The 21st Century Classroom

Written by Gareth Owen

10 September 2017

Whilst there can be no argument that both outstanding and creative teaching have been practiced well before the technological era, it has never been enough for a school to merely prepare students for their exams. A narrow (whilst hugely important) perspective such as this fails to provide the students with a full and rounded education, one that (amongst other things prepares them for the world of the future). This is doubly important in such as fast moving world where for many tasks such remote working and online collaboration are quite simply essential to what people do every single day. This technological focus will continue to increase in the future with more powerful and cost effective devices, greater online (cloud) storage, and ultra-fast communications to upload and retrieve this information.

Oakham School prides itself on producing Oakhamian’s that will succeed and thrive in the world beyond our walls, and as such has made the significant investment in what is currently the cutting edge in remote devices, cloud communications and collaboration software in order to provide the rounded education (beyond just exam board specifications) that the modern world demands. As educators we are life-long learners and whilst transitions are often not easy, as we may have told students countless times throughout our years in schools; things that are worthwhile rarely are. But for anyone who doubts their own capabilities, I ask them to reflect on what they do with computers today that were beyond their wildest expectations when they started teaching.

I started teaching in 2003 and since then I’ve learnt to use email and calendars effectively, use projectors and interactive whiteboard software, recorded and edited videos with student on computers, tablets and even mobile-phones, search and enter data from Database Management Systems such as Sims and OSIS, create quizzes like Blockbusters for lessons, creating and collecting data with students using online surveys, uploaded blogs and vlogs with students,; the list frankly goes on. I firmly believe that all of us have on a number of occasions surprised ourselves as to what we can achieve in order to engage students in the subject matter. The arrival of Microsoft Surface devices and Office 365 is merely one of our next steps in out learning journey.

Technological evolutions are all around us and an example I like to use is the evolution of technology into Formula One steering wheels.

In 1988 Ayrton Senna was one of the finest racing drivers that ever lived, using a circular carbon-fibre steering wheel with just two buttons to driver his McLaren Honda; the radio, and turbo boost.

In 2014, fellow world champion Jensen Button drove his McLaren Honda using a steering wheel with a vast array of buttons and settings, including a large LCD display with over 40 functions on it; many with a number of sub-functions. All whilst driving at speeds close to 200mph.

These steering wheels didn’t just change overnight, they evolved over time in the same way that technology in schools has done in the 21st century, and to keep pace we need to learn how to adapt to these newly available functions, or get left behind the pace setters.

In this series of posts I am going to examine a series of questions including:

  • Why the Microsoft Surface Pro?
  • How can the Surface Pro and One Note benefit evolve student feedback?
  • How can the Surface Pro and Office 365 benefit the teaching and learning in my classroom?
  • How can I utilise the Surface device and wireless connectivity to the projector?
  • How can I use Office 365 tools to encourage collaboration between students?
  • How can I use Office 365 tools to encourage collaboration between staff?
  • What other tools within Office 365 can I use?

In this post I am going to examine the first question:

Why the Microsoft Surface Pro:

The Microsoft Surface Pro is an extremely powerful, yet light machine that has dual functionality as a laptop computer and a tablet. Some people might wonder why not invest in iPad’s like other schools have; especially the iPad Pro. A key to this answer is that the Surface Pro runs a full version of Windows 10, as many of you may have on your computers and laptops at home. This means that any Windows 10 software as well as Apps are available to download and install on the machines 256GB Solid State Drive. The iPad Pro runs iOS (the Apple mobile operating System) rather that OS X (the Apple computer operating system). This means that apart from a few extra bells and whistles, it runs the same operating system as an iPod Touch. This means that you are limited to using mobile Apps rather than fully functional desktop software.

The Surface Pro will also come equipped not only with a keyboard and gesture sensitive touchpad (which also acts as a cover to protect the device) but also a Bluetooth pen. Not only can the pen be set-up for right handed or left handed use but also senses 4096 different levels of pressure, and even the angle that you are writing at in order to produce thin or thicker strokes. The pen is an extremely important feature of the Surface Pro as it will enable teachers to mark work in a traditional way. This marking will be stored as digital ink, meaning no more lost or left at home feedback. The ink will also never run out of your favourite pen again, and if you are using ‘green for good’ and ‘pink for think’, changing colours, or switching to a highlighter or eraser is as simple as it could be. Indeed marking can evolve to providing greater feedback using less time and effort by using the Surface’s built in microphones and (if you’re feeling brave) video camera and record feedback straight into the document. Few devices currently on the market have combined a device with the power, portability and versatility of the Surface Pro along with an effective pen tool which has to potential to make marking, faster, easier, more detailed and yes, even a little fun.

All teachers and support staff are currently using Windows 7 laptops or desktop computers, and apart from the upgrade to Windows 10 there should be very little immediate difference. All the same software is available to staff, but in a light, ultra-portable and high definition package. The screen runs at twice the number of pixels (quality) as a 1080p high definition screen, and as such is a joy to use. Turn the Surface Pro on its side however and you’ll enter “tablet mode” where the device touchscreen is optimised for you to use your finger to interact with the device, and even (if you wish) as a replacement to the pen). These features are what makes the Microsoft Surface Pro a unique device; a powerful, hybrid laptop/tablet with a wireless pen that allows you to interact with documents as though they were a traditional pen and exercise book.

In the next post I will look at the element of replacing the traditional exercise book or lever-arch file in more detail, and discuss how OneNote and Class Notebook can be utilised to save time on printing/photocopying and collecting books, as well as avoiding going up to a full week without being able to return students work.

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