By guest blogger Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
The challenge at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference here in Austin is choosing where to go, and who to listen to, because the options are limitless. But that is probably why this gathering continues to attract large crowds, with upwards of 25,000 people expected to visit this city over two weeks to see and hear the latest from the nation's most innovative entrepreneurs, hot companies, musicians and celebrities, researchers, and, for the third year, educators.
The SXSWedu conference, which precedes the larger interactive, film, and music parts of the program, has doubled its attendance since last year. For SXSWedu, March 4-7, more than 4,000 district and state education leaders, consultants, top education thinkers, and representatives of nonprofit organizations and corporate entities are gathering to hash out strategies and possible solutions to some of the vexing problems facing K-12.
There are parties and panels, cool and colorful lounges, book readings, workshops, meetups, a competition for promising education startups, and the launch of some high-profile products and initiatives.
Among the biggest of events so far is today's announcement by Amplify, which unveiled a tablet computing device customized for schools that features an open platform and preloaded curriculum and supplemental resources, as well as controls and data tools for teachers.
Amplify, the education division of the global media conglomerate News Corporation, was rolled out last summer to much fanfare to develop a greater focus on software and curriculum products.
The 10-inch touch screen, Android tablet is WiFi enabled and costs about $300 with a two-year subscription ($99) to the software and preloaded content, which includes textbook and reference materials, as well as classroom management tools for teachers.
"This is more than just a tablet. It's a complete learning solution organized around the school day," said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify's Access division.
In a press call yesterday, Amplify CEO Joel Klein said he hopes the new tablet will help teachers and students use technology more effectively by having a tablet that is designed for the classroom, with the training and technical support they need. There will also be data tools for storing and analyzing student work and progress.
"This is more than just a tablet and some apps," he said. "This is a fully integrated teaching and learning solution. It comes packed with classroom management and organization tools, basic reference
material, and access to millions of multimedia resources aligned to the Common Core
The tablet has been in use in pilot districts since the fall and initial reports from teachers featured in a company video release are positive, though no data have been released yet.
Amplify enters a market that has been increasingly intrigued by the potential of tablets for 1-to-1 computing initiatives and to put the latest tools into the hands of students. Use of the iPad, Nook, and similar devices in schools has grown significantly, along with their popularity in the general market.
A new survey of district tech officials, for example, suggests that expanding the use of tablets in K-12 is among the top three priorities for 2013.
Stay tuned for more news from SXSWedu, and some of the other announcements from the conference. The finalists in the LAUNCHedu K-12 competition for education startups enters round 2 today, and winners will be announced tomorrow. More on that later.