Why the Surface 3? – Wheaton Academy

Why the Surface 3?

As some might expect, choosing a device for our 1:1 Technology Initiative has been no small task. When making a decision that will cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars, as many factors as possible must be considered. It must be emphasized that when researching devices for our 1:1 program, the focus of our research was on student learning, not necessarily the technology. Supporting student learning is the primary goal and a non-negotiable factor of our 1:1 program. In light of this principle, the following questions were asked in determining what kind of device we wanted at Wheaton Academy:

  • How easy and safe is the device to use?
  • How well does the device integrate with our learning management system, Academy Central?
  • What kind of technical staff support will we need for the chosen device?
  • How easy or difficult is it to manage at least 700 of these devices?
  • How effective is the device at creating “educational products” such as papers, presentations, videos, and other potential assignments?
  • How effective is the device at empowering students to collaborate both within the same room and out in cyberspace?
  • How easily will the device integrate with current curriculum teachers use?
  • How easily will the device integrate with the current teacher technological skill-set?
  • Does the device meet the needs of students in terms of how much computing power it provides?
  • What are the capabilities of this device in terms of providing powerful tools for students with special needs?
  • What has the experience been for other schools who use the same device?
  • What kind of software is available for the device?
  • How much will this device, accompanying accessories, and supporting technology cost both now and in the future?
  • Why the Windows Surface 3?

After extensive research and feedback from students, staff, and faculty, the device of choice for Wheaton Academy is the Windows Surface 3, which is produced by the Microsoft.

This decision was out of the following pool of devices: iPad, Google Chromebook, Lenovo Yoga, Windows Surface 3, Windows Surface Pro 4. Using the above “rubric,” we narrowed this down to the Chromebook, Windows Surface Pro 4, and Windows Surface 3 before settling on the latter as our 1:1 device. This device choice reveals significant growth in our “device-choice” philosophy that we think parallels the growth in technology use we have seen the past three years that we have been using Chromebooks.

Although the Chromebook has met our basic technological needs in the classroom and has a cheaper price tag than the Surface 3, we feel that we are a point curricularly where a more powerful device will empower students and teachers to be more creative while taking advantage of more powerful programs to enhance their learning experience. In the past, we have said a device like the Windows Surface 3 has more “horsepower” than what students need.  For some students, this still might be the case. However, we feel that we have maxed out the use of the Chromebook and feel that if the students had a more powerful device, then more students would take advantage of the “horsepower” that the Chromebook lacks.  Also, there have been some key curricular developments and educational trends that have prompted the Surface 3 choice:

  1. Our Fine Arts curriculum continues to grow and several courses (including a required introductory Fine Arts course that all freshmen need to take) use high powered programs that the Chromebook cannot handle. Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Sketchup, Cura (3D Printing software,) and VCarve Pro are a few examples of what we have students using now. Having access to these programs at all times (even for homework) will empower students to do more both inside and outside the classroom.
  2. We have found that the Chromebook is not an ideal choice for students who have special needs. It cannot run some key programs that would be helpful for students and the alternatives are not as strong. Wheaton Academy has made it clear that the special needs program is going to continue to grow both in services students and in the severity of special needs (which is a good thing) that must be helped. The Surface is a better alternative here.
  3. We are continuing to trend toward more eBooks at Wheaton Academy where more and more teachers are looking at online/ePub alternatives for their students. The Surface is much better here, being that it can act as a true laptop and tablet at the same time.  This is much more conducive to e-literature. Along with this theme, all departments are highly interested in the annotation features that the Surface provides. This goes beyond just the ability to write and draw on a screen – it allows teachers to create more powerful assessments via the Surface and our learning management system, Academy Central.
  4. Although teachers may not use this right away, gamification in the classroom is becoming more and more popular as an effective learning tool for students. The Surface gives teachers many more game options than the Chromebook.
  5. With the addition of our new science wing on the way, along with this comes an improved science curriculum that is increasingly hands-on and uses software that is not compatible with the Chromebook but is compatible with the Surface. The timing of the device will be perfect with the timing of the science wing.
  6. In all, there was a lot of teacher feedback that they were ready for a device like the Surface, particularly from the Math, Science, World Languages, and Fine Arts departments. Yet the English, Social Studies, and Bible departments felt that they could use the additional features of the Surface as well.

There is no question that the Surface is going to be a more expensive device than the Chromebook. However, due to the reasons above, we feel that the cost is worth the educational investment. Additionally, the Surface 3 quotes that we have been receiving lately have been very reasonable.

