After receiving an email during the week informing me that I had been chosen by Microsoft Education as a Surface Expert for 2016, I have started to reflect more on the use of the device in the classroom. As well as this, it has been watching a colleague (who came from a centre of excellence for the use of Apple devices) quickly turn to seeing the beauty of the Surface 3 / Pro 3 in the classroom.
Pros (and cons)
I have found my Pro 3 to be a fantastic piece of equipment that does the thing that the iPad is renowned for… It just works! Windows 10 has made the experience a slicker one and it is a heck of a company that takes the criticism of W8 on the chin and changes it so quickly – but that’s another debate!
But it really does work! As a productivity device, the Office suite is, of course, second to none – but it’s getting better with the Office365 integration and ease of use of OneDrive, for example. The education App store is (slowly) growing and apps such as Explain Everything that I listen to iPad users eulogising over being readily available. Of course, the ready made iOS apps of GarageBand, iMovie etc are always going to be difficult to replicate but, there is some comfort in knowing that the skills driven programmes of MovieMaker and Audacity still have a priority in classroom use. However, there are more and more App driven solutions appearing on the Microsoft App Store (Thankfully)
As a broadcast device – the use of the Miracast stick has been a revelation in the classroom – literally ‘plug and go’ connectivity. This is especially useful given the unreliability of our current wireless provision. The Miracast device has taken all the pressure off and it has never failed me! Equally useful, of course, is that the children can easily share their work from the Surface 3 devices to the screen, when asked, and it has been pretty seamless. And, given that it is HDMI connectivity, the sound streams effortlessly too!
I have had a great opportunity from Microsoft to showcase the device through the #SurfaceExpert programme and I definitely think that this strategy is working. When colleagues see the device in action, they are bowled over by its ease of use. They are not having to wait for training afternoons to see the potential of the device, they are seeing it in use on a daily basis. Whether it is through the simple broadcast of the screen or to the use of Interactive Whiteboard software with the digital pen; the potential of Office Mix (which I STILL have to realise); through to using Sway from the tablet; or, of course, the ever expanding and conquering OneNote; the Surface Pro 3 has more than delivered. It was what made me use the Surface 3 devices in the classroom for my children – and they love them too! (Especially the digital art!)
It has been an interesting week as my colleague (an Apple devotee) has really had his head turned by the continuing potential for the device. The daily exposure and witnessing the device in action has made him really think about getting one (which I know will happen if I get a Pro 4).
There is little doubt over the number superiority of iPads in Northern Ireland classrooms and this is in large part to the work of a local company (iTeach), and one man’s determined vision, in promoting the use of the tablet in the classroom and how it can change lessons. The focus on training and demonstrating the devices to their potential, gave schools an insight to how iPads could work.
As well as that, there has been the plethora of support for the iPads from App developers who have created some wonderful apps which, in the hands of some truly superb educators, have made a wonderful difference to teaching – especially the ease of use of Green Screen and Augmented Reality Apps – which encourage so much literacy. I just wish that these were available on the MS store and it is still a glaring gap in the offering… There is little doubt that the explosion of technology in the classroom through the initial phasing in of technology through the C2K framework, through to the investment by individual schools has changed the landscape of teaching in a short period of time. The biggest challenge to teachers has been keeping up with these changes and ensuring that the pedagogy being delivered through the use of any device is high quality.
Tough Nut To Crack
Of course, it is well documented that there have been ups and downs regarding the device strategy of Microsoft – you only have to look through a range of comments on social media to get a prevailing idea. However, more and more these comments are becoming more and more redundant. I feel that the current strategy of letting a large number of educators use the current range of devices through the #SurfaceExpert programme in schools has been a game changer for many places. Not least, when they are in the hands of experts who use them on a daily basis and demonstrate their capabilities.
Everything is Relative
I love that phrase and keep it at the forefront of everything I do. No matter what I achieve, there is always someone that step ahead. No matter how we decry technology issues in the classroom (and, trust me, there are loads here) we must always think about how fortunate we are compared to the majority of teachers around the world. When I got accepted onto the programme, the Surface device became ‘another’ piece of equipment in the school. However, I know that for some of our educators it became ‘THE’ piece of equipment in school – and I am always mindful of that. These educators are truly changing the face of education in their schools and districts. We are fortunate enough to become almost blasé about our range of devices available.
It is easy to forget with the proliferation of iPads in the NI classroom that these are still high-end devices and, as with any purchase, we need to demonstrate their usefulness and value for money. In some of the great pedagogy in our school, there is little doubt that this spend is being justified, But, I wonder, if we always remember this responsibility to the public or get lost in the blizzard of tech available.
One final thought is that ‘who knows what the future might hold? I have had a feeling that 2016 might be a defining year and it has certainly got off to an interesting and exciting start….’