Over the past two years, the world has faced and adjusted to significant challenges in the way we do practically everything. Despite lockdown conditions and the closure of widely used buildings for essential activities, it was never an option for the world of work, school, study, social, home, and professional life to simply come to a halt for an unknown period of time. We were forced to adapt and to do so quickly, and the basic infrastructure to make this possible was already in place. In the education sector, Microsoft Surface for Education has proven to be a valuable tool to keep the provision of educational services running smoothly.
E-learning and blended education had already been an increasing trend pre-2020, with massive investments from global organisations such as the World Economic Forum, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSECO), along with multinational corporations and governments in the development of online platforms catering to the needs of education. Long, drawn-out periods of inactivity in schooling would have had lasting negative impacts on the futures of an estimated 1.2 billion children according to a World Economic Forum Report. In this article, we explore the Microsoft Surface for Education range and the benefits it offers to the educational landscape.
Transforming Learning Towards Inclusivity & Access
Remote & Digital Capability
Digital Learning Through Microsoft Surface
Bringing Educational Access To Learners With Special Needs
Microsoft Surface Brings An Enhanced Learning Experience To You With Endless Possibilities
When it became necessary to radically decentralise education about two years ago, one of the major questions raised about remote, digital education was universal access and affordability. Most parents were – and are – completely unprepared for the complex task of delivering an entire curriculum of subjects to their children, and preparing them with the knowledge, skills, and measurable attributes to progress on their educational journey. Attributes necessary for them to complete their basic education, possible progress to higher education institutions, and professional careers could simply not be consistently maintained in a decentralised, unregulated, and isolated environment where no standard foundation of knowledge could be expected. The ultimate outcome of such a situation would be vast and growing inequalities in the integrity of the knowledge children have, and their prospects to progress further within their fields of interest.
Teachers, after all, are trained professionals with advanced knowledge in specific subject areas and experience in working with children, using a variety of teaching materials, a social environment that encourages participation and group activities, as well as awareness and knowledge of a vast amount of regulations, standards, methods, materials, continued upskilling, and support from their respective schools and colleagues.
Recognising that remote, digital, and blended educational approaches are here to stay regardless of external global events such as the pandemic, many Big Tech companies such as Microsoft responded to the essential requirements of a transformed educational landscape by developing digital devices with the most essential features necessary for remote teaching and learning. Microsoft Surface for Education offers affordable devices that can transform from laptop to tablet as needed, can support text, images, handwriting, or drawing, and allow users to join group sessions online from anywhere. These aspects became essential to the domains of both basic and higher education. The Microsoft Surface for Education range of devices offered these capabilities and more, enabling continuing contact between teachers and learners, centrally administering the flow of information to widely dispersed locations securely, and offering the necessary applications for teaching and learning tasks to be completed, shared, evaluated, revised, and stored.
As noted, digital and blended learning has been a growing trend before the massive and rapid decentralisation that became necessary due to the COVID pandemic in 2020.
Beginning in 2019, Microsoft has been introducing a rather extensive range of new devices in the Surface family, built for flexibility, portability, connectivity, and ease of group communications to meet the needs of the changing landscape of both basic and higher education. The range originally consisted of the Surface Laptop Go, released in October 2020, the Surface Laptop 4, released in April 2021, and the Surface Hub 2S, released in 2019.
Launched in 2021 was a variety of new devices which can be viewed on Microsoft's website. For the purposes of this post, we will narrow the focus to the Surface Pro 7+, Surface Go 3, Surface Laptop 4, Surface Hub 2S, Surface Laptop Go, and the as devices particularly suited to education.
The challenge of replicating the socially interactive component of the classroom experience has in effect been enhanced by remote learning. In many ways, online group sessions have facilitated greater participation in a wider variety of ways from more learners and students. For teachers, this approach has offered them the opportunity to make teaching more of a dialogue between teacher and learner, rather than a didactic experience. In fact, even the process of capturing what is most important in a particular lesson has been made easier and much more comprehensive and effective, as learners can save teaching sessions and watch them again, can store class notes and handouts in one location – a hard drive – as opposed to a series of folders and files, and can upload their notes, pictures, sketches, and diagrams to a central location whether they are in class, in a lab, out in the field, or at home.
