Tablet + pen computing takes off:
Aussie schools in mass Windows 8 rollouts



news Microsoft has revealed that a number of major Australian schools have deployed its new Windows 8 operating system in both tablet + pen and traditional laptop form factors, as evidence continues to grow that adoption of Windows 8 in the local education sector is starting to challenge Apple’s dominant iPad platform.

Last week Redmond issued four media releases disclosing four major Windows 8 deployments in three separate schools around Australia. The first, Queensland’s Varsity College on the Gold Coast, announced that it would be equipping its 3,200 students with a range of Windows 8 devices, including tablets and Ultrabooks.

Jeff Davis, principal of the school, said in Microsoft’s media release that Windows 8 “offered a range of sophisticated learning apps, opening further educational and teaching opportunities to students and staff.” “There has obviously been a huge transitional shift between teaching from a traditional format to a digital, more personalised, learning format in the past five years,” continued Davis.  “We’re now entering a period where we’re seeing a shift to virtual teaching methods, ultimately allowing for teachers to work more directly with individual students to improve their skills and understanding in a more differentiated model, as students utilise the technology for every element of their curriculum.”
In addition, every Windows 8 device will have the ability to be used with digital pen technology, something that the school believes is crucial for learning, and was not offered with all competing devices that the school looked at. “Without pen-based and touch technology, it limits subjects such as Maths, Science, Chinese and Geography, as the student just uses the device to access content and research. Even our Art department has transformed their learning paradigm to include pen-based technology as a key component of their curriculum,” said Davies.
“With a pen, students can make links, draw formulas and edit pictures and the whole solution becomes a multi-purpose device. Windows 8 enabled devices have far greater use than just a tablet or touch screen, as we’re able to integrate all these subjects onto one device, which could not have been achieved purely on keyboard based technology.”
“Windows 8 enables both teachers and staff to tailor the personalised learning software, according to their needs. The individual student interfaces enables teachers to teach all students at the level that best suits their abilities and at their own pace regardless of academic sets. It enables us to differentiate and adapt the curriculum to individual learning needs, and progression stages. It presents a massive change to our teaching methods and is the main driver for rolling out Windows 8 across the college.” said Mr Davis.
“While we researched other options, Windows 8 is the clear leader in all of the areas of technology that we believe are fundamental to student learning, including application development, synchronicity with existing IT infrastructure and ease of use,” continued Davis, “Having researched competitors, the decision to use Microsoft came down to quality control and the knowledge that Microsoft is the global leader of providing technology in the classroom”.

In Victoria, Ballarat Grammar has also confirmed plans to shift to Windows 8 this year, with staff and students from years 7 and 12 being the first to be provided with the devices, with a continued roll out across all year levels taking place over the next 18 months. With students working from laptop devices in nearly all of their academic subjects, according to Microsoft, Ballarat Grammar recognised the need to update to Windows 8 to ensure students’ learning demands and needs were reflected in the digital society. Students now have the ability to access all the information they need through generous online facilities, including an extensive SharePoint intranet, collaborative OneNote documents between staff and students and many other online resources, resulting in fewer textbooks and helping to reduce our environmental impact.

Nathan Burgess, Director of Information and Communications Technology at Ballarat Grammar, said the school made a conscious decision to try to provide students with the technology for a full education experience, which only Windows 8 devices were able to offer.
“A lot of schools tend to feel pressured to go down a tablet path in order to get access to apps, but at the same time they compromise by not running traditional applications. Our students want to do both, they want to run Photoshop and Illustrator and the full-version of Microsoft Office, but they also want access to the quick, single purpose apps that are available,” Mr Burgess said.
“Students therefore have fewer resources to carry, and through a centralised server we’re able to update tablets with the latest technologies when they become available. If a student has a flair for design they’re able to use the same software that experienced graphic designers are using.  By embracing the latest technologies and applications at this young age, the School is shaping a generation which is more prepared than ever for the professional world.
“Another big winner for us, is how Windows 8 represents a key ability to have a ‘no compromise’ experience for the students,” Mr Burgess continued. “By using traditional applications as well as running all of the new full-screen apps on the Windows 8 interface from the Windows App-Store, it gives our students the best of both worlds.
“Windows 8 is also going to provide our Information Technology students with an excellent development platform for their studies. They will be able to develop traditional applications, plus new App-Store apps, from a single computer. Staff and students are very excited about the possibilities this will offer into the future.”

