In May 2007 Microsoft Surface was announced, the first commercial surface computer. The 30 inch table-form device has generated a lot of interest and discussion since its unveiling; in April 2008 it was released in the US after 5 years in the making.
Surface computing breaks down traditional barriers between people and technology, changing the way people interact with all kinds of everyday content, from photos to maps to menus. The intuitive user interface works without a traditional mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content and information by using their hands and natural movements. Users are able to access information either on their own or collaboratively with their friends and colleagues, unlike any experience available today. Surface computing features four key attributes:
Direct interaction. Users can actually "grab" digital information with their hands and interact with content through touch and gesture, without the use of a mouse or keyboard.
Multi-touch contact. Surface computing recognizes many points of contact simultaneously, not just from one finger as with a typical touch screen, but dozens and dozens of items at once.
Multi-user experience. The horizontal form factor makes it easy for several people to gather around Microsoft Surface, providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
Object recognition. Users can place physical objects on the display to trigger different types of digital responses; in the future this will include the ability to transfer digital content.
Each of these attributes can have direct benefit in education. For example, one of the key opportunities that Microsoft Surface enables is that of collaboration, both amongst pupils as well as between pupils and teachers around one device. No longer is the experience one person using a computer with someone looking over their shoulder to have input.
RM, Lightbox and Surface
RM is always on the lookout for new technologies to see how they might benefit teaching and learning. Surface is one of those technologies, with the potential to be a disruptive, game changing device. We have been working with the Surface product group for more than a year helping to see how Surface could best benefit education.
In December 2008 RM and Lightbox Education committed to spend three weeks working with the Microsoft Technology Centre to produce an educational proof of concept application for Surface; the first of its kind. Finguistics is a game that requires pupils to work collaboratively to spell out words, complete sentences or complete numeric sequences against the clock; the spelling and sentence construction modes of the game are multi-lingual.
This application was demoed at BETT 2009 on both the Microsoft stand and via a Surface device RM had as part of our Future Learning Spaces experience. The application will begin the process of showing what Surface could offer to education and its pivotal difference to traditional PC devices will stimulate thought and discussion.
So what next?
There is no doubt that touch devices will be a big part of all of our futures. The next version of Windows will be touch enabled and Apple are also heavily engaged in touch with the Mac Touch rumoured. Touch is starting to appear in many mainstream devices, progressing from kiosks to laptops and phones. Whether it will have as significant impact as the humble mouse is yet to be seen. However, it certainly creates new and exciting opportunities. Obvious areas of Education that can have immediate benefit are the young and those with certain special education needs who have to learn to use a mouse and keyboard before they can get full benefits from a computer.
We believe, the collaborative nature of Surface will change the way teaching and learning can be achieved and it will be interesting to see how Education adapts and changes to take on this new technology.
If you are interested in the teaching and learning potential that Microsoft Surface might offer and would be interested in investigating further please email Jim Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Microsoft Surface at Churchend School
With thanks to the Microsoft UK Education and Education Product Group