Originally posted on the Surface Blog
A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune to visit one of the premier schools in the US and a pioneer in the use of mobile computing in Education. I had heard a lot about Cincinnati Country Day School before I visited. I knew that they were the first school in the nation to go 1:1 back in 1996, and had heard great things about the Tablets in Education conference they host annually.
Even though I knew what to expect, I was still amazed by what I saw, and inspired by the vision of their IT Director, Rob Baker. Cincinnati Country Day School (or CCDS) is a private Pre-Kindergarten through High School located on a sprawling campus surrounded by sports fields in the suburbs of Cincinnati. With such a strong focus on technology, I had expected it to be obvious when I walked in – I guess I had in my head the “old school” stereotypes of technology centres with cables dangling from the ceilings and monitors lining the hallways, and at least a computer lab, or 3 or 4. I saw none of this. Walking around the lower, middle, and upper schools, I was struck by a few things:
- The focus on the Creative Arts – from their beautiful performing arts centre and music hall, to their student art gallery and all the artwork and photography covering all of the walls. Again, I had assumed that a school as focused on technology as CCDS is would be more geared to STEM disciplines. But Rob explained that when technology is as embedded into the learning process as it is in CCDS, it becomes a very natural and powerful creative tool, that’s not only great for science and math, but also can be used for digital arts, media production, and performance.
- Student Empowerment – especially in the middle and upper schools. Students get a “free bell” for studying, and there were lots of open collaborative spaces where I witnessed students doing group work with their tablets, and also some individual quiet study spaces. Students also have individual “advisory” sessions with teachers that help guide a lot of this self-directed learning.
- Mobility – everywhere on campus I saw students working both inside the classroom and outside the classroom in groups or individually. There were very few allocated single-use spaces – the whole design of the school helped to support the Anytime Anywhere Learning concepts. I also noticed that teachers rotated through different classrooms throughout the course of a day – it felt more like a University than a traditional high school.
- Tablets, tablets everywhere – I didn’t notice them at first because students were carrying them around like they would their books under their arms, and in their backpacks. But when I took a second look at the students sitting in the dining terrace, or lounging on the steps in the common area, I noticed they were all either casually browsing, writing or sharing content on their tablets.
We have other customers who have committed to Surface Pro 3, but CCDS is the first school to adopt Surface Pro 3 as their 1:1 student computing device. When I sat down to talk to Rob about his vision and philosophy around technology in Education, he spoke about 3 things – the importance and value of reading and writing to the way students learn, their focus on the creative process, and giving teachers and students technology tools that are versatile enough to support whatever they want to do. When I asked him why he chose the Surface Pro 3 for CCDS, he told me that it was the first no-compromise device that met all 3 of his criteria:
- Reading & Writing – “With the 3:2 aspect ratio and the big beautiful screen, the Surface Pro 3 is the first tablet PC that has a useable portrait mode for students to read and annotate naturally like they would a textbook or a piece of paper.” He also added, that he’s tried many different digital inking solutions across different devices and that the Surface Pro 3 has one of the best active pens and screen digitizers that he’s seen.
- Creativity – Rob was convinced long ago that the Windows platform with Office apps and especially OneNote combined with digital inking was the best technology platform to support student learning and creativity. “We have a saying at CCDS – ‘try typing that’.” And he goes on to explain that students need to learn creatively, without the restrictions of a keyboard or fill-in-the-blank type learning activities. “The creative process all starts with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil”.
- Versatility – “Every student learns differently, and every teacher teaches differently, so we need a device that will support them in whatever they want to do throughout their 4 years. The Surface Pro 3 is so lightweight yet solid, that I’m not worried about students carrying it around with them. And having the full power of Windows 8.1 with the keyboard and 12 inch screen make it a great primary computing device for teachers”. Rob went on to talk about device versatility in the context of removing constraints, “Any Device that lacks an active digitizer, and thus true pen on paper inking is too limiting in functionality. In a school, you want to empower your teachers and students with the ability to annotate, sketch, draw, show process and highlight anytime and anywhere they need to. Whether the students were typing, writing with the pen, using touch, reading or any combination of these: the focus was on the task at hand, not on the technology. When everything you do can be digital, the collaboration, engagement and creativity of students and teachers is amplified exponentially.”
I had heard from many Education Experts and Advisors that ultimately, the device doesn’t really matter – it’s more about the web, apps and the digital learning content available. So, at the end of our conversation, I challenged Rob with this notion, and his response was, “Sure, the device doesn’t matter… until you have the wrong device and can’t do what you want with it. Then it really matters.” You can watch more about why Cincinnati Country Day School chose Surface Pro 3 here: