Why Android is a great choice for K-12 education

When it comes to mobile devices, there’s a vast difference between the needs of general consumers and the needs of teachers and students, says Amplify Access President Stephen Smyth. We asked Smyth to break down those differences, and the reasons why Android was the winning operating system for the Amplify Tablet.

SC: Stephen, iPads are so popular with consumers; why Android for the Amplify Tablet?

SS: The iPad is a terrific consumer product, but we opted for an Android-based tablet because Android is an open operating system. We’ve built a platform that integrates directly with student information systems so that when a student or teacher logs on, the device knows who you are. We envision a single sign-on to the whole world of educational content and tools, which is at the heart of personalized learning and is much more than just giving a device to each student. The open operating system also allowed us to build an interface that’s specifically tailored to the needs of teachers and students—not something we could do on an iPad. The Amplify Tablet is designed around the school day and includes a host of easy-to-use educational tools.

Also, we’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from schools that have conducted pilots with iPads. They tell us that securely deploying a large number of iPads in a 1:1 setting is not easy. The iPad model requires sync carts, which each cost thousands of dollars and present many complex challenges. These carts are used to make sure the right software and content gets on each tablet. The big problem is that the tablets can’t go home—they spend their nights sitting idle in these carts. We don’t have this problem; because Android is open, we’ve built the infrastructure to secure and manage all of these tablets over the air, so kids can continue to learn with their Amplify Tablets at night at home.

Finally, we believe that, spec for spec, Android devices are simply a better value than Apple devices, and that opens up a huge opportunity for school districts on tight budgets.

SC: How did you customize Android for schools?

SS: We’ve done a number of things. First, we built this user interface from the ground up, based on the learning and teaching activities of students and teachers, because we felt the traditional grid of apps you see on consumer tablets doesn’t make sense for the learning environment. Our interface features Notebooks, which allow students to organize the material for each class easily. We have tools for teachers to assess where their students are in real time. These are the kinds of things that make us unique.

Second, we preloaded the tablets with content and tools that we curated for K-12. We took the best apps available for Android or for other operating systems, and in cases where an app we wanted didn’t have an Android option, we worked with its developers to port the app to Android. We also built custom apps for the likes of Encyclopaedia Britannica and Khan Academy, and we worked with Merriam-Webster to get its existing Android app onto our tablet.

And third, we put a lot of energy into customizing Android for the remote management capabilities that schools need. Schools have very different needs than enterprise businesses do.

SC: Do you think Android is the right decision for the long-term?

SS: Android is a thriving operating system; we’re seeing a remarkable amount of energy in the number and quality of apps in the Google Play Store. And we’ve seen the trend in the smartphone market, with Android phones overtaking the number of iPhones sold. Android tablets are gaining an increasing share of the tablet market, independent of what we’re doing.

SC: We’ve been talking a lot about Android and iOS, but what about Microsoft?

SS: Microsoft is obviously a leader in the desktop and laptop space, but it’s new to the tablet space, so it doesn’t yet have a robust ecosystem of apps. Microsoft is always an interesting company to watch, and the Surface offers a great form factor, so we’ll be watching to see how its tablet business evolves.

SC: Meanwhile, the iPad has been out for a few years now. What would you say to teachers and students who say they prefer the iPad in the classroom because they’re more familiar with it at home?

SS: The iPad is great for consumer use, but our tablet was made for the classroom, literally. It’s incredibly easy for teachers to use it to develop rich, multimedia curriculum before class, focus students and check their understanding during class, and follow up with targeted assignments after class. And instead of having to go in and out of apps as they would on an iPad, teachers and students just sign on once and are then immersed in an environment built around their school day—it makes for a much more seamless experience. Our tech is really a help to teachers, not a hindrance or a hassle. Bottom line: We believe in tech for learning’s sake—not tech for tech’s sake.