Update: Teaching With a Surface Pro 3 In The Classroom

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew's College

Six SurfacePro3 for use in classrooms at St Andrew’s College

UPDATE: a survey of teachers using a Surface Pro 3 at St Andrew’s College has collated their feedback and you can read the blog summary here.

Judging by the search engine queries related to teaching with a Surface Pro 3 that end up on this blog, there appears to be significant interest in the wider education sector in how teachers are using these devices in the classroom. We started a trial of 5 teachers with Surface Pro 3 tablets across Years 6&7 in our Preparatory School and the Maths and English Departments in our Secondary School on the 1st October and today I asked them to meet and discuss how it’s working out for them.

I’ve broken the feedback down into a few main areas:

  1. Student Interaction / Feedback
  2. Explorations into the Windows 8 App Store and other software being used
  3. Ongoing issues / challenges
  4. Changes to pedagogy being explored

Student Interaction / Feedback:

  • A number of students have been asking our teachers whether the Surface Pro 3 would be a good device for them to buy – both for those coming back to school next year and those heading to tertiary study in 2015. They are attracted to the combination of both typing and handwriting and the demonstrated use of Microsoft OneNote by the teachers and the ease with which they file notes.
  • Students in Year 11 English have commented about the increased movement of the teacher around the classroom as they are “freed up” from using resources on a computer that is connected to a projector. The wireless use of Miracast has given the teachers more freedom to roam, whilst still having the key resources available.
  • In the Year 6 class the teacher commented that when he is not personally using the Pro3, his students are – they are writing directly into their own OneNote Notebooks which have been shared with the teacher so he can access them.
    • He gave an example of the students working on a decimal place exercise via BBC Bitesize Math – they were solving the problems with their pen and paper but were passing the Pro 3 around to allow them to enter results into the website to progress to the next problem, whereby the next student could enter the results (all shared on the classroom projector via a ScreenBeam Education Pro Miracast device)
  • Our Year 7 teacher trialling the Pro 3 mentioned the speed at being able to turn it on/off to accomplish small tasks is seeing her use it more frequently but for shorter periods of time, compared to setting up her laptop and working on that.

Explorations into the Windows 8 App Store and other software being used:

  • Fluid Math is now in the Windows 8 App Store and has been explored by our maths teachers
  • Prezi.com now have an app in the Windows 8 App Store as well, and Prezi is a tool that is used by quite a few of our teachers.
  • MS Office Mix (which we’ve blogged about before) is proving very popular and I will be running two training sessions for our staff on this over the next month,
  • The Radial Menu as part of the OneNote 2013 App

    The Radial Menu as part of the OneNote 2013 App

    A distinction was made between:

    • OneNote App (lightweight version of the app and has the Radial Dial which allows for rapid access to contextual menus.
    • OneNote Desktop App – the full version of the application that comes with MS Office.
    • It was apparent that both could be used – they sync perfectly and the lightweight app has a better full screen option to reduce distractions
  • OneNote Class NoteBook Creator will streamline the setup and deployment of NoteBooks for students and make the ongoing management of these significantly easier for the teachers.

Ongoing issues / challenges:

  • Much of this discussion revolved around the changes required in using the web based version of our Student Management System (SMS) and were not so much a reflection on the Surface Pro 3, as the software itself.
  • ScreenBeam Pro for Education

    ScreenBeam Pro for Education

    It was acknowledged that as great as Miracast devices are, they are not flawless yet and there were some ongoing intermittent dropouts of the screen sharing between the Surface Pro 3 and the Screenbeam units.

  • All teachers had experienced freezes and the devices locking up – notably this occurred when waking from sleep and it required a hard reset to get the Pro 3 working again. This is likely to be fixed in future firmware releases and most teachers were understanding of this given the product is less than two months old and the problem didn’t occur overly frequently.
    • In a bizarre fix, a number of teachers commented that if they disconnected and then reconnected the magnetic keyboard this seemed to fix a number of problems e.g. if the device had dropped all wireless adaptors. Rather than reinstalling them, a disconnect/reconnect of the keyboard sometimes helped.
  • Another issue was sometimes the Pro 3 pen would lose it’s pairing with the tablet and it would need to be paired again (or even have the batteries removed).
    • If the pen started to lose it’s accuracy, a tip was suggested that by using it with the OneNote App this would re-calibrate it.
  • The default camera app seems to have quite a long focal range, making it hard to take close up pictures. Furthermore, the camera app lacks any basic editing features such as digital zoom or cropping, so it ended up being quite ineffective at taking pictures in the class of detailed work.

Changes to pedagogy being explored:

  • Pro 3 WritingGiven the ultra mobility of the Surface Pro 3 a number of teachers commented how it would now go with them on field trips, and that by pairing it with a smart phone for an internet connection they could have real time access to all their data.
  • Because the tablet stayed with the teacher in an English class as she roamed the class, she was more likely to use a wider range of apps / programmes / resources to show students because the device was with her rather than up the front of the classroom tethered to the projector.
  • Similarly, with Maths the teachers were finding that having the tablet with them meant they could help individual students with problems and that by solving the equations in OneNote, not only could all students see it in the shared NoteBook, but other students could “watch along” in real time via the project as the screen was being shared via Miracast.
    • All teachers noted this is forcing them to think about how they layout their OneNote Notebooks and commented that the student/teacher collaboration section created by the Class NoteBook Creator tool will resolve this problem.
  • Again, because of the ultra mobility of the device a number of the teachers have found themselves using it at home and checking in on what students are doing via OneNote for homework.
    • One noted that he can easily write comments on student work with the Pro 3 pen, highlight something for them, or even insert an audio note because it is so easy.
    • Another teacher commented how they are using a “digital stamp” when checking over student work to indicate they’ve looked at the student’s work but may not have written a comment.

It’s still relatively early days in the use of these tablets at St Andrew’s College and the ongoing reflections will be important, particularly as other staff consider whether to get a Pro 3 when their laptops are up for replacement. From the group present today however, every one of them said they are ready to return their laptop with the phrase of “I don’t think I could get by without my Pro 3 anymore!” being echoed by all.

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