• Dave Foord
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Why the Microsoft Surface Tablet will be a major player in education

In my years as a teacher and then as a freelance consultant/trainer I have been very much at the forefront of the use of technology in education, and I have always been excited by the potential that effective use of technology can bring to education, but nothing has been as exciting as the potential that tablet devices brings to learning, and in particular Apple’s iPad – which has been designed beautifully, and is really easy to use, so when I run staff development in this area, I don’t spend most of the time talking about which buttons to press – instead I can focus most of my efforts into the pedagogic considerations of the training, and that is a very liberating feeling.

For the last few months I have been working with a company called ‘The Tablet Academy‘ (formerly The iPad Academy) and I have been going into schools and running iPad training – but now that the company has changed its name, they are also offering support and training for Android and Microsoft devices, and as such I have been experimenting with the basic Microsoft Surface RT device – and even though it has received some negative press, I think it (and its successors) are going to make a huge impact on education.

Microsoft Surface (black)

A Surface Tablet


If you compare an iPad alongside the Surface, then the iPad is going to win in almost all areas – it is built better, there are more apps, the battery seems to last longer, it is more intuitive etc. however  if we compared a new iPad to an iPad 1 (which is the best way of thinking of the Surface) then the gap between the 2 was huge, so we have to take that into consideration as well. The Surface has some key considerations which the iPad lacks and that is the purpose of this blog post:

  • Many schools and educational organisations, have IT support systems which have been built around the Microsoft model (rightly or wrongly), so for them adopting Apple’s iPad hasn’t been an option. The Surface will just slot into their existing mechanism – and that makes it a possibility for lots of organisations who have so far closed the door on tablet technology.
  • Where the iPad works really well is when there is a 1:1 deployment, and each learner has their own device, they then set it up with their email account, their cloud storage (e.g. dropbox or similar) and apps that work for them and their subjects. What some organisations have done is buy a bank of iPads to use in class, but these aren’t individually owned so you cannot set up these individual services – and it then becomes harder for learners to save and export work they have created. With the Surface, this is designed around the notion of having a Microsoft account (Skydrive) and everything is based on that – so if you pick up a device, you log into your Skydrive once – and this connects to all your services. At the end of the session you logout once and the device is ready for the next person.  This to me is one of the Surface’s main points regarding its strategic use within education, and if I was going to set up a bank of devices for a classroom, I would go Microsoft over iPad.
  • I let my kids use both my iPad and the Surface to see how they got on. I expected that they would hate the Surface (having used the iPad for much longer) but they didn’t – in some respects they preferred it. As my 9 year old quoted – “The Tablet is really clever, because you can use it with the keyboard and it is just like a computer, then when you take the keyboard off it turns into an iPad*”. As a device for my kids to do their homework, it is so much easier to use than the standard computer, as it fires up quickly, we can use it in any room in the house, it easily connects to our printers, and it has what the kids need for most of their work which is the internet, and access to office tools such as Word and PowerPoint.
  • Personally I hate flash, and always have done, and it is a technology that is well past its best before date – but there is a huge quantity of legacy material produced in flash especially within education. It is well known that the iPad doesn’t support flash, and Android doesn’t really (although there are work arounds for both). For the moment Microsoft does flash no problem. Many schools have entire maths and science departments based around the use of flash based resources, and if these schools have gone down an iPad route – they are finding this tough.
  • The cost of the Surface is significantly less than the iPad or Android equivalents. Over the summer of 2013, the surface could be bought for £133 + VAT, which is a much easier number to work with when buying potentially tens, hundreds or thousands of these devices.
  • Although the Surface may not have the wonderfully creative apps that the iPad has, it does have Microsoft Office – which gives us Word, Excel, PowerPoint, (and OneNote) – which are still the main tools used by many educators and students. Although I love my iPad, and I use a mac as well as a PC, and a mixture of Office, Open Office and iWork – when I want to do serious office based work, I still revert back to the PC as I find the Office suite works better for me than the others.
  • The surface is only going to get better. If we look at how the iPad has evolved in a few generations, then in a few years time the Microsoft devices should be much closer in performance. The iPad seems to have reached its own plateau – whereas Microsoft is only just starting.

I think the arrival of the Surface tablet is a very positive thing for education – there are now 3 viable options for education (iPad, Android and Microsoft) and choice has to be good – people can choose what is best for their situation, and the competition should keep all 3 providers on their toes, and prices competitive.


*Obviously the Surface doesn’t actually turn into an iPad – but these were the exact words of a 9 year old, and their perception on technology.

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Changing attitudes towards learner owned devices

Last week I presented at an ‘Arts and Media’ Conference in Chester organised by Sector Training.

I presented at the same conference last year, running a session on Mobile Learning (amongst other things), and in the session mentioned (in passing) that at some point in the future the norm would be that learners would turn up to lectures with their own devices – a suggestion which caused a bit of a stir amongst the delegates as they identified all sorts of reasons why this wouldn’t happen, and why it would be a bad thing if it did happen, and how I was such a heretic for suggesting something so completely outrageous…..anyway…..

….fast forward 12 months, an at the same conference with a similar set of attendees, I run another session alongside Ian Wilson. Ian was introducing the use of the iPad within this area of work, and the discussion moved onto the logistics of equipping every learner with an iPad, and the attendees completely bought into this idea – amazing the magnitude of the attitude shift in just 12 months.
Meet Junior.

I think embracing learner owned devices is the only viable option for organisations for the future. A large college may spend many hundreds of thousands of pounds per year to update the computers that are more than 3 years old – this is a huge expense just to stand still, and when you look at the stats in terms of usage – you cannot find an empty IT suite on the room booking system for love nor money, yet the computers are used for probably less than 10% of the time – so we have a huge investment in technology that sits idle for most of the day.

Embracing learner owned devices does present some problems, but all of which can be managed. The single biggest issue (and in my opinion where investment should be going) is getting a good, reliable and robust wireless network that students can connect into. A few years ago I was saying that electricity was going to be a big issue as people power up their laptops etc. But if the iPad does prevail, then this has ample battery to get through the day negating this problem.

We need more power scotty!




PhoneLaptopCharger

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

Mobile learning is sweeping across education. At the same time a large number of schools and colleges are being rebuilt and have been designed to serve the next 50 years, but a lot of these rebuilds are not thinking about how people are going to charge their personal mobile devices – have they designed this into the plan?

Are we going to start seeing locker devices like this one in schools and colleges, where devices are both secure and charging at the same time. I remember when I was at school, the PE teacher had a little tin that you put your wallet, watch and keys in, as the changing rooms weren’t secure, I wonder what PE teachers will be doing in a few years time….