How well does the device integrate with our learning management system, Academy Central?

For the past eight years, there has been a big emphasis on student learning and assessment. One of the investments we made starting in the 2011-2012 year was a new Learning Management System called Academy Central (which is powered by a company called Instructure). This is an important building block for a 1:1 program because an LMS provides a centralized, consistent virtual learning space through which parents, students, and teachers can work. It is here that educational resources are posted. It is here where teachers give timely and informative feedback for students. For example, a student can write a paper, turn it in on Academy Central, and then receive written or verbal feedback from the teacher.  Online quizzes and tests can be created for instant feedback. Podcasts can be posted on Academy Central that allow students to easily catch up in class or review a confusing concept. An efficient messaging system called “Conversations” allows students and teachers to communicate to each other without having to look up emails or trade cell phone numbers. The benefits of this LMS go on and on, but the bottom line is that this has become an essential teaching tool at Wheaton Academy. Therefore, it is extremely important that our 1:1 device be fully compatible with Academy Central. The Surface is the best option to use as a way to connect with Academy Central especially compared with the iPad.

What kind of technical staff support will we need for the chosen device?

Because of the nature of the Surface being a full-fledged laptop, we determined that we will need additional staff. We have hired the equivalent of one additional tech person as well as summer help that will get the devices ready. This cost will be covered with the tech fee charged to parents.

How easy or difficult is it to manage at least 700 of these devices?

In terms of management, the Surface is more “difficult” to manage than the Chromebook. However, with the additional hiring of staff, this challenge will be offset. Many, many organizations manage even more devices than we have, so with the proper planning and software tools, this should not be a problem.

With that said, we typically repair Chromebooks with our student TAs. Surfaces will actually be simpler to “fix” because we simply send them back to Microsoft for repair and give the student either a loaner or replacement Surface.

The Surface battery life is 5-8 hours which is sufficient for a school day. Loaner Surfaces will be available if a student forgets to charge their Surface. The student simply logs in and has access to all of his/her cloud-based documents and programs.

How effective is the device at creating “educational products” such as papers, presentations, videos, and other potential assignments?

This is one area that the Surface will certainly outshine the Chromebook. The Chromebook primarily uses Google tools for productivity. Students can easily create papers, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings on Google Drive and effortlessly submit them on Academy Central. With the Surface 3 not only can students accomplish these tasks, but they can also create using powerful programs that range from graphic design to movie editing. What will also be nice is that this will allow for easier cross-curricular implementation. For example, a student could go from Graphic Design class into history class and design something for a history project using the skills they just learned.

How effective is the device at empowering students to collaborate both within the same room and out in cyberspace?

Although we are going with Windows Surface 3 devices, we are not abandoning the Google ecosystem. Students will still have Google accounts and be able to use Google’s collaboration tools. Google has built a significant part of its identity around the idea of collaboration and sharing, which is very important to us. Setting up a group project for students within Google is a simple process and students will be able to use those tools easily.

How easily will the device integrate with current curriculum teachers use?

This past year I have taken a survey of teachers to see how they use technology in the classroom and therefore, how it integrates with their curriculum. At least three-quarters of the teachers responded that they use technology primarily for papers, presentations, collaborative projects, and internet research. All of them use Academy Central. Obviously, the Surface will meet this need and, with proper education, use it beyond these types of tasks.

How easily will the device integrate with the current teacher technological skill-set?

Being that we have been 1:1 the past three years, “teacher skill” should not be an issue. Our teachers are very tech savvy and comfortable with devices in the classroom. Coupled with a few training sessions, the introduction of the Surface should be a rather easy process. Teachers are getting new devices for next year and some are selecting Surface Pros, which will make Surface 3 acclimation even easier.

What has the experience been for other schools who use the same device?

This past year, we visited St. Francis high school, who is in year one of their 1:1 Surface initiative. The overall feedback we received from St. Francis staff, faculty, and students was that they loved the Surface. I was not able to discover any significant issues that would deter us from making the same decision.

What kind of software is available for the device?

Again, this is where the Surface shines being that it is a full laptop – it can use any full application software that is available for a Windows machine. This gives us maximum flexibility and power when using this as a productivity device.

Battery Life

The battery life of the Surface we are purchasing is at least 7 hours (the Microsoft website says 10 hours), which should be plenty for the school day based on feedback from schools who have implemented these devices. If a student fails to charge their device, a loaner will be available at the library. Students simply login into the loaner device and all of their cloud-based resources will be available to them.