Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald is a freelance writer who regularly writes for the Microsoft UK Education Blogs.
My recent short visit to Royal Wootton Bassett Academy produced several memorable moments. For example, I had my first Christmas dinner of the year – turkey and all the trimmings followed by a mince pie and custard. Thank you so much kitchen staff. I intended to say that personally as I left the dining hall, but you were far too busy with a long queue of very hungry but very well behaved students.
Before that, though, I had the great pleasure of joining Year Seven in PC-equipped classroom as they explored Windows 8 on 23 inch touch screens. That, of course, rather than the Christmas dinner, was why I was there.
In early November I’d had an email from Steve Gillott, Strategic ICT Leader at the Academy informing me that all ICT teaching classrooms had been newly equipped with touch –screen PCs in preparation for Windows 8.
I sat up straight when I read it, because Steve was no stranger to me and I knew him to be an innovator. I’d first met him at a Microsoft function in Spring 2009 when he’d attracted attention through his creative use of what was then Office Communications Server for video-mentoring Year Nine students at home. Then a little later he again popped on to the radar when we were looking at how schools were saving large amounts of money through using Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper V. Steve’s school was one of the first to go down this route, and the considerable savings that the school continues to rack up are detailed in a blog I wrote in March this year.
So, when I read Steve’s email I knew this would turn out to be a real, potentially groundbreaking story, something I had to see and write about, once Windows 8 was up and running in at least one of the rooms.
Steve met me at Reception and we went straight into a PC-equipped classroom where Year Seven students were exploring Windows 8 on 23 inch touch-screens. To be honest, it was a revelation. There are those – I’ve met them – who, while ready to acknowledge the value of touch technology for very young children who either can’t use the mouse or aren’t turned on by it, are sceptical about its value with older age groups.
Well, I’ve got news for them. On the admittedly thin evidence of my short visit to one classroom, secondary school students take to the touch-screen like ducks to water. Every single student praised it as natural, immediate, responsive and comfortable in every way. Significantly, I saw several who, in the process of trying out touch-screen PowerPoint were using the on-screen keyboard in preference to the ‘real’ one within easy reach. Very clearly, once they were on the screen, they were staying there.
Then there was the students’ engagement with Windows 8. Again, I’ve met those who dislike the Start Screen and miss the familiarity of the Windows ‘Start Button’. There’s news for them, too, in the way that those Wootton Bassett youngsters took all that in their stride and immediately appreciated the way that the start screen laid out everything they needed in one place.
Afterwards I had a chat with Steve, who confirmed the children’s enthusiasm,
‘They take to it quickly and naturally. Touch is so prevalent after all. It’s the language they have on their phones and in a very short space of time it’s become embedded.’
It’s the immediacy of the technology that brings the implications for learning. Bypassing the mouse instantly improves engagement and encourages collaboration in ways that teachers will surely be quick to exploit.
The upshot of my visit was that I came away resolved to write, over the coming weeks, a full case study of the adoption of Windows 8 at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, keeping up with the full roll-out to the school’s 800 desktops, and with more than a passing reference to some of Steve’s other plans. These include the installation of touch-screen information points around the school and his innovative ideas for educational use of Lync2013, building on that earlier OCS experience.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t let this first encounter go without flagging up here what promises to be a terrific story of the innovatory use of ICT in support of learning.