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Powering the Future of Education

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by Wole Moses, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector Team

It’s exciting to see how technology is starting to transform the education space. Today, as a result of new academic standards, a recognition of the importance of digital skills for 21st-century jobs, and the falling prices of technology, schools throughout the country are expanding the use of tablets and laptops. Thus, providing students access to education content and curricula through new teaching and learning styles.

Ultimately, the device chosen makes a difference in the effectiveness of achieving the desired teaching and learning outcomes. Having worked on school device deployments with teachers and school leaders, there are several consistently recurring factors to consider when choosing education devices.

First and foremost, the device should be intuitive and easy for students to perform necessary tasks. For example, devices with a touch screen enable natural and intuitive interactions, which are especially important for elementary-age students. Physical keyboards become more important as students move into middle school with more papers and projects. Meanwhile, devices with active digitizer pens enable teachers to transform their tablet into a digital chalkboard; and when used by students are a great way to take notes in class—having been shown to help increase comprehension of subjects like math and science.

imageWindows 8.1 takes advantage of our OEM’s focus on designing their devices to provide an intuitive experience for students via all inputs. Touch and keyboard support is built in, and one of the favorite features is Windows "snap" which lets a student split the screen and, for example, watch an education video on one half of the screen while taking notes on the other half.

Another key advantage for students and teachers is active digitizer stylus support. Windows 8 builds in exceptional handwriting recognition which enables students to search through notes they've taken or transform handwritten math equations into text. It's amazing to watch how students utilize this feature to enhance their work at school and home. Windows 8.1 Update, released April 8, even further enhances the user interface for both touch and mouse and keyboard users.

Support for a wide breadth of education content is another important factor. It’s critical that the device chosen enables access to online or offline education content in the form of electronic textbooks and interactive learning apps. Support for flash-based education websites, Microsoft Office, and existing education apps are also key to maximizing a school’s investment.

Windows 8 supports the widest breadth of education content available, including Adobe Flash-based education websites and content; fast, fluid, and immersive touch apps through the Windows Store; and Microsoft Office—the world’s leading productivity software. All while still running any education software that works with Windows 7.

Lastly, we frequently hear from educators their need for a variety of device cost and form factors. For example, elementary schools might require more rugged devices able to withstand the inevitable drops. Meanwhile, teachers may require different device features than those provided to students. All within the tight budgets in which school leaders operate.

Microsoft has worked closely with its device partners to ensure schools have the widest breadth of form factors to choose from without unnecessary features driving up costs. Improvements contained in Microsoft’s most recent update enables a fluid Windows experience even on new very low cost devices. While running Windows 8 means schools operate efficiently by utilizing the same user interface, education content, apps, and infrastructure to manage all devices.

Some examples of new innovative devices that schools are getting excited about include:

  • The Dell Latitude 13, a Windows 8 notebook design with ruggedness and performance
  • Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2, a sleek lightweight tablet which in addition to featuring touch support also features an active digitizer pen and all school day battery life
  • The Asus T100 is a great low cost device providing a 2-in-1 form factor as a tablet that snaps into a keyboard
  • The Toshiba NB15t and Acer Travelmate B113 are great student notebooks at a great price

It’s absolutely exciting to be on the cusp of this digital transformation in education and Microsoft and our OEM partners are excited to help schools throughout this journey.

Comments
  • Computer technology is one of several teaching aids. It is not the only aid, and certainly not a substitute teacher. Has the education system worked? Will computer technology be deployed before faculty and staff know how to use it?

    Some parents undo the educational experience with their behavior while the student is at home. These same parents also attack and threaten the teachers for poor student performance instead of collaborating with the teachers to support the education of their children.

    Instead of defining the problem, the complainers “solutionize” the problem. They define the problem as the absence of their pre-conceived solution.

    Does the school faculty and staff know how they got to where they are, know what they want to become and know how to get there? Can they afford to get there? Are their size-up of their present state, their desired future state and their strategy for transition realistic? If not, don't go there.

    Will any version of software/hardware cure these problems? I doubt it. For anyone wishing to invent, develop and sell computer technology to educators, I have this snippet of advice. Before you begin, know your market. If you do not have a balanced solution for valid problems, it invariably comes back to haunt you. If you hype your solution, or make promises you cannot keep, you will not be able to manage their expectations.

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