Rise to the Surface


It was always going to be a challenge to distribute 100 Surface Pro 4s to 100 teachers and expect them to be able to use them.  Made harder when you are opening a new school next September with staff who work in four different schools until then.  Few teacher training days, few directed hours, few options.

If the bacon sandwiches weren’t enough to convince 50 staff they had made the right decision to volunteer a whole Saturday in the holidays, then soon after our 8:30 start the Rock Star Microsoft trainer Jennifer King @JKESEdu, and the Ultra-Energetic Surface expert George Isherwood convinced them. Being around people who are passionate about what they do is a real privilege, and our training day proved just that. Jen and George oozed passion, and knowledge, and patience, and joy, and all-American verve.

George walked us through the Surface Pro 4, the tablet that really can replace your laptop. He showed us the power of the pen and people started to get excited. Who could have predicted the gasps of delight as teachers smiled for Windows Hello for the first time? Who could have predicted the grins as teachers yanked away their keyboards. Who could have thought that teachers deserved this 21st Century device. Well, we do, and I love that feeling it gives you, that you have actually been invested in rather than just provided for.

OneNote is exciting to me. That sounds sad if you take it on face value, but its not about the product. Its about seeing the power it gives to teachers to organise, collaborate, distribute and develop resources. The power it can give to our students as well as our teachers. That’s what I find exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better trainer than Jen, because what she communicated to our staff was not only how she loved the tool, but how the tool empowered her to transform her teaching, and how it promoted learning and skills in her students. Great teachers love to learn from a great teacher who obviously puts students first.

I knew that learning OneNote and the Surface would be a challenge, but as a full time geek and edutech fan its not always obvious what the challenges are.  Yes, there was the technical challenge of preparing a new domain and tenant and not least 50 Surfaces for the day. The ICT Team at Neath Port Talbot Schools and Learning rose to this challenge with as much passion and gusto as we could ever have hoped for. And then the technical challenge of making those Surface devices ‘user-ready’, for which I roped in my technician, head of ICT and some dedicated pupil digital ambassadors. These challenges were ones I had control over.

OneNote 2016, OneNote app, OneNote Online, Office 365, Groups, the cloud, syncing. Terms that I might use every day in MIE Expert conversation.  To a teacher in the cloud for the first time they are challenging and confusing concepts. I am proud that we were able to lay bare these difficulties, and support one another in a journey to understanding them. If we are to make the most of these tools as educators, then we need to understand more than just where to click. Once we understand the cloud we begin to realise how it can transform our approach to planning, reduce our workload and enhance teaching and learning.

Asking staff to volunteer their time on a National Rugby weekend was always going to be difficult. I know that sometimes I get the work-life balance thing wrong myself and I didn’t want staff to feel pressured into attending. I didn’t want staff to feel like we were setting a precedent by holding unpaid activities on a Saturday.  I didn’t want those that couldn’t make it to feel like they were missing out. But what we achieved on the day was worthwhile. We invested in ourselves. We invested in each other. We invested in the future, and it was worth it.

Now we have the challenge of taking our experience from the day and ensuring the rest of our staff and pupils get the best quality training we can deliver. We might not have the Jen and George show (I will be inviting them back!), but now we have 50 staff full of excitement, and skills, and knowledge; staff full of passion about what they do as teachers and the beginnings of understanding of how the Surface and OneNote can help them, which they can share with the rest of the team. By working as a team, as well as syncing, we’ll all rise to the Surface.

Thanks to @nathancumpstone for this video record of the day.

Surface and OneNote – Episode 1

Surface and OneNote – the perfect combo for teaching and learning.

Ysgol Bae Baglan is a brand new, state of the art, all-through state school which will open in September 2016 for 1600 3-16 year olds. The information technology and computer systems at the school have to live up to the ambitions of the school to deliver sector leading teaching and learning.

There was always going to have to be an innovative solution which reduced costs and space requirements, and now we have just that. We will actually see the number of traditional PCs in school start at a very low number and then fall. Instead, teachers and pupils will be using the very latest Surface hybrid devices.

