Windows 365 and Education?

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:

  1. Consistency and personalisation across devices
  2. School hardware purchasing
  3. 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.

Data Protection

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.


What’s next?

The last year has seen schools and other educational establishments jump forward in their use of technology.  Note, I say Technology rather than EdTech as I think EdTech represents a narrower, and often slightly biased view on the technology actually in use in education.   The question I now find myself with, when thinking about technology strategy, is where next?

The last year saw 1:1 devices, whether school issued or bring your own, grow massively as schools sought to continue learning despite students being at home.    It also saw a massive jump towards cloud platforms including Office 365, Google Workspace for education (I think that’s what its now called!), Showbie and many more.  Additionally, video, either pre-recorded or live, became a key part of lessons.  Some of these things are now very much hear to stay or at the very least will be significantly more common than they were prior to the pandemic.

But what comes next?   What are the next jumps forward?

I decided to give this some thought and try to do a little future gazing.   I will acknowledge one thing the last year has taught me, and that is that we cant accurately predict very far into the future;  Who predicted 2020 would start with a pandemic?    But that said, I think it is important to look forward and at least try and imagine where we might be going.

Learning anywhere, anytime

The pandemic saw creation of massive amounts of learning content largely in the format of videos.   There is an increasing amount of learning content which students can access independently both available on the internet, but also within their own schools learning platforms.   The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place outside the classroom.     As a result I think we will start to see more of this learning anywhere and anytime although possibly it will start of with a growing number of students being directed to, or self-engaging in, such content rather than a momentous shift of learning in general.   Maybe we will see the revenge of the MOOC, but maybe not in the same format/shape as in 2012 when the fanfare of MOOCs never quite came to all that they promised.   Or maybe we will just see the continued creation of free to access learning content, by educators across the world followed by the curation of such content ready for teachers and students to access as needed.  Another possibility might be an increasing in the number of virtual schools.   There are certainly a number of options as to how learning anywhere, anytime might progress.

Micro Credentials

Linked to the above, we will likely see students potentially engaging in learning broader than the taught curriculum, but maybe only dipping in and out of subjects or topics of interest at a given moment in time.    I think there is the potential for this to reignite the need for micro digital credentials or badges;   A way for smaller units of study, much smaller than a traditional GCSE or A-Level, to be recognised with some sort of digital badge.   Now, I note that digital badges have been around for some time, however I think the current situation may see them become a subject of discussion, development and greater use.  I myself am already looking to make use of digital badges with at least one programmes run in my school.

AI (Artificial intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning)

AI and ML are already in use in schools, in the automatic transcripts created from Teams meetings, in our grammar and spellchecker and in a number of other almost transparent ways.   We have also seen the growth in educational products which allegedly use AI or ML, however often in my view this is just these terms being used as buzzwords as opposed to products actually using AI or ML.   This is something we need to challenge by asking vendors to explain how their product uses AI or ML.   Going forward though, I think we will see increasing applications of AI and ML to teaching and learning, to assessment and to drawing conclusions from the massive wealth of data which schools routinely produce.   I see the use of AI and ML in identifying patterns and correlations in school data which will allow teachers to be more responsive to our learners and their learning.   The potential is significant however I believe it needs to be led by schools/colleges rather than the tech vendors seeking to sell the next big thing.   I therefore think we need more projects like that at Bolton College and all the work the have done on Ada, their student assistant.


The three items above, learning anytime anywhere, micro credentials and AI/ML are the three areas I can see growing in the next five years.   There are other areas such as virtual or augmented reality which I also see scope for growth, however the three areas mentioned are the ones I see to be more likely to see significant progress.     It is always very difficult to predict the future, and even more so when it comes to technology, however I wonder if in five years’ time I will look back on this post and prove to be correct?   Or maybe I will be miles off the mark.

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