I recently read Microsoft’s announcement regarding the launch of Windows 365. Now the launch is focussed on Enterprise customers but I can see so much potential within the education space, especially after the last year and the pandemic.
Win 365 basically is a virtual computer in the cloud running Windows. You can watch the launch video above. From an education standpoint I can see a couple of significant benefits both from a teacher and student point of view:
- Consistency and personalisation across devices
- School hardware purchasing
- Data Protection.
Lets deal with each of the above one by one.
Consistency and personalisation
Students are likely to have to access learning content plus to create portfolios and evidence learning using different devices. They might use school PCs while in school computer labs, access materials via a laptop, desktop or tablet when at home, and even use a laptop or tablet in general lessons where shared or 1:1 devices are available. The challenge for this has always been the different operating systems and the resultant differences in apps across platforms. Where apps have different user interfaces or functionality across platforms, this puts a cognitive load on students, which takes away from their capacity to focus on the learning content itself. Providing students a consistent interface across devices therefore allows students to focus more of their thinking capacity on the content at hand rather than the tool to access it. Additionally, students can jump between devices, picking up exactly where they left off. So a student might be working on a presentation on a desktop PC with a nice large screen in a lab, but then jump back into the same piece of work later in the day, from their tablet, at exactly the point they left the work when they left the lab.
Another issue with the current multi-device setup is personalisation. Students may setup their tablet, but then have to do the same on their laptop and school computer, assuming the school allows for some personalisation. Using a virtual computer, students can setup their preferences once and then will see these no matter what device they access.
School hardware Purchasing
Purchasing of client devices for schools has proven problematic as schools havent been able to establish appropriate replacement plans plus have to wrestle with different subjects having different requirements in relation to the specification of computers. A media studies class working on video editing is likely to need more than an English class doing some simple word processing. This then leads to a variety of different kit in different locations in a school. A move to a virtual computer approach simplifies the hardware, as the main requirement is simply to be able to handle the streamed content from the virtual computer. As such this may mean the hardware can be cheaper and hopefully from this effective replacement cycles can be established. It also means that we no longer have the complexity of different hardware in different subject areas. Where we need better resources, we simply provision a better virtual computer, but all accessible from whatever device the teacher/student has in front of them. I will however note that this will obviously depend on the cost associated with the virtual computers themselves; We havent yet seen the pricing for Win 365 from Microsoft with this likely to be key in education.
The last year has required staff and students to make use of personal devices at times. This brings with it the risk of data being stored on personal devices where it may remain even when the device is disposed of, leading to the data being leaked. A switch to virtual computers would address this as the data wouldn’t be stored on the local computer, but instead on the virtual computer which can be accessed from any device.
Win365 just reminds me so much of Thin client computing and the potential it promised when I looked at it back in 2015/16. At the time I couldn’t make Thin client work for my schools’ needs possibly due to the technology and flexibility not quite being there at the time. Maybe with Win365 and Azure this may now have changed. Maybe we can finally have a solution which allows the students to access their digital learning space from anywhere, anytime and on any device, but with a consistent and persistent interface. Obviously the pricing will be key here, however I note that the cost of storage and of computer power is only coming down, so even if not viable now I see this as the direction of travel.
If G-Suite and Office 365 represented the big jump over the last 5 years, putting students files, conversations and meetings in the cloud, it may be that Win365, and putting their very computer in the cloud, is the next big thing.