Eltham High rethinks teaching and learning with Surface Pro and cloud – 21st Century skills

Technology has taken learning from slate to paper to screen; from pencil to pen to stylus. Consequently, each generation of students should emerge with the skills and smarts to participate fully in the workforce of the day.

Victoria’s Eltham High School is keenly aware of the need to equip today’s students with 21st century skills, and understands that digital technologies and the cloud provide the platform that allows students to connect, collaborate and create both within and out of the classroom.

It equips them for today and prepares them for tomorrow.

The school’s transition to Microsoft Surface devices began in 2015 when school leaders recognised the potential of the technology to transform both teaching and learning and began a one-to-one computer programme that has been well received by students, parents and guardians.

The technology’s all-in-one approach, combining tablet, touchscreen and digital stylus, combined with the power of Windows 10 and Office 365 equips students with important digital literacy skills and a better understanding about new modes of working. At the same time, access to learning platforms such as OneNote and class notebooks encourage children to learn, to participate and to collaborate.

As a result of Eltham’s initiatives students now have:

  • seamless access to a rich array of digital resources and tools;
  • more understanding of how to work effectively in a digital environment;
  • enhanced collaboration skills and opportunities;
  • unlimited note-taking capacity; and
  • anytime anywhere access to learning content and their notes.

According to the school; “Having permanent, 24 hour access to digital learning technologies is an essential component for success in today’s digital learning environment. With greater access to real time learning resources and assistance from peers and staff, students experience higher levels of motivation and engagement in their learning.

“The barrier between school and home is also blurred as learning happens all the time, anywhere.”

Children who may be away from school because of an illness or injury can still learn and collaborate with their peers from home or hospital. Students who may be shy are often more willing to participate fully in an online environment.

Turbocharge transformation

To turbo-charge the transformation Eltham High provided a first tranche of 20 Surface devices to staff teaching students in years 7-9 allowing them to further familiarise themselves with the technology, enhance their own digital literacy and also explore how to spark new ways of learning and deepen student engagement.

Paired with effective professional development to explain to teachers how to make the most of the technology, staff were also encouraged to collaborate on lesson designs that made the most of the technology and also encouraged students to use multimodal inputs including the stylus as well as the keyboard.

That has had particular impact in some faculties; language teachers for example note how much easier it is for students to put in accents when writing in foreign languages when using the stylus rather than the keyboard.

The flexibility and richness of the platform has had many other significant benefits.

Adam Scanlon, Eltham’s Year 7 co-ordinator and integrated studies teacher says that; “Providing a platform like OneNote with digital paper and a pen allows students to freely think. With the ability to use images, audio and type notes all in one piece of “paper” provides a multimodal aspect to the digital learning environment.”


Lessons meanwhile can be enriched with embedded video, podcasts, and surveys with content automatically synchronised.

Scanlon says the same applies to the content that students create. “I like to provide scaffolds in OneNote to assist my students with navigating our different sections. When doing text analysis many of my students are now screen clipping or creating their own Venn diagrams to make comparisons.

“Students are able to choose how they approach and choose the mode they respond, whether it be through images, typed, inked hand notes, annotations or even audio.”

The rich array of response options is also encouraging higher participation rates according to French teacher Sue Keating. “OneNote class books have been a powerful formative assessment tool for me – to be able to use the collaboration space for students to make group responses.

“Students who would not normally contribute have been making contributions and it’s been instant feedback for me to see who needs further support or even extending.”

Learning loops

The technology has also expanded the ways in which teachers can communicate with children and provide learning support and recommendations.

Eltham e-learning co-ordinator Luke Herring says that bringing the pen back – albeit in a digital format – has been welcomed by teachers allowing them to instantly annotate student work and provide valuable feedback.

“Being able to assess and provide instantaneous feedback to students through oral presentations has enabled my students to instantly see the feedback I have provided in their OneNote. By the time they get back to their seat after presenting to their class they can see my feedback,” says Herring.

Students also appreciate the instant feedback. As one Eltham High student notes; “I use OneNote for nearly all my classes. In science we write prac reports and in English we do our essays in our private section. Our teacher can write over it and record their feedback which is good because I can listen back to it.”

Scanlon says that the rich digital solutions now available to both students and teachers also strip away the artificial constraints of exercise books and worksheets encouraging more creative and complete response.

“Lined paper in a book puts parameters on what students will produce. The freedom and flexibility of inking in OneNote means students are not constrained in their individual workbook,” he says.

Wireless connectivity in the classroom and cloud based applications also means that teachers and students are not confined to their desks but can locate themselves where it makes most sense through the day.

Importantly the solution also provides teachers with a window into student’s learning approaches. Scanlon says; “Through my students using pen in OneNote it makes thinking more visible and I can more easily make interpretations of my student’s understanding.”

The school now faces the challenge of ensuring this approach to learning with technology is applied consistently across all classes at the school to transform teaching and learning practices across the entire community.

As Luke Herring notes, Surface and OneNote are enhancing teaching best practice rather than demanding a confronting and wasteful rip-and-replace approach; noting; “We do not need to reinvent the wheel. It’s about curating the best resources, best questions and best modes of learning to ensure students build knowledge as well as the important 21st century skills.”

The learning advantage of this rich digital approach is clear to French teacher Sue Keating. “Finally I have a tool that allows me to move away from my lessons being teacher driven and encourage students to be creative and integrate their own digital material.

“Now learning is driven by my students, they are already becoming more flexible and I have noticed they are more creative in how they approach responding to tasks. Already I have seen students become more autonomous and self-regulating in their learning, making deeper connections to learning intensions.”

They are, in short, ready for the 21st Century.

Learn how to integrate Surface, OneNote and Windows 10 into your classroom by downloading our instructional OneNote here. It contains:

  • Surface videos teaching you ‘when to pen’
  • Ideas and samples (student work from Eltham Students across a range of subjects)
  • 4 strategies for teaching
  • 4 strategies for learning
  • ‘Have A Go’ templates to help teachers learn how to use the functionality of Inking in OneNote & Windows 10
  • Ways to ink in Windows 10.

Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates.