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And you thought smartboards were cool…

May 31, 2007

SurfaceGrabSurface made the news, and no wonder! Microsoft’s newest ‘toy’ is breathtaking in its potential. It’s one of those rare pieces of technology that makes you go “I want one, and I want one now!” …and that’s even before you start to consider how it could be used in education (I’ll get back to that in a minute). What is strange is the report from Forbes that:

It’s not entirely clear what Microsoft will do with Surface right now. While it has begun selling them to businesses, it doesn’t know exactly what they’ll want to use the machines for. (Microsoft’s Mac)

Perhaps this is part of what is wrong with M$, they can bring the parts together, but they don’t really have the innovative vision to see where the whole could take them… and so in a spirit of friendship (and the vain hope that I’d get a chance to try using a Surface with my classes), let me outline a couple of quick ideas for the Surface Classroom (with a very large nod to AB who is equally excited by the possibilities)…

The pupils arrive in your room and place their swipe cards on its surface. That takes care of registration, and also calls up their scheduled work for the class. They start writing a story on a keyboard on the screen and, having finished a draft, they slide it over to a partner who then goes online to find an appropriate image. They then place their mobile phone/digital camera/6th generation iPod/Zune on the Surface and the project is automatically uploaded from the Surface for them to finish at home… Meanwhile, they’ve called up a menu for the dining hall and are using their ‘smartcard’ to pre-order and pay for their lunch…

There’s nothing radical or new in what I’m suggesting, that will come after I’ve had more time to think through the possibilities… but it does suggest that all pupils will have to carry with them is a ‘smartcard’ and a phone… I can’t even begin to think what this might mean for other subjects, but wait… there’s more!

PhotosynthAnother Microsoft product has also been quietly released, and it is equally impressive in a different way. It’s a programme called Photosynth, and it has the ability to manipulate and link photographs in a way that will change how we view the world digitally. Based on a stunning piece of library (that is such an inadequate word in this context) software called Seadragon, Photosynth has the ability to take multiple photos and build composite 3-D models from them. Have a quick look at the TED video to get an idea of what it can do to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris…

Combine Photosynth and Surface and you’re moving into a whole new realm of interaction between data and user… and the thing that I truly love about Surface is that it is built from the ground up to be a social construct. Look at ‘The Power’ demo at the Surface website… two people sitting at a restaurant ordering from their table… now imagine those two being pupils taking part in a bit of peer assessment by sliding their work back and forwards…

We’ve all heard the cry that “It’s about the teach, not the tech” but I think Surface has the potential to bridge that particular gap… it’s a stunning bit of ‘tech’ that will actually enhance the ‘teach’. I can’t wait to try one out… and that leaves me with a question for you:

How would you use Surface? What new ways of working would it make possible? Does it give you ideas for lessons? Let me know in the comments!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. A SMART Board fan... permalink
    June 1, 2007 12:49 am

    Surface is very, very cool – but why does it have to be a ‘diss’ at SMART Boards? You’ll be surprised when you find out/see SMART’s interactive ‘table’ that has been around for some time now in development – multi-touch surface, similar features of manipulating content, etc… i agree that MSoft tends to drop the ball in bringing hardware out… SMART has a good foothold in education, makes a great product, and their already developed version of this will WOW you when you see it too – especially as it will be released with a true focus on classroom integration! Keep an eye out for it.

  2. June 1, 2007 8:06 am

    It does look great, doesn’t it?

    In my subject areas of History and RME I could see great potential. In History the kids could check out images from the past using photosynth and share and annotate with their group. In RME starting a moral lesson by looking at the headlines in the papers in photosynth and then connecting with others to share and substantiate their own opinion on the issue.

    But these are just re-hashing lesson ideas that teachers do already. What makes this great is the seamless integration of technologies – laying your mobile gadget down on a ‘Surface’ to update it or to share what you have brought to the table as it were.

    True, SMART etc (as let’s not forget there are plenty of other technology manufacturers in this area!) are developing similar technologies. The present interactive LCD/Plasma overlays are arguably the same thing at the moment, all be it swivelled around to sit flat. For the device integration to work well though goes into OS territory, not the peripheral arena SMART etc predominantly work in? Ultimately different technology suits different individuals and circumstances, but imho it’s how ‘invisible’ this can become that matters. 😀

  3. June 1, 2007 3:20 pm

    Why would you need a SmartCard AND a phone? Just use the phone’s bluetooth pairing PIN.

    I agree with AB that while it does all the cool stuff we already do when we get people together around tables, the integration with personal devices is where it starts to take off.

    Hmm, I also wonder if you can virtually link surfaces?

  4. June 1, 2007 4:49 pm

    I think it would be great as a collaborative tool, especially in visual subjects or media rich subjects.

    Also it would be a brilliant way to mind-map.

    I would like to see the surface controlled remotely and use some of the cameras that do the positioning used to show the user to the other collaborators.


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