Tech in Education: Microsoft Surface

Take-away: The new Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 makes an interesting choice for educational organizations engaging GIS in instruction.

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend EduCause, an educational organization focusing on higher education IT.  Among the many interesting technology and pedagogy conversations occurring there, one technology stood out: the new Microsoft Surface with Windows 8.  The Surface is a touch-tablet device recently released by Microsoft and runs either 1.) a new operating system, Windows 8 RT or 2.) Windows 8 Pro (compare RT versus Pro).  While Windows 8 RT isn’t backwards compatible with your old software, new applications are available in the Windows Store.  C-Net has reported that websites running Flash must pass a safety check of sorts, before Windows RT will properly display the websites with Flash content.

Microsoft Surface devices running Windows 8 Pro are to be released in the January 2013, also according to C-Net.  The Surface with Windows 8 Pro runs on an Intel chip (rather than an ARM-based processor found in Surface devices with Windows 8 RT) and should run traditional desktop software.  Esri has already released the ArcGIS preview app, available in the Windows Store. “The ArcGIS app provides a preview of features that integrate the new touch-centric view of Windows 8 and Windows RT with the ArcGIS Online mapping platform” (Esri blog).

As a long-time  iPad user, I find the Surface interesting as it combines the capabilities of both a touch-tablet and traditional laptop.  While an iPad puts me in a wonderful place to consume content and rich media, the Surface seems to bridge the need between content creation and content consumption – a fine balance that educators and students must constantly mind. Perhaps this ability is largely due to Surface running Windows 8 Pro, a descendent from a long-line of very popular Microsoft desktop operating systems, rather than a smartphone OS.  In either event, with keyboard, USB, micro SDXC, and Wi-Fi the Surface certainly has the ability to feel more like a laptop, when it needs to.

With holidays just around the corner, it might be time to take a closer look.  Should you decide to take the leap, let us know how touch-tablets change the way you teach or learn with GIS.  We’d really like to hear from you.

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

Tom Baker

About Tom Baker

Tom Baker is an Esri Education Manager, specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, teacher education, and educational research. He regularly publishes and presents on geospatial technologies across education.
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