A lot has been made about Microsoft’s foray into tablet hardware with its Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets. With Apple and Android tablets having a substantial head start in finding their way into classrooms, Windows-based tablets are still trying to gain a foothold in this competitive and crowded market. (See Best Student Tablets for 2013 from LAPTOP) But in looking at hardware for the classroom, the products that are now attracting my attention are the devices that allow for the sharing and display of content on a screen or projector. Devices like the Apple TV and more recently Google’s Chromecast offer a way for students to share and project content and media with the class. Right now, it seems this particular corner of the market is still up for grabs, but for how long? If Microsoft is looking to innovate in the classroom, I would argue that opportunity lies not in their line of tablets but in their Xbox.
A device to rule them all
As a teacher, I am constantly looking for a way to bring together and utilize the variety of electronic devices that enter my classroom. The ability to have students project their laptop or tablet screens to a classroom TV or projector irregardless of the brand or operating system would be a powerful tool for the educator. This piece alone would help bolster the potential of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative in a school.
One major disadvantage of the Apple TV is its ability to only work with Apple devices. Google’s Chromecast however, makes the first major step in bringing together multiple platforms as it works through the Chrome browser. There is nothing stopping Microsoft from doing the same with the Explorer browser. Factor in the wide scope of tools and services at Microsoft’s disposal and you begin to craft a pretty compelling product.
Play to your strengths, Microsoft!
Unlike the Apple TV or the Chromecast, the Xbox is essentially a computer and as a result, it opens up a larger scope of functionality that would be of great interest to educators.
– Microsoft Office – if the Surface RT comes with a free version of the Office Suite, why can’t the XBox? The ability to connect a keyboard to the Xbox as well as the ability to call up, display and edit documents, presentations and/or spreadsheets on a large screen would be a welcome feature in the classroom.
– SkyDrive – right now Xbox users are able to install a SkyDrive app on their Xbox but are only able to view photos and videos on SkyDrive stored on their SkyDrive. If Xbox users could access the same level of SkyDrive integration that Surface RT users enjoy, this would be another powerful feature for all Xbox users.
– Skype – Although not yet available as an app for the Xbox, Skype seems like an obvious addition particularly once the Xbox One is released with a Kinect as part of the bundle. Video communication with other classrooms, teachers or guest speakers would extend the reach of the classroom whether it is across the hall or across the globe.
– Kinect – In the context of gaming, the Kinect is still trying to find its audience and purpose. In the context of the classroom, the Kinect could offer a compelling alternative to the interactive whiteboard. For students who are visual/spatial or kinaesthetic learners, the Kinect can offer a new way of interacting with digital media and content.
Right now the applications available for the Xbox 360 are quite limited. However, speculation and rumours about the upcoming Xbox One being able to run Windows 8 applications is a compelling feature that would extend the scope and use of this console in the classroom. Granted, the selection of applications in the Windows Store is quite limited when compared to the offerings from Google’s Play Store as well as Apple’s App Store. However, simply having access to the current selection of Windows 8 applications would provide access to titles such as Paint.net, Evernote, Google Search and Twitter. Having applications like these now accessible from the classroom Xbox would further solidify its position as being more than just a gaming rig.
But what’s wrong with gaming? Admittedly, the first thing people (students included) will associate with the Xbox is video gaming. Looking beyond simply playing video games is the intriguing opportunity to create your own video game. Microsoft’s DreamSpark in conjunction with Xbox Indie LIVE Games Development offers access to developer and designer tools where students can create their own games and then play them on the Xbox.
“What Most Schools Don’t Teach” is a video from CODE.ORG that makes the call for schools to address the need for students to learn how to code. Being able to read and write code prepares students with the mindset and skills to live and work in the rapidly developing digital age. The Xbox can position itself as the educational tool of choice that allows for the viewing and testing of student-created games.
With the upcoming release of the Xbox One this fall (2013), there is an opportunity for Microsoft to move the Xbox console beyond the gaming market. Though there have been a lot of predictions and rumours, we will just have to wait until the official release to see what this new hardware has to offer.