I often have colleagues and friends come to me for advice, not marital (although I’ve been happily married for sixteen years) not financial or philosophical…technical.  It really just comes with the territory of bein g an EdTech teacher.  People assume that you are always going to know the answer and be able to solve their problems with a few key strokes or a simple command…it gets stressful!  The holiday season is no different and indeed probably worse because many parents and students will be searching the sales for the right computer to buy for school.  Without a doubt, there are many choices out there, but wading through the sales ads and black Friday deals can cause your head to spin.  From a technology teacher’s perspective I want to make sure that my students are getting a device that will help them do the work now, while surreptitiously preparing them for what they will be expected to use in the future workplace.  In a recent episode of his nationally syndicated radio show, Emmy award winning Technology guru Leo Laporte cut through some of the white noise and had some very practical answers that I want to expound upon.

Leo had a 7th grader, Colby from Clinton, MA, call his show.  His parents were planning on buying him a new tablet for his school and he was debating whether to get “Apple” or “Windows”.  His main goal was to get a tablet that would be of best use for his schoolwork and homework. It is an interesting question that Leo really took his time answering.  It should be noted that his school did use Windows (XP) machines but he wasn’t being told one way or another by his teachers or his school what was the best choice.  After talking through things with Colby, Leo came to the conclusion that a Microsoft Surface RT was the best choice for him.

“The iPad’s not really designed around typing”
Having an attached keyboard that was made to work with the tablet is a great thing.  If you are really considering using your computer as a work/school centric device, a keyboard is absolutely necessary.  As teachers and students we are expected to be able to type documents, emails, short stories, letters, etc, on a regular basis.  Even though you can buy a keyboard as an attachment for the iPad as Leo said, “the iPad is not really designed around typing.”  The Surface RT on the other hand IS designed to stand up like a laptop (kickstand) and have an attached keyboard.  It is simple addition to the world of tablets but it just makes sense that if you are using this in a school environment a built-in keyboard is a necessity.  I always spend time with my students to work on typing skills because I know that they will benefit from it in the future.  With the implementation of online testing, and in Florida (my home) and other states, students being required to take at least one online course by the time they finish high school, students are needing to communicate and collaborate via the keyboard.  It is a simple advantage but it makes sense when evaluating the options.

“…comes with Microsoft Office”
Colby was looking to make the best choice for him and his parents pocketbook, that’s why he called to get an opinion on what the best device was.  Leo pointed out that the Surface comes with the full version of Office.  With the included touch-optimized versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, the Surface can be a productivity workhorse for any teacher or student and with 200 GB of SkyDrive2 storage included for 2 years, you don’t have to worry about losing a flash drive.  It is also important to recognize the recent launch of the Student Advantage program from Microsoft.  Beginning Dec. 1, any academic institution that licenses Office for staff and faculty can provide Office 365 ProPlus for students at no additional cost.  The tools that we are providing to students help to make sure that they are “career ready” as Kim West wrote about in a previous blog post.  With Office 365 including Outlook, Yammer, Sharepoint and Lync, students

and teachers will be able to work and collaborate using the 21st century skills that the future workforce is looking for.  I know from experience that it takes time and training for many teachers to embrace this shift, but the movement is inevitable
and when facing these things it is best to go forward with our heads up.

“…best of both worlds.”
When he makes his final recommendation to Colby, Leo says, “It’s still a tablet, but you can attach the keyboard and get some work done.  It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”  I believe that is what Microsoft set out to create, a machine that would allow you to have the flexibility of a touch-centric tablet, with the working capability of a laptop.  Both teachers and students need something that fits this category.  In the age of multiple devices, we need something that works at all levels.  The iPad is good “for recreational use…” Leo says, “but for a student …you’re better off with the Surface RT.”  This is not meant to be a referendum against other products, it is instead meant to recognize the commitment that Microsoft has to the teacher and the student not only in philosophy, but in the design and everyday thinking behind their products.  

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make but I thought this was a very useful discussion from a non-partisan source like Mr. Laporte, hopefully this helps some of you out there. By the way, if you know an EdTech teacher or a tech guru that you always go to for advice, go easy on them this holiday season or bring them some cookies, those always go a long way towards soothing the savage beast.  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

David Lopez
Microsoft Fellow and Master Trainer