Microsoft Surface: My views

SurfaceFor a week or so I have had a couple of devices on loan from Microsoft, namely a Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Laptop.    My focus has been on some initial experimentation with the Surface Pro device.   My reasoning for focusing on the Surface Pro rather than the other options being the fact it is closer in nature to the iPad Pro devices we are currently using in school and therefore the Pro represents a clear direct alternative.   So far my overall reaction has been a positive one.

It is sometimes the little things that make all of the difference.   One of these little things in relation to the Surface Pro is the magnetic nature of the pen which means you can attach it to three out of four of the sides of the device.  The only side you can’t attach it to is the one with the power and volume buttons on it.    This should help in avoiding misplacing the pen plus means you don’t need a clunky case with a space to store the pen.

Sticking with the pen, I was surprised to find its power source is a AAAA battery.    I had expected the pen to contain a rechargeable battery however on review I think Microsoft got it right with a removable battery in that it won’t suffer from memory effect as rechargeable batteries do.   It does however add a cost consideration in that the batteries will need replaced.   That and I suspect AAAA, being not as common as AA or AAA, will not be particularly cheap however from what I have read Microsoft reckon each AAAA battery will last a decent amount of time before needing changed.

A lovely feature of the pen is the eraser.   Like a HB pencil with a rubber eraser at the rear, the Microsoft pen can simply be spun around to erase your annotations, drawings or mistakes.    This is another “little thing” however I found this process of spinning the pen around to erase mistakes so natural and therefore such an excellent feature of the device.

Along with the Pro I was supplied with one of their detachable keyboards which magnetically attaches to one side of the tablet.   The magnetic connection was easy to make as well as to separate the tablet from the keyboard.   The keyboard itself gave a reassuring feel in use on a flat surface so I suspect would be reasonable for long term use.   I also tried using it on my lap where again it seemed to work reasonably well although, as is the issue with keyboards of this type, it offered a little bit of flex making it not quite as good an experience as you would get from a conventional clamshell laptop.    All of this being said, I think I would generally only be using the keyboard as a cover, using the inking facilitate to hand write notes, etc and make annotations with only occasional use of the keyboard where longer documents require typing.

The keyboard, as a cover, can be flipped round the back of the device out of the way allowing it to be used in its tablet form.   I wasn’t too happy with this in that I didn’t like being able to feel the keys on the rear of the device, where the keyboard had been flipped to the back.   This issue is a common issue with devices with flip around keyboards.   It was a colleague who has been experimenting with the Surface Book who indicated that the keyboard could be reversed meaning that when flipped to the back of the device, the keys are then facing inwards onto the back of the device, allowing you to hold the device without feeling the keys.   This was more comfortable to use in tablet mode but means when reverting back to using the keyboard, you need to remove, flip and reconnect the keyboard before you can use.

The tablet device comes with a kickstand on the rear allowing you to make it free standing on a desk or other flat surface or to keep it upright when connected to the keyboard for typing.    This seems useful if you want to watch something on the device however I note that the tablet doesn’t have any rubber feet on its edges.   As such when without the keyboard attached and when trying to write on the tablet I found it slid away from me and therefore required I use one hand to hold it in place.   Considering the kickstand I suspect it would only see use where I was making use of the keyboard as in general operation I am more likely just to hold the device, as a tablet, in one hand while writing on it with the other.

The surface comes with both a front and rear facing camera, as is common in tablets.   A quick use showed the rear facing camera to offer a good level and quality in its digital zoom feature although I note that I haven’t so far tried it out under varied lighting conditions, etc.

Overall I found the Surface Pro good to use.   The one issue I had with it was the rather pricey cost of it meaning that it would be more expensive than the iPad pros we currently have in use.    That said, the Surface represents a full desktop computer which is something which cant quite be said for the iPad.    As a result of this one issue, it was with great interest I ready Microsoft’s announcement of the new Surface Go device, which basically will be a more affordable version of the surface, putting it much closer in price bracket to the iPad Pro device.  You can read more about this here.    I am hoping to get a trial of a Surface Go at some point during September.    I believe it may just be the missing piece in my search to identify where I see classroom tech going over the next few years.





