Aug 24, 2009

MICROSOFT: ARE YOU LISTENING? Cool Cat Teacher (Vicki Davis) Tests Out Microsoft's Multi-touch Surface Table

When Microsoft unveiled the Surface in 2007, I was disappointed that there were no immediate plans to market it for use in education. At the time, there were no immediate plans to release the Surface for research and development by university students. I had just completed a course in human-computer interaction, and with my background as a school psychologist, I KNEW this sort of technology would work well in education.

My head was brimming with ideas for this innovative technology for use with the students I work with every day.

The following video shows a demonstration of Microsoft's multi-touch, multi-user Surface table at the 2009 NECC conference, and also provides insightful comments from Vicki Davis, author of the very popular Cool Cat Teacher blog. Vicki discusses the value of surface/tabletop computing in education and shares her views about the need for user involvement in the educational software development process. She also gives great advice about how Microsoft or other developers of tabletop computing systems should proceed.

I agree with Vicky's comments, 100%, as my regular blog readers know!


In the above video, it is apparent that the musical instrument applications do not provide a good touch response on the Surface. Vicki suggests that touch responsiveness is key, and that all Surface applications should be held to the high standard of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch. Vicky goes on to say that Microsoft should support easy development of applications, and ensure that applications are very user-friendly and easy for school folks to install. If you work in a K-12 setting, you know what I am talking about ; )

Vicky is preaching to the choir when she stresses that Microsoft R&D (and others) should involve users in ongoing development, in a meaningful way, by using REAL people, REAL teachers, people who work with students. If you have ever battled with a "lame" educational application, you know why this is so very important!

Vicky's enthusiasm for the use of tabletop/surface computing in education can not be ignored. She absolutely knows what she is talking about, and she is the instructional technology voice for a multitude of educators around the world.

Here is Vicky's plea:

"I wish Microsoft would listen to these 3 things from a teacher in a classroom (me). I know Microsoft has bigger things to do than watch this video, but, I can dream, can't I?"

(I've paraphrased the following quotes.)

1. Understand the amazing potential for Surface devices in education. Look at three to five years out. You are looking at the future.

(This technology can engage students who have ADHD, etc.)

2. Harness the power of your users! Pull in your users. There are so many people in education would give their thoughts for free!

3. Create virtual and online ways for Microsoft to interact with teachers.

"If Microsoft decides to invest in this, and I do hope that somebody watching this video will understand the importance of integrating the world around us into the learning experiences and the learning environment, as part as how we remake and re-do education."

My sentiments exactly!

A few thoughts:

So where are we now?

Smart Technologies has come out with the SMARTTable, but it was designed for younger students. At this point, there are very few options, especially affordable options, for educators of students in the upper grades to use this technology.

Some members of the NUI-group are involved in creating educational applications for table-top systems, but they are few in number.

A few companies are using this technology for education, but the applications are mostly limited to interactive museum exhibitions.

From my research on this topic, there are very few developers that have the interest or the inclination to create educational applications for table-top computing.

My hope is that this will change soon! Join me in this conversation.


Seth said...

Great article Lynn! I really liked this.

I do think that microsoft is spending some of it's efforts reaching out to 'real' people; but, those efforts aren't publicized since they're not as 'interesting' to the mass public. From what I've seen, there's a bunch of microsoft partners in a whole range of areas that currently are testing the surface in various disciplines. Of course we can't really know for sure what and how well it's being developed in the education field since there hasn't been any publicity.

Ron George said...

I can tell you that the Surface Team is absolutely wonderful and are covering many of the aspects of the points you are raising. You should email one of them and ask what the current plans are. I have seen a few applications from third parties that were education based though. I can't remember the companies, but check with one of the big 3.

I left the team a few months ago, but I can tell you one thing.... you want atleast as good as the iPhone? You are killing me! :) The iPhone's touch interactions are decent, much better than the first version's of course, but nothing near what the Surface is capable of and has already accomplished.

Love the blog and keep up the good work!

Lynn Marentette said...

I am pretty sure that the touch interactions on the Surface will be fine, from my "experiments" on my HP TouchSmart PC, I've been able to improve the touch interaction for some of the students I work with who have some problems with hand and finger coordination by a few tweaks in my code.

If I had the time, I'd incorporate an adaptive (smart) component to the touch interaction.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

@Ron - the Surface has surpassed the iphone?? I was talking about the touch interface here - not the whole package - and certainly in terms of complexity there is no comparison. But the touch interface certainly leaves a lot to be desired! I can play a piano, live, real time on my itouch - look at how hard it was to play a piano for my friend Julie? The touch piece needs work!