This pandemic has changed nothing in the world of education

By Russell Ginley, Asia-Pacific Industry lead for Microsoft Devices

This pandemic has changed nothing in the world of devices in education.

Well, except for how much time is spent in the classroom and online. Oh and these things…

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  • Teachers have had to adapt to a new ‘normal’ – they also needed to capture and sustain engagement in an unfamiliar way.
  • The IT team can no longer physically and easily access assets they need to control, and they need to provide a secure environment outside the safety of their own network.
  • There is no longer that ‘one place’ where devices go for servicing and warranty repairs could involve technicians (essentially strangers) in staff/students’ homes.
  • That one location is missing, where teachers and students consume and share information, or that allows student-to-teacher and student-to-student collaboration to happen. Plus, there isn’t just one way for teachers to get a good idea of how a student is applying critical thinking skills.
  • The notion of equity has raised its head, but the notion is challenging. For example, do we raise capabilities upward by providing each student with equivalent learning tools or do we water it down with the view that everyone should get cheap devices, so we all experience the same level of disadvantage? The problem with the latter is that those students/parents with greater resources will continue to buy the better solutions, thereby negating the notion of equity.

But other than that, nothing has changed.

SO, WHAT DID THE MARKET DO?

With COVID causing the absence of industry engagement at events and meetings, some schools adapted well. On the other hand, many rolled out a Request For Tender, request for quotes, or other mechanisms to get the best price on their devices. A lot of effort went into rolling out Teams or Zoom, but the device motion remained the same as ever.

With technology being an industry that moves so quickly and in a global environment that stimulated even more rapid change, I was surprised to see the requirements in the procurement driven device process, continuing to ask for the same table of specs without regard to the changing environment or the evolving advantages that could be accessed. Requirements that are foundational, like:

  • The quality of the teaching and learning experience, and how the whole solution (including the device) makes a difference to academic outcomes.
    • How often does a teacher use freehand diagrams in the classroom? Why would this not be an advantage digitally? How much could be saved if paper was replaced with digital ink (versus saving $10 on the device itself)?
    • How important is the sound/video capabilities when students are remote? What is the cost of unheard questions?
    • Are they learning digital literacy skills for employment, or are they using tools suitable for personal use because it’s easy, rather than teaching the skills to use the right technology for the classroom and beyond?
  • How to secure the digital learning environment and provide a safe and productive learning space, regardless of where the IT team, the teachers, or students are?
    • How does IT secure a device which is at home all the time? How can they be sure it is enrolled into the management system? What is the obligation to protect the student and device from security/malware breaches? What happens if a student becomes a device administrator? What happens in the event of a firmware based malicious code attack? 
  • Management of physical and digital assets, such as the ability to deploy apps, fix problems, and check performance of the fleet, with a focus on keeping those students (many of whom will never visit an IT desk) in the ‘classroom’, wherever that is.
    • What is the primary goal of device management? How could new technology significantly improve the return-to-service of the device and teacher/student? How does this happen remotely? How do you give teachers the confidence to engage and interact without fear of the technology embarrassing them?

SO, WHAT WAS THE COMMON RFT CONTENT?

In most tender documents I saw, it was indistinguishable from ones that were published 5 years ago:

  • They commonly prescribed a brand and model of CPU. This locks in a cost, not a performance… and it ignores newer generations, other brands, and other entire architectures – like the Apple M1 or the Microsoft SQ2, or other Qualcomm or ARM based products. This could deliver adequate or even better experiences, with much longer battery life and other advantages.
  • They prescribe how much storage and RAM. A properly configured device will deliver the same or better performance and experience from less hardware. For instance, using the new Edge browser uses MUCH LESS memory than Chrome. Throwing horsepower at a problem is one approach, fixing the root cause is another.
  • Nearly all nominated a screen size but completely ignored even more important considerations like the aspect ratio (‘smaller’ screens can actually have more screen area than larger ones), screen pixel density (which has a significant impact on eye strain), and more.
  • The warranty is typically a very traditional (and COSTLY) repair warranty. This assumes a very old notion that your stuff is on that computer. We should have moved beyond being device centric to focus on getting the users back up and running securely, quickly, and equitably. Nobody wants a repair technician (a stranger) at their home.
  • Most importantly, there was nearly nothing requiring any changed experience e.g. better cameras, microphones, or pens. Money you save on unnecessary hardware can contribute to an improved learning experience through better interfaces.

What is interesting is my own personal experience. Institutional purchases and BYOD follow the same path: prescribing specifications.

My daughter started Year 7 a couple of years ago in a BYOD school. What they prescribed was exactly what you see above. Do a search for BYOD device requirements and this will be repeated over and over again.

In the past two years, she has NEVER done anything that she couldn’t do on something like a Surface Go 2 (Core M3) or Pro X (Non-Intel architecture) but has nearly EVERY DAY used her digital pen to capture ideas, has had a swap out warranty at her doorstep (versus having a repair technician), and more. But these experiences are missing from the spec list.

And what happened after the spec list was published? Parents would ask friends, family, or store assistants. Parents are thirsty for someone to give them advice. And when they don’t get it, they default to the only thing they CAN compare on – price.

I’d hazard a guess to say that if you ask most parents if they would be interested in gaining an advantage for their student, they’d say yes. When that is as simple as provisioning a tool that allows for a speedy, seamless transition to the right tool for every job, the additional cost is worth it.

WHAT IS THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE?

When you try to commoditise the device, you end up locking in your answer for potentially a costly, less effective, less secure learning tool. A commodity approach is the opposite of innovation: if you lock in the commodity, you give away the benefit of advancing technology.

Put simply, if you get the wrong device, you may never be able to realise the best security, equity of service, deployment, and management experience because the device is NOT just a commodity, and its capabilities will determine how much benefit can be derived from the rest of the platform. Squeezing a dollar out of the device is a false economy if it ends up costing you $3 in added overhead.

Microsoft uses its Surface brand to articulate what possibilities exist across the platform that is Windows, Intune, Office, and more. New approaches to deployment, management, security, warranty, and interface can benefit users, IT, and leadership alike.

Like Apple, whole new experiences have arisen from the integrated co-development of the Surface hardware, firmware, operating system modern IT processes, Intune, and more. These can deliver significant saved time and money. Plus, our interface is first class – nothing beats the multimodal interface you can get with Windows and Surface. Other Windows PC manufacturers can offer similar capabilities, which will enable you to enjoy the diversity and choice of hardware offerings that the OEMs provide.

Making sure you ask the right questions of your PC providers gives you the best possible outcome and choice – without sacrificing other benefits.

The world is moving quickly, including in the world of devices. If you aren’t looking into the modern device tools, you are short-changing your students and IT, along with incurring avoidable ongoing costs. If you are ready to look at a modern approach to device use and management, and what advantages it brings, there are documents to help. Regardless, if you are buying a Surface device or any other device, it’s worth looking into what is now possible.

Why the device matters 

On the couch we chat about why the device matters in the education environment. We explore how Microsoft Surface devices bridge the gap between hardware and software, to the point where you no longer notice the difference and technology lets learning flow more naturally no matter where the classroom is.

 

To learn more about Teaching with Surface, click here.