Digital Literacy

A post be @trainingtoteach on twitter got me thinking about what we mean by digital literacy.    This instantly caused me problems as it covers a rather broad spectrum.   As a result I decided to write this post in the hope of gaining some insight in thinking about digital literacy and trying to type up this post.

My first thoughts on “what is” digital literacy weren’t really getting me far so I decided to take a slightly different approach.    I decided to approach it from the other side of things and what is NOT digitally literate.

Not being digitally literate would involve being unable to make use of digital technologies.   By this I don’t mean being unable to make use of specific apps but being unable to make use of technology to solve a specific need or problem.    I think the need for a problem or a task is key as we don’t just use technology, we use it for a purpose.

Giving some consideration to what the problems might be and communicating with others, research, managing ourselves and others (e.g. online calendars and productivity tools), creating content to meet a specific need and modifying or combining existing content to create new content all jump to mind.   This seems to align a little bit with the so called 21st century skills.    I suspect with more time I could arrive at more problems or better define them however the focus of this post is on what it is to be digitally literate.

When encountering a problem we first need to be able to identify that technology could help us.   Someone who isn’t digitally literate may be unable to arrive at this conclusion.   Next a non-digitally literate person, upon realising technology can help, may not know what tools to use.    A person who is not digitally literate would be unable to progress from here as they would know little of the available tools plus be unable to carry out research to identify tools that would be able to help.   They would also lack the ability to use communication and collaboration tools such as twitter, email, etc. to ask others for support.     Even if they can identify tools they may have difficult in identifying the best tool for the given situation. They would lack the knowledge, understanding and skills required in identifying what technologies tools to use as well as why a specific tool is the best option.

Assuming a person manages to get past the first phase and identifies appropriate software and hardware the next phase would be to make use of the technology to solve the issue at hand.    A person who was not digitally literate may be unable to use the tools at hand.    They would lack the skills and experience.  They would also be unable to use research tools, etc. to try and learn a new tool.   They wouldn’t be able to use trial and error or intuition and the hopefully appropriately designed user interface.    How to use the technology would present a problem.

Another area a non-digitally literate person would have difficulty with would be finding and creating resources.   They wouldn’t know where to find images or audio files for use and would also have difficulty with creating their own files.

The issue with resources brings me nicely to another area where the non-digitally literate user would have difficulty.   They wouldn’t understand the implications of using resources from other users.   They wouldn’t understand copyright or licensing including creative commons licensing.     The failure to understand implications of technology use would likely extend beyond just copyright into areas such as online safety and privacy.    They may not understand the implications of posting a personal image on Facebook with poor privacy settings.

So being non-digital literate is not knowing what do use, why to use and/or how to use it.    It is also not understanding the implications of technology use.    I cant help thinking that this isn’t any different from having the skills and experience to use any tool, technological or not.   If I am a tradesperson do I not need to know which tool to use and when.   Do I not need to have the skills to use it and an understanding of the implications of its use?     When we talk about language literacy are we not talking about using the correct terms, syntax, etc. and therefore knowing what, why and how to use the tool of language, along with the implications?

So why are discussions of digital literacy so complex?





Progression of classroom tech: Remembering the OHP

When I first trained as a teacher the main teaching aid was either an overhead projector or more commonly a roller blackboard.    I remember taking an LCD Panel to a school during school placement visits as a trainee teacher.   This device sat on top of a OHP and was connected to a laptop, allowing me to project whatever I had on my laptop screen.  The staff loved this new piece of tech as did the students.  This device was the precursor to the now common data projector which combines the OHP, and its light source, with the LCD Panel, into a single device.

So why the reminiscing?   A recent article in the TES titled “The pedagogic perfection of the overhead projector – and why interactive whiteboards alone wont ever match it” got me thinking back.

The article highlights the importance of facing a class when interacting with them and how the Interactive Whiteboard isn’t supportive of this.    I agree with this point which is no surprise given my general dislike for the interactive whiteboard as a classroom technology.   I have always found the whiteboard as a fixed focal point at the “front” of the class to be limiting.   I also find the fact it is stuck in place as a restriction.    My preference for some time has been towards mobile devices, such as the iPad, a data projector, a screen sharing setup and a writeable board surface.    With this you can accomplish everything you can with an interactive whiteboard and more, at less cost, assuming we are only first looking at issuing a teacher device.  It is also a portable solution which can be taken around the class as a tool to work with individual students as well as being taken to the staff room and home to prepare lessons.    It’s also a method of recording student progress and building a portfolio through taking photographs…..and that’s before we look at its benefit as a productivity tool in helping teachers in managing tasks, calendars, email, etc.      Student devices, either BYOD or school issued add further to this setup and even more so where a 1:1 student:device ration is achieved.

