BUZZ: Amplify’s Tablet Program Has a Safety Setback

This article is cross-posted from edtechtimes.com, where I currently serve as editor-in-chief.

Amplify, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, is facing a setback of their tablet program that was introduced earlier this year.

The basics, from various news sources:

  • Guilford County, NC, home to Amplify’s biggest deployment, is announcing a suspension of their program.
    • Amplify has deployed 20,000 laptops to the school district
    • The program is said to have cost $30 million to the district.
  • Hardware and safety issues are the root of the program suspension.
    • The most serious concerns are reports of a few students’ chargers had melted and become disfigured while charging at home.
    • Other issues include a high rate of cracked hardware despite the purchase of protective cases.

Now, the buzz:

EdTech Times reached out to Amplify for a statement from spokesperson Justin Hamilton, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications:

“One of the several districts using our tablet, Guilford County, North Carolina, recently reported to us that several tablet chargers, which were manufactured by ASUS, partially melted while plugged in.

Out of an abundance of caution, we proactively asked Guilford and all Amplify tablet users across the country to stop using the ASUS charger until we could determine what caused it to melt. Nothing comes before the safety of our students, teachers and their families.

We’re working with the school district and the charger’s manufacturer, ASUS, to determine whether it was an electrical issue in the students home or a manufacturing defect.

Guilford also said it was concerned because they reported around 10 percent of their students tablet screens had broken, which is much higher than we are seeing at any of the other school districts we work in nationwide.

We’re working very closely with the district to more deeply understand the breakage issue. And we hope to have things resolved and the program back up and running very soon.”

Guilford County Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green released a statement to parents:

“While a certain amount of technology issues are expected during major roll-outs, I felt the safety concern required immediate attention. Suspending the use of the devices and chargers will give Amplify and its suppliers an opportunity to properly investigate and work on the issues.

We recognize that suspending the program on short notice is going to be disruptive to students, staff and parents.  My decision was made out of an abundance of caution, and I decided to err on the side of safety.”

GigaOM raised the following concerns about the overall program:

“Since its launch, skeptics have wondered how schools would respond to the price ($299 for the device when purchased with a 2-year subscription at $99 per year), privacy questions it raises and the prospect of doing business with Amplify’s parent company News Corp. (given its phone-hacking scandal). This suspension could give schools additional reason for pause when it comes to embracing the new technology.”

In their coverage, TechCrunch  points out that the Amplify tablet program isn’t the only tablet program experiencing glitches right now:

“Amplify and Guilford County aren’t the only ones experiencing hiccups with tablets. Los Angeles Unified suspended it’s 1-for-1 iPad program after students hacked through the filters, granting them full-fledged access to the bountiful wonders of the Internet.”

Nate Hoffelder from The Digital Reader has written an extensive blog post about the context of these tablet failures, and in particular he highlights an example of  breakage stats when Kindles were first introduced in classrooms in by WorldReader:

On a related note, I have also been told that Worldreader, the nonprofit that distributes Kindles to remote schools in Africa, saw a 30% breakage rate when they first distributed Kindles in Ghana in 2011. Susan Moody Pietro, a spokesperson for Worldreader, told me that in order to fix the durability issue:

So we did a couple of things.  We did in class exercises to teach the students that e-readers are delicate devices (one example is that we had the kids drop an egg and we showed them that the screens were breakable, like an eggshell.  And we sent the broken Kindles to Lab 126 and they got to see that the screen needed reinforcement, which came out in the next launch of Kindles.  I should mention that the breakage rates we were seeing at the time matched a similar school program in Clearwater Florida, so it wasn’t a developing world vs. developed world issue.

Highlighting the positive about the tablet program, High Point Enterprise spoke with Jake Henry, Guilford County’s executive director of instructional technology, regarding the tablets in the district:

“Teachers and students have worked very hard,” Henry said. “We’ve seen teachers all over the spectrum with how comfortable they are with the technology. We’ve seen them use the quick poll features all the way up to using QR codes to scan assignments. In addition, we saw how quickly students adapted to the technology.”

Losing learning time in an educational setting is one of the great concerns of many edtech companies, so here’s to hoping Amplify gets these issues resolved quickly so that learning in affected districts can return to what is quickly becoming “the new normal”.

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