The Tech Game; Is the Microsoft Hub winning in the classroom ?
Microsoft Surface Hub as a Teaching and Learning Tool – First Impressions
Classroom technology isn’t good. In spite of the fact that you have a room full of students to educate, you’re probably fighting the technology as much as you are using it. Projectors refusing to detect inputs, PCs deciding it’s time for an update right in the middle of a class or just frustration at poorly configured digital whiteboards and visualizers that make you miss the days of chalk and dust allergies.
“One wonders why if the smartphone can be made so simple to operate, can someone not make something bigger and just as simple”?
Well, Microsoft may not be winning in the mobile space right now, but I think they may be onto something with this, the Microsoft Hub. Basically, a giant tablet turned sideways, the Surface Hub is built for facilitating discussion, learning and collaboration. Based on some hours of hands-on time, I think it may also have a place in the classroom as well as the corporate meeting room.
When you walk into the room the Hub wakes up and presents you with a few simple options. Initiate a (Skype) call, fire up a whiteboard app or connect an external device. There’s no logging in. The Hub has its own identity on the network. If you want to schedule a Skype call, you simply book one with it via Outlook Calendar and, so long as the slot is free, you can use that meeting to have people attend a call and share your session with remote colleagues and students as well as with those in the room.
The digital whiteboard app works at least as well as the best smart-boards. There’s no calibration for starters. The pens are docked either side and there is almost no latency when drawing on the screen, even when 3 are scribbling away at the same time. It feels very natural (they even have ‘erasers’ on the bottom) and if you want to get others involved at the same time, the screen will recognise up to 100 separate fingers (although I’m afraid I’m some 90 fingers short of proving this right now).
Of course, with 55” or 85” of screen to play with, you might feel that there is space to bring in some more content to share. The Windows home key at the bottom of the screen hints at the underlying operating system, Windows 10, and this means that Microsoft Office apps are close at hand. Be aware that these are not the desktop versions of Microsoft Office. The Surface Hub is running a very heavily customized version of Windows and it’s better to think of this as a large tablet rather than a desktop PC. You’re limited to apps instead of applications, but the Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps do a grand job of displaying any content that you’ve previously prepared and with the pen and ink support, you can annotate away to your heart’s content in a class.
In terms of getting your content onto the Hub – there is an easily accessible USB socket on the right hand side for memory sticks, but Office 365 license-holders will enjoy full integration with OneDrive. After providing your details, much of your content is just a click away from within the Office apps themselves. And you can save your edited files directly back to your file store.
In a classroom situation, there are 30 odd other participants who may want a copy sooner rather than later. The ability to email the changes right from the hub to all attendees is achieved with a single click. I would go one better and use ‘OneNote for Classroom’ to store your notes and the class will automatically have your notebook updates next time they choose to open it on their own devices.
The Surface Hub is a powerful integration of simple technologies that draw on the simplicity of smartphones and tablets, but scaled up to be useful to a room full of people rather than just an individual.
The cameras do a great job of including the teacher and the content for remote attendees and, so long as you have Office 365, the content accessibility and sharing tools are as simple as a one-click operation. The only limitations are the apps themselves, which are a touch on the basic side. If you need full desktop versions of Office, or you need to present another desktop application, you’ll need to bring in your own computer.
“Good technology is reliable. Good technology is easy to use. Good technology gets out of the way”- Author James Pickett; Dependentongadgets.
Thankfully connecting external devices is also pretty straight forward. There’s the classic VGA and HDMI connections, but also fancy wireless connectivity in the form of Miracast. Miracast is supported natively by any modern PC running Windows 10. It sets up a direct WIFI connection between the two devices and within seconds your laptop screen will be mirrored onto the Surface Hub.
So, are there any drawbacks?
Well, in spite of being available in two sizes, Surface Hubs are not a solution for lecture theatres. They’re also worryingly ‘open’ for some schools. Not only are those pens not secured – neither is the device. Without a log on, there is room for pranks and no auditing to see who was logged in at the time.
Otherwise, if your school, college or university is using Office 365, then the smaller Hub at least can come in cheaper than traditional classroom technology and yet it’s power and simplicity really could see strong user adoption and an improvement in the student experience. I encourage you to seek out a demo.
About our Author
James Pickett is a guest blogger from a leading UK university. With 15 years experience, he specialises in delivery of desktop and laptop services to staff and students across a wide range of courses and disciplines. Outside of the office, he enjoys spending his time exploring the UK countryside on foot and playing badminton. His passion is definitely his gadgets, as demonstrated by a growing ‘museum’ collection and he runs his own technology blog Dependent on Gadgets – dedicated to bringing recommendations and advice to those who find the usual associated jargon to be off-putting.
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