The author of the article goes on to identify digital ink as the next progression in the technology and I have to agree.    With digital ink we have the ability to annotate, draw, sketch, highlight, etc. all with a high degree of accuracy, with students instantly having the resulting resources at their fingertips, with the ability for them to add their own contributions.    You may be thinking you can do the same with an IWB but the accuracy with inking is higher as has been attested by students.   Also you retain the ability to face the class as opposed to having your back to them, plus you can take it with you to a students desk as opposed to it being bolted to the wall at the front.

In thinking back I can now see the evolution of the central classroom tech during the period I have been teaching.   Chalk boards then OHPs, Whiteboards, LCD Panels, Data Projectors, IWBs, iPads and Digital Inking bring us to where we are now.    Each step has seen improvements, new facilities and developments however often supporting old approaches.   Digital inking seems a lot like the annotations I used to draw on my OHPs during lessons, something also identified by the writer of the TES article.   The question I now wonder is what the next evolution will be?



image from wiki commons by mailer diablo (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0)

EdTech and Brexit: some thoughts.

euroIt has been reported that IT budgets will be subject to a squeeze resulting from the Brexit decision and for those who have bought IT items recently this has already become evident.   Prices of Apple devices for example have already seen an increase.   I count myself lucky that we updated our iPad fleet just before the Brexit vote as had we delayed we might now see a bill thousands of pounds more expensive than the cost we actually paid.

Revenue costs will be an issues as we may see some service costs increase during the year ahead.   An example of this might be Microsoft licensing costs.   This will be difficult to deal with as it represents a revenue item with increasing cost.   It may require an assessment of the value of services being used with services of a lesser value being abandoned in order to afford those services which are critical or of a higher value.    If Microsoft licensing costs go up which other licensed products might we no longer be able to afford?

Capital projects are likely to take a significant hit as projects may no longer fall within the originally allotted budgets.   As such some projects may now be cancelled and not progress.    This may also result in some projects which previously may have been considered no longer being considered due to cost or potential future costs.

So what can we do?

The key is that of value.    We need to ensure that all that we do has the highest possible value and return on investment.

This is easier to do where planning is for a new project, new software or new hardware.   Here, if due to the financial situation, the decision is taken to not proceed with a purchase the net effect is zero;  we don’t have the item now so not purchasing it results in no change.     The more difficult situation to manage is where we want to bring about efficiencies by looking at what we have and by removing some items.     This may be removing items to replace them with something else, such as moving from desk based printers to centralised Multi-Function Devices or it might be removing something due to the fact that the cost vs benefit does not represent sufficient benefit given the tightening financial situation.    Any removal or ceasing of support is likely to meet with a negative response from users.

The coming year is likely to be more difficult that the year that has past, a year largely prior the Brexit decision.   Overall in terms of educational technology, the recent Brexit decision will not have impacted on the impact and potential impact on technology, however the cost of this technology has almost certainly seen an increase.    As such when taking a cost vs impact viewpoint, technology may now require a greater level of justification in order to counterbalance the increased cost.



Smartphones in the class

music-playlist-2There have been lots of discussions about the pros and cons of using technology in lessons each looking at the issue for a different perspective.   Some people are positive about how technology can benefit students and their learning while others cite detrimental impact to student writing ability or concentration.

A recent post in the TES presented the issue of how smart phones in particular were contributing to sexual harassment incidents in schools.   You can read the full post here.   Within the post the general secretary of the ATL explains that she feels that in too many places, sexual harassment has become acceptable.   The author of the post goes on to raise how sexual harassment has always existed however it is the impact of technology and social media which has greatly increased the scale of the problem.