Ballarat Grammar currently has over 1,400 students, from childcare through to year 12. On campus, it runs 900 student laptops, 150 staff laptops and 350 desktop computers, previously all running Windows 7.

“We took a very strategic approach,” Burgess said. “Before we chose devices we looked at what our students actually needed. Do they simply need access to email, single use apps and do a little browsing? The answer is no: they need to be creators, to be able to do graphic design work and have the freedom to make videos without compromise. AWindows 8 device enables this.”

All Saint’s College, in Western Australia, has also confirmed plans to deploy Windows 8, with a full rollout expected by 2014, including the deployment of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. The school will deploy some 500 Samsung-based Windows 8 devices, also with pen capability.

“Pen and touch devices are the perfect platform for our students and enable us to deliver many new exciting learning opportunities,” states Darryl Watson, manager for ICT operations at All Saints’ College. “For example through the Windows Store, new means and forms of curriculum can be accessed directly. Alternatively, a teacher can seamlessly deliver a new piece of learning technology or software to students, so that they can begin using it immediately. Having all of this on the one device is very powerful.”

And lastly, Prince Alfred College in South Australia has also confirmed Windows 8 plans.

“With over 90% of all businesses relying upon staff using computers as part of their job, our students need to be prepared with touch based technologies and Microsoft software. By embracing Windows 8 now, we’re preparing our students for life after school by putting the technologies in their hands and guiding them along the right path,” stated Rob Sieben, director of ICT at the college.

The college embraced the Windows 8 technology following a special presentation by the Worldwide President of Education at Microsoft, Anthony Salcito, who spoke to the Middle School of the college via Skype. During the presentation, he demonstrated new Windows 8devices and Windows Apps, followed by a live Q&A.
When asked about the rationale behind choosing Windows 8, Sieben said: “When we decided to upgrade our college’s IT devices, we had already gone some way in our research with a competing provider, before deciding that touch technologies would be integral to learning in the 21st Century. Anthony’s presentation really struck a chord, as it endorsed our earlier decisions and showed us that Windows 8 would give us all the tools we need, on one device, in one environment.”
“We’re excited about the option for app-based technologies at the college,” he continued. “We know that the smart phone and tablet have impacted heavily on our lives over the past five years and Microsoft has provided an opportunity to combine the ‘best of both worlds’ with the new devices. Windows provides our students and staff with the opportunity to run both singular and multiple functions with one touch; it’s a logical choice as students will inevitably have to move from apps to programs. Windows 8 covers all elements of their education.”

The news comes just several months after it was revealed that Queensland’s Department of Education had flagged plans to deploy one of the world’s largest known Windows 8 tablet fleets, with nearly 14,000 Queensland secondary students to receive the devices. The news added to suggestions that Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet platform, although it has seen poor adoption in Australia’s enterprise sector so far compared with the iPad, may be being adopted more rapidly in schools and other educational institutions, due to its flexibility and ease of central administration.

However, it hasn’t all been good news for Microsoft in the education sector. In the university sector, for example, Apple’s iPad has been very popular. UWS, for example, announced in January that it would deploy some 11,000 iPads to students and staff this year, while a number of other schools and universities around the country have also conducted iPad trials over the past several years, before Windows 8, with its tablet touch-screen controls, was released.

There have also been a handful of Android tablet rollouts in schools in Australia. For example, in December 2011, Acer revealed that staff and students of years 9-12 at Brighton Grammar School in Victoria would be issued with the company’s Android-based Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet.

Image credit: Microsoft


  1. I think it is interesting to note that not one of the 3 of them are public schools. Private schools generally have a better ability to do things like this.

    Hell, we’ve only just started moving up to Windows 7 here in Western Australian public schools.

    I updated one of my student computers at the primary school i work at to Win7, went quite nicely (to an extent), but like pretty much every other school, the servers still run Win2k3, so we lose certain capabilities.

    Probably take another 5-10years before we move to Windows 8.

    • Hi Ray,

      Varsity State College is a public school, just in a high socioeconomic area. A few years ago I went to a conference where they shown a keynote from Varsity, and they were trying tablet computing then. They’re pretty much a “pilot” school for EQ where the up-and-coming stuff is tested before being rolled out statewide.

