Microsoft Showcase Classroom Regional Roadshow – Blenheim Palace Review

The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh.

On a cold day in late November I found myself in Blenheim Palace, the magnificent house, birthplace of Winston Churchill, that was given by a grateful nation to John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough in 1704 after his success at the Battle of Blenheim. I was there for a Microsoft Showcase Classroom Regional Roadshow, of which John Churchill, himself a bold strategic innovator, would surely have approved.

Blenheim Palace (

Run, for Microsoft, by leading consultancy The Tablet Academy, the Roadshows are being held throughout the academic year across the UK in twenty high-profile venues, including, as well as Blenheim,  SS ‘Great Britain’, The Eden Project and the National Museum of Scotland. At each venue there are separate sessions in the morning and afternoon, so there are forty in all.

After a brief welcome and introduction to Blenheim by a member of the Palace staff, we were each equipped with a Toshiba Encore 8inch Windows 8.1 tablet. Mark Yorke, managing director of Tablet Academy, started by introducing us to the Windows 8 start screen. When I quietly confessed to the person next to me that I was learning lots about the start screen even though I’d been using it for at least a year, I discovered he was having exactly the same reaction. It was a prime example of how, when it comes to technology, we all settle into the functions we know well and seem to work for us, and then fail to take advantage of much more that would help us. And that was just the start. Tablet Academy’s team took us through key Windows applications including OneNote, with Classroom Notebook Creator and Office Mix causing lots of interest. The icing on the cake was that each participant took away his or her own new Toshiba Encore Windows 8 tablet.

Showcase Classroom - logo

It’s clear, though, that the point of the Roadshow sessions is not so much to provide comprehensive training as to raise awareness of what Windows 8 and Office 365 can do for learning.  Crucial to this mission is the fact that the target audience is senior teachers, including heads, in state and independent schools.

At the end of term, with four Roadshows done and sixteen more to come, I had a catch up call with Tablet Academy CEO Professor Steve Molyneux.

‘So far, it’s been a fantastic success,’ he says. ‘We have had positive feedback all down the line, not least from schools that may have initially been looking at iPads and not considered Windows devices until they not only saw them demonstrated, but had the opportunity to experience them hands on.’

He confirmed that many participants make contact after attending a Roadshow, wanting to build on the experience.

‘We’ve had a lot of requests from schools wanting us to take them to the Showcase Classroom at Microsoft’s London HQ where we spend a whole day with them looking particularly at those products and services that need a bit more time.’

As I’d observed at Blenheim, he reports great interest in Office Mix, which many teachers had not heard of, and OneNote.

‘They’d previously tended to see OneNote as a personal tool without realising what can be done with it in the classroom.’

Tablet Academy, says Steve, is adding a full day course on One Note, Office 365, including the new ‘Delve’ and ‘Video Channel’ features, and Office Mix. Plans are also underway too for a course on Microsoft’s ‘Sway’.

All in all, with two more terms to go at the time of writing, the Roadshows looks set to be a stunning success. By the end of the programme some two thousand experienced and influential educators will have been introduced, hands-on to the learning benefits of Windows 8, Office 365 and Windows tablets. It’s a superb example of how to extend the creative use of technology in the classroom step-by-step, focussing on the learning benefits and ensuring the informed support of school leaders.

The full Tablet Academy offering is set out on their website and, says Steve.

‘If a whole school wants a full hands-on day they can contact us directly and we’ll make a bespoke programme for them.’

And, of course, Tablet Academy will be in evidence at BETT, not just in association with Microsoft.

‘Interestingly we will be on about six stands,’ says Steve. ‘Including Lenovo, Stone, Fujitsu and more. Just come and find us.’

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