Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald is a freelance writer who regularly writes for the Microsoft UK education blogs.
This term I’ve been looking at the arrival of Windows 8 in education. The story for most institutions, as you’d expect, is that it’s early days. As 2012 comes to an end, a school, typically, will have Windows 8 installed on a few desktops in the network team’s area. Here the network manager and the technicians are carrying out a detailed evaluation, methodically working through to ensure all the school’s regular software is compatible and making plans for full rollout. At the same time, other members of staff will have been coming in to sample the new experience and give their feedback. The usual plan in these cases is to move steadily to full rollout of Windows 8 during the first half of 2013. As one network manager explained to me:
‘We’ve not set a timescale, we’ve probably 50 or 60 applications and we’re testing every one to make sure it works.’
He adds, going some way to explain why that methodical approach to Windows 8 adoption is possible:
‘Windows 7 is so reliable.’
We’ll be following some of these schools with a series of blogs that pay attention to the experience of students, staff, administrators and senior leaders – with, of course, particular emphasis on the impact on teaching and learning.
Already, though, in some schools and universities there’s enough progress to provide significant pointers to the possibilities opened up by Windows 8.
There is, for example, the prospect of using Microsoft development tools for building Windows 8 apps and deploying them in Windows Store. Here, higher education is leading the way, with schools planning to follow. Derby University’s Computer Science Department has deployed Windows 8 in its computer labs and is including Windows app development in its courses. Then there’s our recent case study blog on the work in progress at University College London, which shows a particularly striking example of what’s possible.
This creative work in higher education sends a strong signal to schools about what’s possible in computer science, particularly given the ready availability of sophisticated development tools within ‘Dreamspark’. The schools themselves are undoubtedly aware of this.
‘Once the app development starts, we’ll see some interesting things,’ says a school network manager.
Dr Dean Mohamedally, one of the leading figures in the developments at UCL, draws attention in the case study to the importance to his graduate and postgraduate courses, of touch screen and multi-monitor capability (both strong features in Windows 8) in enhancing interaction and visualisation. That, surely, is food for thought for those who up to now have seen touch technology as primarily useful in class with younger children and students who lack fine motor skills.
That’s certainly very much the case, but it’s also true that collaborative work with students gathered round tablets or working together on a large touch screen, is a scenario that will work with every age group. On a conventional desktop in that situation, the mouse, ‘owned’ by one person, becomes a barrier to direct collaborative and creative interaction with the screen.
We’ve encountered two schools already that are exploiting touch screen technology with secondary school children. At Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, fourteen Windows 8 Acer touch screen tablets have been in classroom action for some months now, proving their worth as tools for collaborative learning. And at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, thirty touch screen desktop PCs are, at the time of writing, are going live with Windows 8. We’ll be reporting here on developments in these schools, in some detail, quite soon.
Windows 8 tablets and hybrids
Up to now not many schools have had the opportunity to try out ‘Surface’ or third party Windows 8 touch screen tablets in the classroom. There are plans to do so, however, and we’ll be keeping up with developments. Where individuals have been able to evaluate them, however, the response is very favourable. Network managers appreciate the availability of Microsoft Office, and the sheer manageability of a Windows 8 tablet that will save student-created work to the school network.
One of our recent blog posts ‘Surface Reviews from IT Education Staff’ gives a flavour of what we’ll later be reporting on as experience spreads across schools.
Students are the key
Time and again, network managers report that students expect to see the latest technology in schools and will take easily to Windows 8.
‘Students will love Windows 8,’ says one network manager.
‘Some may have an Xbox. They know the interface, they will soon have Windows 8 on their computers at home.’
And, without doubt, they’ll be quick to exploit all the Windows 8 features to the full.