Each teacher will be using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which brings all the best tools for teaching and learning together in one device. As well as a keyboard, the Surface has a digital pen which can be used to write on device just like a traditional pen – this is known as digital inking. This means that teachers can directly comment in their own handwriting on work created on a computer and save their written comments, drawings and diagrams for future reference.

With the Microsoft wireless video adapter fixed in all projectors, teachers will connect their Surface tablets directly to the front of any classroom and show the content to the class. As the teacher writes on the Surface, it appears projected to the whole class. Teachers can draw together traditional ways of working alongside new digital multimedia content making lessons more engaging and interactive.

Pupils will be working on a Surface 3 device, the little sibling to the proud Pro 4. We believe that digital inking will offer our pupils new ways of working and we avoided the cheaper devices that were keyboard only.  There is plenty of research out there that emphasises the importance of writing and we want to find new ways of engaging pupils in doing just that.

Both Surface devices work in perfect combination with Office 365 cloud technologies, which means that work that the teacher creates for the class is no longer saved in school, but instead securely on the Internet.  This means that work in class will always be available for pupils at home.  As well as supporting homework and communication with parents, this new way of working will be of great benefit to those pupils who need extra support and in stretching the most able learners by enabling out of the classroom learning.  And of course, we have installed the latest version of OneDrive which sync content directly to the Surface, which eases worries about internet connectivity.

The Surface devices connect through a hybrid Azure AD which means that users can login at home and continue working as if they were in school.  The hybrid AD means that we can still apply policies and manage the devices, but by making all users administrators and reducing the lock downs on the machines, we hope to ensure that users really feel ownership of their device and it becomes part of their personal toolkit for teaching and learning.

One of the most important aspects of the technology infrastructure is the use of Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is the perfect tool for collaboration and the perfect partner for the Surface.  I have set up collaborative OneNote notebooks for each department in a OneDrive space and shared with all members of the department.  This means that teachers in a department can easily collaborate and combine resources, something we want to encourage right from the start, but the notebooks are not held in any of the teachers’ personal OneDrive spaces.

Alongside their collaborative, staff only, resources OneNote notebooks, staff also have access to a department administration notebook. This has been made possible from the use of Outlook Groups which I have set up for each department. Outlook Groups really is a world-class tool for teams, and together with their Group OneNote notebook, each department has a group conversation email, calendar and files area. Access to the department OneNote notebook is really easy if you are using the latest version of Outlook 2016, but even easier if you then open the notebook in OneNote 2016 and keep it open there…forever!

The ease with which OneNote 2016 manages all of your notebooks, allowing you to have them all open at once, means that everyone can easily access their work. And of course, each notebook is synced to your Surface so you can continue to work even when you don’t have the Internet available.

Just when you start thinking ‘enough OneNote already’, sorry, there is more.  Alongside their collaborative resources notebooks and Outlook Group notebook, each teacher is also provisioned with OneNote Class Notebooks. These are personal notebooks for each teacher and each class. The Class Notebook creator tool manages all of the permissions so that one teacher and all of the pupils of a class have access. Content can then be easily copied from a department collaborative notebook, adapted if necessary and shared with pupils. Don’t forget of course that by using a Surface, work can then be completed, and marked, anytime, anywhere, with a digital pen.

More tools are sure to be in the pipeline to make the management of these Class Notebooks even easier – if they weren’t easy enough already!  Oh, and I have to mention the latest learning tools that have just been added to OneNote because they are another reason why we know we have chosen the right tools.

One of the greatest challenges will be in ensuring that all of our staff and pupils are fully trained and digital-ready for the opening of  Ysgol Bae Baglan in September. In the first teacher training day in January, all teachers had a day with the new ICT systems. Last Saturday, the Surface devices, OneNotes and cloud working were rolled out to around 50 teachers, school leaders and support workers.  Along with the school’s two Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts and digital leader group, the staff were joined by two inspirational experts; trainer Jennifer King and Surface Business Development Manager George Isherwood. More about that another time!


The rollout now continues to the remaining 60 teachers, 100 support workers and 1600 pupils and we couldn’t be more excited!

Look out for Episode Two in May.