      On the ground level here, the Acer tablets are *very* nice. They are a lot better than i expected from Acer. They are very sturdy, and I believe they can stand up to the rigors that students put them through (unlike the Acer 1830T). I am proud that EQ does keep up with the latest technology (I did read the state that WA’s EDU networks were in a year ago, and it is just scary).

      In an education environment it’s not just about the hardware that you use, it’s also about the environment supporting it. Server 2008 R2+Win7 (and limited Win8) rollout is very good for teachers in the classroom — the main hurdle is actually teaching the teachers how to use Windows 8. You have no idea how hard even Office 2010 was! (from 2003)

      I very much hope that we stay on this path and don’t become afraid of new things.

  2. Varsity College is Microsoft’s biggest partner school in Australia – they keynoted EduTECH this year – so no surprise there. The other option than the converged Windows 8 touch/traditional model is iPads for everyone and a few desktop labs for the applications that require more power and/or a different interface. Of course, as most schools got rid of their labs in favour of 1:1 parent-funded laptops, that’s not an option any more.

    Don’t forget the Los Angeles Unified School District just dropped $30m on iPads.

  3. What more can I say except we haven’t made it to the “One computer per high school student” in our local high school. And the computers we currently have are well and truly past their landfill date!

  4. Varsity College is a public school, just in a higher socio-economic area.

    Having Apple, Android and Windows systems, I must say that despite the disappointing App Store, the Surface Pro is fantastic to use and has great integration with the Surface Pen. It obviously has many of the downfalls of being M$, however it is a massive benifit of being able to use any program that works on windows on a tablet sized device.

    • I have to agree, the Surface pro is a nice bit of kit.
      The only drawbacks (other than the App store) are that it is a bit of a beast compared to the iPad, or an Android tablet, but it’s a full windows environment that can run desktop applications running an i5; and the poor driver MS use for the video (which is easily fixable by installing the one from Intel and hiding the update so windows doesn’t reset it).
      I am looking forward to 8.1’s release purely for the introduction of Miracast.

      As for Windows RT I still wonder why they bothered.

      (On a side note Surface pro can run Shadowrun Returns, and xCom, and a bounch of other stuff ive tried from steam, It’s graphics -Intel HD 4000 – are not great but they get the job done, once you install the Intel driver)

      • The size of the Surface is a definite issue for my wife, but being a bigger bloke, I find it manageable as a tablet device.

        Will have to try the intel version of the driver instead of the MS, but it seemed to run Tomb Raider ok out of the box. For additional choice of apps, I had installed Blustacks android emulator, but found I never really use it.

  5. I’m not convinced that three Microsoft case studies constitutes “evidence continues to grow that adoption of Windows 8 in the local education sector is starting to challenge Apple’s dominant iPad platform”…

    Is it “evidence that some schools are starting to consider Surface RT as an alternative to iPads, and Windows 8 on the desk/laptop as an acceptable successor to Windows 7 (or XP)”? Sure.

    I know that in ACT public schools, iPads are pretty-much the only game in town for tablet form-factor devices, even though their adoption and support is still considered somewhat ‘experimental’. Sadly, Android devices aren’t really even being explored, mainly due to issues getting them to connect consistently to the wireless environment (proxy & certificate support, etc.), and the inconsistency of networking implementation across different devices. And AFAIK Surface RT devices have barely been looked at yet – although given that in ~theory~ Windows-based devices *should* behave similarly to regular Windows devices w.r.t. networking, I expect that they will be increasingly examined as a viable alternative.

    Just saying it’s a bit early to swallow an MS press release and call it a serious challenge just yet. Of course, MS have very deep pockets, and have always been great at playing catch-up whenever they’ve misjudged/missed the market initially, so I have no doubt that they will be able to make serious inroads over time – assuming they don’t decide to ditch RT altogether.

  6. This sounds like a paid for comment article, or at the very least just regurgitating PR spin. Oh no, it’s the death of Apple and the rise of Microsoft – despite Microsoft’s $1 billion write-down of inventory of this crap they can’t even sell, and Apple’s continued massive profits and market share dominance.

    Right, right.

  7. Wow. Headline got my interest. Article details lost it.
    Does Microsoft really think this type of marketing spin will make a difference?
    The selling point is that students can use Office on the Surface. Really? That’s the kicker?

    Sounds more like education technology staff putting themselves and schools first instead of learners.

    I hope they have a strategy for dealing with lost tablet pens…..

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