What’s retail giant Amazon doing in education?
More and more, it turns out, with the company’s launch today of TenMarks Writing, an online writing curriculum that it has developed over the past year for teachers to help students become better writers.
The new product takes its name from TenMarks, an ed-tech company with a digital math resource that Amazon acquired as a startup in 2013, and that is now in 85 percent of school districts, according to the company’s website.
“TenMarks Writing comes from talking to teachers all over the country,” said Meera Vaidyanathan, director of curriculum products for Amazon Education, in an interview. Educators are looking for ways to reach students “who are either not interested in, or daunted by” writing, she said.
TenMarks Writing, which is available for students in grades 4 to 6, relies on established instructional techniques like scaffolding to help students learn the process of writing stories and compositions.
The product builds on students’ familiarity with mobile apps for quick communication like texting to write short conversations. An image or a few words are an invitation for students to initiate a text-like back-and-forth between two characters about the writing prompt. For more in-depth assignments, a “writing coach” feature serves as a digital assistant that guides students through the writing process, using a personalized learning engine and natural language processing.
For teachers, the product offers lesson and unit plans, anchor charts, rubrics and graphic organizers.
TenMarks Writing is priced at $4 per student per year, and is being sold via the site, with a 30-day free trial for teachers. A sales team is also reaching out to schools for building-level and district-wide sales. An expansion to grades 7 and 8 will be available in about a month, according to Vaidyanathan.
Asked how the program differs from its competition on the market, Vaidyanathan said: “The thing we’re most proud about with this product is that it leverages natural language processing to provide students with comments personalized along the way for what they’re writing about in their essays.” In testing over the past year, teachers and students responded well to the “Bursts,” which incorporate pictures much like Instagram, and the texting-like interactions.
Company officials declined to say how many educators had piloted the product. The company quoted teachers from Rochester, N.Y. and West Carrollton, Ohio plugging the curriculum in announcing the product.
An Amazon Education Expansion
More than half (57 percent) of about 1,000 educators and administrators surveyed in April 2017 by the Education Week Research Center said they were unaware of Amazon’s education-related products. (For more on how Amazon and other “tech titans” are shaping the school market, see EdWeek Market Brief’s recent story, “Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft Battle for K-12 Market and Loyalties of Educators.”)
The 2017-18 school year is likely to bring greater push by Amazon to increase that number.
In July, the company re-launched Amazon Inspire, its open education resources platform, in a beta version for browsing and downloading OER by teachers, but not yet for uploading and sharing of resources. Education Week, wrote about the latest iteration of Inspire. The platform, originally discussed early in 2016, was pulled later in the year after a New York Times report that some of the resources that had been uploaded were copyright-protected.
TenMarks Writing and Amazon Inspire will be complementary, said Lisa Asari, the senior product manager for the writing program. Teachers’ writing assignments could be posted on Amazon Inspire, she said.
Amazon has also increased its footprint in K-12 systems by offering cloud-based storage, data and analytics to K-12 districts through its Amazon Web Services.
The company has also sought to ramp up schools’ ability to use the Amazon Business’ online marketplace, picking and choosing from multiple offers made by different sellers. Districts, schools, and other education agencies will be able to make the purchases via Amazon through the U.S. Communities cooperative, in an arrangement that backers of the project say will help K-12 systems avoid protracted public bidding processes.
In addition, the company markets Amazon Whispercast, which is sold to manage e-book content on Kindle in K-12 classrooms.
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