the perfect device to train kids to pass these tests.

For example, the Quick Poll enables the teacher to run a fast true/false test to check on understanding. What depth of understanding can be evaluated when the only possible answers are ‘true’ or ‘false’? The demonstration suggests that instruction can then be ‘differentiated’ on the basis of these T/F results, but clearly this can only be at the most superficial level both in terms of the conceptual depth of the topic being studied and the learning needs of the individual student.

We see an example of a Khan Academy mathematics video on ratios – all good stuff. But the testing component is a perfect copy of the standardized test four point multiple choice questions with which we are all so familiar.

The example project completed at home by a student is a cut and paste affair from a collection of videos and information gleaned from the on board Encyclopedia Britannica, personalized by a photo taken by child.

The Amplify looks to be the perfect tool to prepare kids to take these tests, and because these tests have already shown their power to narrow the curriculum, to sideline creativity and the development of effective thinkers, to devalue and disempower teachers, the Amplify can also be dangerous.

It is instructional to note that Amplify is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the CEO of Amplify is Joel Klein. Klein was the former Chancellor of New York City Schools and one of the primary drivers of high stakes standardized testing in the USA. He was also a powerful influence on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Minister for Education Peter Garret and we are watching the debilitating effect high stakes blanket testing is already having in this country as standards fall instead of lift since the introduction of NAPLAN in 2008.

There is a saying “Follow the money”.  We have already seen the vast amounts of money being spent on testing instead of learning. While the Amplify sells at a more appealing price point that an IPad, there is a $99 per year ‘plan’ attached.

What a pity that we are not able to see the launch of such a powerful tool in a different environment. If only we were free of the testing straight jacket, if we trusted well trained teachers to do their job, if we valued thinking above remembering, creativity and innovation above the ability to repeat learned information. Perhaps then the Amplify would be just ‘powerful’ and not also ‘dangerous’.







Filed under Testing, Thinking

3 responses to “Amplify – it’s powerful, it’s also dangerous.

  1. Andy

    Wow. Such a scathing review from someone that has only watched a short video of the tablet.

    First off, your comments on quick poll are inaccurate, “What depth of understanding can be evaluated when the only possible answers are ‘true’ or ‘false’?”. You can do more than “just” true/false with quick poll.

    Class can take place without “pushing a button” or “looking at her screen”.

    Your assessment of this tablet, and I would assume others, is off base. Tablets are not meant to replace teachers (or the student teacher relationship), but to enhance it. Used correctly, this tablet allows students to explore and create while allowing the teacher to maintain a level of appropriate use and provide appropriate support and differentiation.

    i would suggest getting your hands on the device and working with students using the device before writing such harsh reviews in the future.

    • Andy, thanks for your comments. I had tried to make it clear in my blog that I am not reviewing the Amplify so much as the context in which a potentially powerful teaching tool is being introduced. It’s provenance places it firmly in the testing/GERM environment. I have described the Amplify as powerful and potentially ‘wonderful’. My fears are entirely about how it could be used in schools where there is a relentless focus on standardized testing and raising scores.

      I am a strong advocate of the use of technology in the classroom as a tool of genuine learning. I recently attended a conference where Ewan Macintosh was a speaker and I was deeply impressed by his statement that we should be focused on teaching kids those things that “are not Googleable”. That made huge sense to me. But knowing Joel Klein I fear this is not how the Amplify will be promoted. My fear is that it will be slotted into the place that in the past has been occupied by highly scripted teaching programs, but with the added power that a device like this can provide.

      I repeat, the Amplify is powerful (hardly a ‘scathing’ assessment) but the dangers lie in the use and the context.

  2. Pingback: Amplify – it’s powerful, it’s also dangerous. | News & Notes on LEADERSHIP for LEARNING

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