Digital literacy has become an essential part of the core knowledge and skills that people need to function in practically every aspect of daily life. With its range of devices and applications, the Microsoft Surface for Education range has made the digital learning landscape much more user friendly, while promoting a higher level of digital literacy and a greater understanding of how different applications can be used to simplify certain learning materials or to more effectively manage information by representing it visually rather than discursively or textually. Learners and students who have been using Surface devices as part of their educational journey have highlighted the usefulness of the Microsoft surface pen, touch screen functionality, and the suite of Microsoft applications for their note-taking, collection and storage of notes, sketches, and diagrams, and for sharing notes with classmates and teachers alike.
The school and university experience has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, relying on pen and paper, files and folders, handouts, and class notes. This way of keeping essential information from lessons and lectures was inefficient, unreliable, and often expensive as institutions had to make hundreds, even thousands of copies of handouts or notes, using tons of paper, requiring large energy-eating photocopiers, and wasting the precious, limited time of educators and school or university staff.
With the shift to digital learning, most of these materials can be posted online, accessible from anywhere and at any time. Students can access written and visual teaching materials whenever it is possible for them and can store those materials safely and economically.
In the traditional "chalk and talk" settings of schools and universities, learners and students were often limited by the subjects and courses being offered by their particular school or university. One of the greatest benefits of remote, digital education that we have seen is an absolute explosion of easily accessible, affordable courses and certifications online that removes those limitations, for everybody. Anyone, whether they are a child in school, a student at university, an adult worker, a stay-at-home mom, or a retired professional can search for, find, and access online classes and courses in practically any subject.
For universities, in particular, this capability is already a critical part of how they function and collaborate with other institutions, and giving students the opportunity to "assemble" a tailor-made degree with courses offered by different universities – globally – opens up a vast new horizon of possible new specialisations, professions, scientific disciplines, and fields of endeavour. This will of course come with its own challenges from an administrative and endorsement point of view, but we are already on our way there. The world will be the university of the future, not just the most accessible institution on an individual's bus route!
Virtual solutions are enabling equitable access on a never-before-seen scale, essentially eliminating many of the practical, physical challenges a disabled student would have to deal with when attending a school or a university in person. Apart from the practicalities, the benefits of digital access to teaching, materials, and resources are much more profound than we sometimes give them credit for.
People without physical restraints or disabilities complain about the burden of commuting long distances to access education, citing the time spent on the commute and the stress of finding out and knowing where and when you need to be to catch a bus or a train. If this is difficult for students without disabilities, it must represent a veritable mountain of difficulties to overcome for those who are physically challenged.
With online learning, all students, including those that are physically challenged can gain easy access to all learning materials from anywhere. For those with physical impairments, this one variable significantly alters the difficulties they have to cope with during a normal day, removes the hassle and physical exhaustion that comes with the territory for mobile-impaired students, and is also proving to make life easier for learners and students with visual and audio impairments. As devices can be adapted to fit the needs of those who are deaf, blind, or who struggle with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, the world of knowledge has become infinitely more accessible to disabled learners. Apart from this enormous leap forward for those with disabilities, those tasked with their care also benefit greatly in terms of time, effort, and convenience.
As can be expected, there are pros and cons to any type of educational model you can think of, and remote, digital learning has not been beneficial or useful for everyone that had to shift to that model. Yes, there are problems with the inequality of access. Yes, there are problems associated with the loss of face-to-face social interaction and group activities in the real world. Many studies show that remote learning does not work for everyone, and is sometimes even detrimental to some.
By the same token, however, the benefits that have been experienced, the advancements that have been made, and the positive changes to learning that have been felt by the majority of people who could engage in this way have been the focus of this article. Remote learning and engagement that is exclusively done via digital means isn't perfect, and may not be entirely feasible or desirable, but digital and remote learning as a significant part of the educational experience is not going to go away. The benefits are enormous when it comes to saving time, energy, streamlining, and even lessening our footprint on the environment. Opportunities that were simply not open to many learners have suddenly become possible, and with relative ease and economy. Maintaining a presence, socially, educationally, economically, and professionally in the real world will remain an important part of our lives, as we are creatures who need real, physical interaction for a wide variety of reasons. This is true, but the growing shift to the myriad of benefits of conducting significant portions of our lives in the digital landscape has transformed everything we do, and for the majority of the time, this transformation has been for the better.