Guest post by our freelance education writer, Gerald Haigh

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One of my missions at BETT 2013 was to find out how people were using Windows 8,  Windows 8 devices and tablets in education. So when I bumped into a party of people from Saltash.net Community School and picked up the news that they were about to start a classroom pilot with Windows 8 tablets, I knew I had to get in touch. So right after half term I spoke to Adam Ledger, the school’s Technical Consultant.

Adam was at pains to play down the idea that there might be a story of big-bang innovation about to break at the school.

‘This is a trial, instigated by our deputy head Dan Buckley. We don’t want to raise expectations. We have sixty devices, enough for two registration groups. They will cycle through the whole of Year Seven, and then we’ll put devices out to the whole of next year’s incoming Year Seven. So just now it’s at a very early stage. ’

At that point I knew there was already a story worth blogging about, because what we have here is a school with a real track record in ICT, a pioneer of BYOD, demonstrating how to introduce innovatory technology gradually, professionally and in line with the school’s approach to teaching and learning

The long term aim, says Adam, is to enable a process where decisions about when and how to use ICT move from the teacher to the student.

‘At the moment teachers plan how to use technology in their lessons. They spend valuable time working that out and building it into a lesson plan. By putting a device into the hands of each student, you move that decision away from the teacher who then doesn’t have to think about the technology.’

Ultimately, lesson planning won’t need to mention ICT because each student, faced with the classroom task, will decide whether, and how, to use technology to support it.

‘Essentially the teacher can expect the technology to be available to the students all the time. The teacher can then concentrate on the lesson and not think about the technology. For some it might be a difficult change. Others will quickly come to rely on it and adapt their lesson plans to suit.’

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Think about that for a while and it’s possible to see that at one level, perhaps when teachers are more tentative, they will simply feel free to set tasks that require students to look at a broader range of resources. Eventually, though as students become more and more creative in their approach to tasks and assignments, they may well respond with a range of media, or by collaborating with others within or beyond the classroom, or in any one of a hundred ways that the teacher hasn’t even thought of.

It’s a big change, and teachers will need time and support to come to terms with. But as I listened to Adam, it dawned on me that what’s happening here – transformation of learning enabled and supported by one-to-one technology -- is exactly what Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Global Vice President for Education, meant when he spoke at BETT 2013.

‘No school should be piloting any device,’ he said. ‘They should be piloting the work that's going on with it. They should be piloting the pedagogy, the transformation that's happening inside the classroom. And then using the device.‘

There’s a real lesson here, it seems to me, about the introduction of tablets of any kind into school. So if you ask why a school like Saltash.net, with a stellar reputation in ICT for learning, would introduce their tablets so cautiously when some schools have quickly gone for large numbers of devices, the answer is that Saltash.net is not piloting devices at all. They’re developing an approach to learning that the devices can support wonderfully well if they’re allowed to. And that’s a much broader, more significant and longer term project than just testing out what a device will do.

That said, there is a challenge, too, for Adam and his colleagues as they prepare to install and support an increasing number of devices.

‘We’re concerned that we must be able to provide the expected level of service, and about things like network capacity’

Significantly, in light of the Salcito quote, only at the end of our conversation did we discuss the actual device they’re using at Saltash.net. It could have been one of a number, but in this case it is Acer’s Iconia W510, a Windows 8 tablet that has a keyboard dock with an extra battery.

‘Battery life is one of our biggest worries,’ says Adam. ‘I have to say this device was brilliant on that front when we road tested a couple of them earlier on.’

Here, then, is another Windows 8 project just getting under way, and yet another to watch carefully I’d say.

For more on Windows 8 in education, you can view and download our free eBook below.