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High-Profile Amplify Tablet Initiative Delayed Until Next School Year

A high-profile 1-to-1 computing initiative in the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina has been put on hold until next school year, the result of a series of reported hardware problems that plagued the rollout of 15,000 digital tablets from New York-based Amplify.

"This has not gone the way we envisioned and hoped and planned for," Guilford County School Board chairman Alan Duncan told the News & Record in late December. "I think it's important that we reiterate the regret we have to our students and to our constituency."

Guilford school district officials had previously hoped to re-start the 1-1 initiative, suspended in October after reports of broken screens, a dangerously overheated charger, and other concerns, in time for the second half of this school year.

Amplify spokesman Justin Hamilton said that five of the company's other clients have either resumed use of the tablets or will do so soon. The company had requested that all Amplify tablet programs be paused after the troubles in Guilford County were reported, pending an investigation of what caused the problems. A green light to proceed was given in late 2013.

"We worked with an independent lab to determine exactly what the issue was," Hamilton said. "The lab has wrapped up its work and determined that the damage was not due to any manufacturing error but was in fact due to an external error."

Hamilton would not specify the nature of that 'external error' and said the lab's report is not yet being made public.

The 73,000-student Guilford County Schools tablet initiative, formally known as the Personalized Achievement, Curriculum and Environment (PACE) project, is the largest to-date for Amplify, which has attracted significant attention since unveiling its product last spring. The company is headed by Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools.

On October 4, the Guilford County district reported that 10 percent of the 15,000 devices it purchased had suffered from cracked and broken screens and that a device charger appeared to have dangerously overheated.  Problems with broken USB connectors and cases were also reported, and eventually reports of problems with eight additional device chargers also surfaced. The district posted a complete list of documented problems on its website. 

The tablets are made by Taiwan-based Asus. At the time, Hamilton said the broken-screen rate in other districts using the Amplify devices was more like 2 percent.

Guilford school officials said they will wait to use Amplify's second-generation device, which is intended to be more durable. An announcement with details about the new tablet is expected in March.

The company sent a letter to Guilford school officials on December 18 outlining the timetable for the new rollout.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

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