The Microsoft Surface had a relatively slow uptake initially. There have since been various iterations which bring us to the latest Surface 3 Pro. We picked one up to have a play with and have now put several into some of our client schools.
To me initially it was hard to justify the price point. You are looking at just over £600 for the Surface 3 Pro with 64GB of storage. This gives you an i3 processor, the USB port, mini display port and a microSD slot. That seems like a lot of money for a tablet and you don’t even get a keyboard! The keyboard is just over £100 more.
We had requests from our clients to look into the viability of these for schools so we took the plunge. Within 10 minutes of using it I totally got the Surface concept, I finally understood why Microsoft had developed Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
I remember a few years back when the iPad first came on the scene, I remember people saying it’s rubbish, you can’t use it for word processing, it doesn’t even have a DVD drive! Then the realisation hit this was a completely new device, it wasn’t trying to be a laptop or an oversized phone. This new revolutionary device was something that we didn’t know we needed but oh did we need it. The perfect device for portability, leisurely browsing the web with a decent size screen but without pulling the laptop out. The 10 hour battery life, we needed an iPad in our life.
So why am I banging on about iPad’s in a Microsoft Surface post? I think Microsoft have done something great, revolutionary even with the Surface 3 Pro. The previous versions not so much, almost missing something, not quite there. They have created a nice sized tablet, one that is big enough to use to browse the web comfortably in the arm chair, one that can be popped into your bag, it has the 10 hour battery, it supports flash, it has the integrated front and rear cameras. This device has a USB port, such a big benefit over the iPad for sharing files quickly and easily, it can be hooked up to a screen or projector in seconds via Mini Displayport. But wow is this machine powerful, there is an i3 entry model, an i5 mid range and at the top end an i7. An i7 processor in a tablet computer. My Macbook pro at £2000 features an i7. This has been put in a tablet!
So not only do we have an amazing tablet, snap the keyboard to it magnetically and fold out it’s integrated streamlined stand and it’s now a laptop. Within seconds, there is no difference between this and a conventional laptop for features or power. If anything the surface is likely to be more powerful. The hard drive options are 64, 128 and 256GB all SSD for speed, noise and cooling purposes.
Remember me saying about I now finally got why Microsoft created Windows 8 and 8.1? As a tablet, the touch screen, metro tiles, etc make it very easy to navigate a full operating system, no clicking on small icons and options. Plug in the keyboard and you can use the touch screen to navigate or the integrated trackpad. It’s amazing how much I find myself clicking with the mouse then just tapping something I want to do. It works great. I never before understood why they would create an Operating system for all devices and roll it out to everything it was damn right annoying. But it enables you to have a fully fledged operating system running at all times, for the tablet side and the laptop side. No switching between the two. It’s just ready to go at all times.
The boot times are incredible, the integrated stand is perfect for use as a laptop on a desk or to angle it on your lap, it doesn’t have fixed positions so can be angled however you like.
So how does it fit into education, why are schools asking so much about them? Well the iPad definatly has it’s place, so many fantastic educational apps available and children are born with a skill to operate an Apple device it would seem. However we have seen schools invest £400 in an iPad then another £500 in a laptop. So that when the teacher needs to get the children to use apps, be walking around the school, on an educational trip or even on the school field the iPad is the tool of choice. When they come back to the classroom and it is time for work, out comes the laptop.
No when we revisit the price point of just over £700 including the keyboard the Surface becomes much cheaper. Multiply this by a class set of devices and all of a sudden the saving is massive.
Put into practise
So here is the scenario, the children are in class they take the Surface on a bug walk on the school field. They take pictures, make notes with the on screen keyboard or use the pen that comes with it. They scan QR codes that the teacher has laid out around the field to find out more about the bugs, they look up online different bugs to find out more. Very engaging, and a great use of the technology. They then come back to class snap the keyboards magnetically to the bottom, angle the stands and place their now “laptops” on the desk. They are ready to write up in the full version of Microsoft Word what they have just explored, they drag images in they have just taken, no need to download from an iPad and import them to the computer. When they are finished, they can be printed straight from the Surface, saved to their are on the school network as they are fully compatible with Microsoft Windows Server. They can even share them on a USB pen drive should the need arise.
To me Microsoft have simplified lots of problems and devices into one very compact, sleek, aesthetically pleasing unit that adds so much value and saves so much time in the education arena.
As for management of these devices. They are essentially a full Microsoft Windows based device, these can be locked down in the same way your regular Windows machines are through Group Policies in Microsoft Windows Server 2012, they can be allocated logon policies etc in the same way, allowing mapping of network drives and connectivity to network based printers.
The Meraki MDM is very useful for managing and keeping track of devices, we use this extensively for iPad’s, iPod touches, Windows and Apple based computers. This is also a great tool for managing the Surface’s.
Finally can they be imaged? This is the million pound question. It’s a system administrator’s nightmare. 30 devices arrive on their desk. Can you set all these up with the following software oh and you only have a week to do it! iPad’s can have apps pushed to them as a job lot, but actually imaging the device isn’t that straight forward. There are ways and means, but it is a tricky one. The surface is brilliant.
Making use of Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and System Centre Configuration Manager 2012 it can be achieved painlessly. You will need to invest in a USB to ethernet adapter. But one will suffice as once the image is ready plug them in one at a time and let the image come down. If you wish to purchase more go ahead. But the imaging process is a breeze just like any other Windows based device.
I hope this article helps educators and technical support staff see the benefits of the Microsoft Surface in education and specifically Primary education.
If you would like to discuss using Microsoft Surface in education or any other ICT requirements then please contact Kyle or Gary via firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 0161 850 1117 or message us via Facebook or Twitter