I fully agree with the authors comments with regards the importance of staffs well being and dignity however I disagree with the suggestion that the solution is for schools to “insist that pupils’ phones be left at the door”.      This would remove many learning opportunities which arise where students have access to a mobile device in lessons.   In addition by removing the phone it removes the opportunity for students to learn about what is right and appropriate when it comes to using mobile devices including the cameras which they come with.    Where students previously might have drawn inappropriate sketches of their teacher, did we ban the pencil?

I also disagree with the authors comment regarding how “schools cannot cure the ills of society”.    Schools are part of society and cannot operate independently of it.     Therefore I feel we as educators have a responsibility to make sure students learn about the appropriate use of technology, the risks and challenges so that they are equipped to be better members of society.    Stopping student smart phones at the school doors either prevents or at least limits the potential for this learning.   Students will still have smart phones so if they are inclined to take inappropriate photos they are still likely to do it, albeit being more creative about how they sneak their smart phone into class.     As such we have gained little but lost the opportunity to have a discussion with pupils about how they should use their smart phones in class, in school and in society as a whole.

We need to take care in where we arrive at decisions to try and block or ban certain technologies.    Technology is now pervasive throughout society.    The issue is whether technology is put to good or ill, and working with students so that they learn to be respectful and responsible users of the power put in their hands through technology.





Would we ban the pencil had it been a sketch.

Was going to tweet this however decided not as 140char not enough to fully elaborate on my thoughts on this.


skype-lrgStarted experimenting during the last couple of weeks with Skype for Business.   On Friday for example I had a meeting with a colleague to discuss some ideas he had.   As we both work on different sites and I knew my colleague was eager to get things moving and have a meeting at the earliest opportunity I suggested a Skype session to allow for discussion.    Midway through the discussion he asked if I had another computer to look at as he was going to send me a link for a web page to look at.    At this point Skype for business came into its own as I suggested he should use the “present” option.

A few minutes later and the Skype call continued, however with me now able to see my colleagues screen via screen sharing while also still able to see and hear him via picture in picture.   My colleague was able to walk me around the site and how he felt this idea of his would work and how it would benefit the school.

With Skype for business it is possible for a number of people to come together in a single meeting, sharing screens and discussing the issues in hand.    As such I can see opportunities for student group work across schools geographically separated.   This might be a nice preparation for the world beyond school where increasingly we are having to work remotely or across borders.    It would also allow for master teaching or lecturing events where a single teacher can deliver to both students in the same room and also students in other schools and locations.   Again this could add an interesting global aspect to lessons.

I see quite a bit of potential in Skype for Business and its use within school so my intention going forward is to have a number of virtual meetings using it.   I am also hoping my colleague and also those he shares meetings with will also go forth and share as well as identifying creative and innovative ways Skype for business to be used within the school.



Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert

badge-mie2It was last night that I finally found out that I had been included on Microsoft’s list of Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts.   My original self nomination and supporting materials had gone in a couple of months earlier and it had been with some nerves that I awaited the originally advertised release date for the list of the 1st August.     It was again that I nervously waited for the revised date of the 15th August.   This date arrived and the working day came and went.    I saw a tweet suggesting the date had again been changed this time to the 16th so it looked like the nervous wait would continue.   Then at around 10pm on the 15th I saw another tweet this time including a link to the new list.     I promptly downloaded the document and scrolled through to the UK section where I was pleased to find my name.    The wait is over.

So what does it mean to me to be an MIEE?

Well it means sharing, sharing and sharing some more.    It means having access to a network or even better a community of educators who are making use of Microsoft products to enrich, enhance and re-imagine the learning experience for the students in our schools.   It means as part of this community, being a contributor and not just a consumer.     As such I have an expectation of myself that I will share ideas and contribute on a regular basis, giving back as much as I am taking.

Now being a MIEE will not make me focus purely on Microsoft products.  I am also a Google Certified Educator plus I work in a 1:1 iPad school.   The focus is on students and on learning.   The technology, whether it be Microsoft, Apple, Google, another vendor or even a mix of vendors is not important as the technology is just a tool to achieve an aim; the aim of providing excellent learning opportunities for students.   This being said, I hope that as a MIEE I will be able to access ideas and tools relating to Microsoft products and then share these with others.   This should allow me to build on some of my recent experimentation with Microsoft products including the likes of Sway, Snip, Office-Mix and Lens.

So today marks my first day as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.   I look forward to the year ahead and to hopefully living up to the title.