How Surface Pro 3 tablets are allowing educators to truly innovate


The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh.

I called some Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) teachers recently to hear how they were getting on with their new Surface Pro 3 tablets. It’s still early days, of course – most of them only took their devices out of the box at the end of last term or the beginning of this one – but even so they’re all finding – and sharing – some exciting possibilities both for learning and administration.

I spoke to:

Each one had interesting stories to tell, and all are still exploring the possibilities of their devices. Along the way they are exciting lots of interest, not to say envy, on the part of colleagues and students. But the bonus is that others who don’t yet have a Pro 3 are often motivated to discover how much more they can do with the devices that they do have. So Annette Iafrate, for example, who uses the Surface Pen to give feedback on students’ work, finds that students can feedback on each others’ work on ordinary touch screen netbooks with the aid of Skitch Touch app for Windows.

SkitchMost Surface Pro 3 users are linking their devices to projectors for some of their classroom work – Julie Cooper shows her students the capabilities of One Note Class Notebook, Thomas Stanley, at Cornwallis, uses his device to project ‘Sway’ presentations for assembly and Annette Iafrate has already had a Skype lesson on volcanoes with a Ranger at Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains. The children were as enthusiastic as you’d expect. ‘I enjoyed it because we got to know more about Yellowstone from someone who works there. I would like to use Skype in class again,’ wrote 2F student Jodie afterwards. Skype has excited the interest of colleagues in other departments who can see not only the possibilities but the ease with which it’s achieved, especially with the help of ‘Skype in the Classroom’.

SITC 2

Another striking feature of work with the Surface Pro 3, mentioned by all the people I spoke to, is the freedom it gives teachers to leave the front of the room and be among the students, not only looking at what they’re doing but picking up on their work, perhaps showing it on the screen at the front of the class, annotating it, inviting comments. OneNote is excellent for this, and if the pupils are not using compatible technology – or any – their work can be photographed and imported into OneNote, a technique which I recall Anthony Salcito mentioning as being used in schools in the developing world.

OneNote marking

Thomas Stanley is one teacher who roams with his device. Cornwallis has large learning plazas perhaps with seventy or eighty students, and, says Thomas, the ability to be among students with a sophisticated device, sitting with groups and individuals, ‘Moving them on wherever they are’, is a real bonus.

John Cooper is also a believer in being among the students, but his environment is rather different from most of the others. South Downs is a Further Education College, and John’s students are all learners aged sixteen to twenty who didn’t always get on well at school and now need to make up lost ground if they are going to progress further. So, says John,

“I don’t teach as a secondary teacher. They’ve been there and it didn’t work, so I have a much freer and simple way of teaching.”

He has quite small groups, and uses maths material that are related to the vocational courses that the students are taking — ratios for paint mixing, Pythagoras as demonstrated in roof trusses.

“I can pick three or four YouTube clips, put them on a Sway and pass them around. ‘If I have a one or two minute video,12 or 15 students can see it individually or in pairs.”

John has a great example (which he’s shared on the MIEE Yammer group feed) of students using his Surface Pro 3 to solve a personal problem.

“My dyslexic learners like having their past revision papers on the Surface Pro as they can change to a pastel background and my visually impaired learners can zoom in.”

He described to me how one student chooses different backgrounds on different days.

“She will flit between them till she finds the one that suits her that day.”

The device is physically convenient, too, for passing around.

“A nice big tablet, but they use it flat on the desk so it’s not a barrier like a laptop can be.”

Matthew Davies, at Treorchy Comprehensive, is also keen on the ‘roaming’ approach:

“I can choose an excellent piece of work and put it up on the screen for all to see, pick up the good points or otherwise. The pupils appreciate that, and are proud if something’s chosen.”

Matthew is a deputy head a Treorchy, with a heavy management workload and he spoke to me at length about how Surface Pro 3 is in a class of its own when it comes to administration, He finds that his life has been made considerably easier by his device. which he bought back in August, having realised that it was just what he was looking for.

“I was after a new laptop, but as soon as they announced the Pro 3 I felt it would be invaluable – right size, right weight, with a pen and a touch screen. Now it’s become my classroom tool, my admin tool and a tool to support individual pupils. It’s with me all the time. I take it to meetings and instead of a laptop which I have to control, I can pass it around for everyone to use and see.”

He also likes being able to work seamlessly between home and school. All in all, he says,

“Students and staff are really envious, because it’s not at all like the laptops they have at home. It’s more portable, with a touch screen and a pen to annotate work – they do like that particularly.”

Surface Pro 3

So there we are – just five people, using Surface Pro 3 for a very short time, and yet already it’s proving to be a game changer. All of them told me more than there’s room for here. The potential for changing classroom pedagogy, for example, deserves a closer look.

The key to it all is that these are teachers who actually want to work differently and aren’t afraid to exploit the technology to make it happen. Multiply that by six, to include all of the 2015 MIEE cohort, and then extend the time scale forward to the end of this school year, or well into the next, and who knows what might be achieved?


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