Guest post by our freelance education writer, Gerald Haigh.

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Do you know what a ‘Stuck PowerPoint’ is?

No, neither did I when Kirsty Tonks, e-Learning Director at Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell first mentioned it.

To be fair, Kirsty was giving me lots of information at the time, and this is one of those schools where there’s so much going on – all of it focused on children’s learning – that any visitor finds it a challenge to keep up. My visit on this occasion, then, on a snowy late January day, was to gain an overview of the Academy’s plans for making the most of Windows 8.

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For over sixteen years, Shireland’s staff and students under the leadership of Executive Principal Sir Mark Grundy have shown how technology, carefully chosen and wisely deployed, can transform teaching and learning. A Learning Gateway built on SharePoint, for example, lies at the very heart of all that happens in the school, driving collaboration, teamwork, open management and anytime/anywhere learning. I knew, then, I’d have a positive response when I asked about thoughts and plans around Windows 8.

So there I was, in a conference room with Sir Mark, Kirsty and other colleagues, rattling away making notes on my netbook, when I found myself typing the phrase ‘Stuck PowerPoint’. The image that came to mind was of an embarrassed presenter in the midst of a technological meltdown.

‘Sorry, PowerPoint’s stuck’.

I quickly realised it wasn’t that, but the light didn’t dawn fully until I was on a tour of the school and it was explained to me by Year Seven students Jihad and Omar, experienced hands at making things clear for visitors.

They led me across their classroom to a 23 inch Acer touch screen PC with Windows 8.

‘If you’re working on a topic and you get stuck, you come here and there’s a Stuck PowerPoint to help you,’ they explained.

The penny dropped.

‘Right’, I said.‘A Stuck PowerPoint. That would be it then. A PowerPoint to use when you’re stuck.’

The school has had Acer touch screens for some time. Those in classrooms were planned as ‘Information Points’ for children to use when they needed more help with a topic – a further aid to independent learning within the cross-curricular ‘Literacy for Learning’ (L4L) Key Stage 3 Curriculum.

The idea has only really come to life, though, with the arrival of Windows 8 with all of its new functionality. Now, touch screen capability, the start-screen ‘tiles’ and the availability of a wealth of school-developed resources together mean that Jihad and Omar and all their fellow students can rapidly find what they want. They showed me how, within a theme called ‘Going Green’, they could go in seconds from the full start-screen to a Stuck PowerPoint on ‘Green Energy’ and then through further options to a page about wind farms. All of the information exists within the school, but now Windows 8 is going to make everything more immediately accessible. The performance of Photosynth, for example, which the school uses extensively to exploit a vast collection of curriculum-related photographs, moves up several gears on a touch screen.

Of course, the ‘Stuck PowerPoint’ is only one of many ways in which Kirsty and her team will make the most the many features of Windows 8. It is, though, an excellent illustration of the general principle, which is to make existing tools and resources more easily and widely available and more coherent in style.

Back in the conference room, for example, Dave Green, Head of Mathematics, showed me how Acer touch screen PCs are being used in department meetings to open up information and promote discussion –

‘We’ve developed an interface that sits in front of existing management tools, making the key bits available, in the clean Windows 8 style.’

And as Kirsty pointed out,

‘Often, development plans are hidden away in a word document. Here, they’re on the screen in peoples’ faces. Not only that, the departments can look at each other’s management sites, sharing ideas across subjects.’

It’s still relatively early days for Window 8 at Shireland, but the vision of what’s possible is already exciting. There’s an appetite for the development of in-house Windows 8 apps, for example. Already there’s progress in that direction, and there’ll be much more to come. And towards the end of our meeting, talk turned to Windows 8 tablets and the level of interoperability compared with other tablets. Sir Mark expressed a frequently heard view when he said.

‘We love iPads. We’ve all got them at home, they’re great fun, but they’re not so good for formal learning. You lose the structure around marking and sharing, where a Windows 8 device seamlessly links with everything else.’

Right at the end of our meeting, Sir Mark, keen as always to help, asked me if we’d covered everything. My answer had to be cautious, because there’s just so much to report from this deeply interesting institution. So now, at Shireland, as with other Windows 8 pioneers I’ve blogged about here, I need to let things move on a little, returning further on in the year to write about some of these developments in more detail.