Betach Helps School Board Extend Educational Reach With New Mobile Computing Platform

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) offers flexible learning environments through personalized learning, which is the basic tenant of its three-year education plan. As a large urban school board with a diverse student population, CBE wanted to achieve its goal in part through a digital transformation in the classroom that ensures equal access for all students to a varied set of technology tools. Recently, CBE added Windows 10 devices, including tablets and Microsoft Surface Pro 3, to its heterogeneous IT environment.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) strives to meet the needs of a diverse student population by providing students with a choice of devices and operating systems to enhance their learning. Adopting devices that run Windows 10 helps ensure success for every student, thanks to new opportunities that they provide for teaching and learning. With interactive experiences on cool new devices, CBE is increasing mobility and collaboration in the classroom. Enhanced security features built into Windows 10 also help CBE ensure a safe environment for creative learning. CBE is passionate about this learning framework because it helps the district focus on student success through student-centered learning.

“We always look for ways to personalize learning,” says Cory Spence, Director of Client Technology Services at the Calgary Board of Education. “Our Client Technology Services [CTS] team is accountable for the selection and management of client technology that supports personalized learning. Windows 10, Microsoft Surface Pro, and Office 365 support personalized learning environments through flexible forms of input and collaboration.”

“Digital technologies are changing how we deliver educational programs to students,” adds Travis Fraser, Supervisor of Client Technology Services at the Calgary Board of Education. “We consult with our learning specialists and teachers to ensure that we have the right tools and technologies to meet our students’ needs. The Windows 10 platform offers additional capabilities for mobile learning, and the devices are much easier to manage and secure.”

Teachers and administrators at the district’s 240 schools choose the technology they want to use from a list of approved devices running different operating systems. “When teachers and students are provided with choices to meet diverse learning styles, they are more successful,” says Pauline Auld, Learning Specialist at the Calgary Board of Education. “However, in the past, we’ve sometimes encountered technology abandonment when teachers were frustrated by new solutions. Ease of use is critical for the adoption of new learning tools in the classroom. The Surface Pro running Windows 10 has been well received by teachers in our pilot groups, even for those with limited technology experience.”

Engages students, improves learning outcomes

Vincent Massey School, a junior high in the district, is a case in point. Until recently, staff used MacBook Pro laptops in the classroom. But when Science and Technology Learning Leader Kurt Smith connected a Surface Pro running Windows 10 to a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, he discovered a whole new way of teaching. “I have a screen projected on a wall that’s 10 feet by 7 feet, and it captures students’ attention as soon as they walk into the classroom.”

Smith uses the setup to keep students engaged through quick transitions from one learning moment to the next. And if he’s not at the front of the room, he’s carrying the Surface Pro around the classroom to interact with students at their desks. “If I’m doing a lesson on chemical and physical changes, I show a quick video clip, pause it, easily swipe to the left, and bring up the PDF Annotation app to go over points raised in the video. Or with a double click of the Microsoft Surface Pen, I can use Windows Ink to write on the video scene and reinforce the learning moment. With another swipe, we can review homework. As a teacher, I can use Windows 10 technology to move quickly and efficiently through different formative assessments, such as a bingo game that’s tied to the program of studies. I’m able to use effective strategies to engage different types of learners.” 

Smith calls the Surface Pen a “profound” tool that connects students with the technology through a natural, engaging experience. In mathematics and science classes, students can use the Surface Pen and the eraser to draw graphs and equations. “I used to mirror my iPad with my projector but when I am performing detailed graphing and mathematical analysis, the Bluetooth pen simply didn’t give the sensitivity and natural writing experience required to get the point across,” says Smith. “The Windows 10 inking experience is quite wonderful.”

Smith is starting to see students collaborating on their Windows 10 devices using Microsoft Office 365, such as developing and presenting their projects using PowerPoint from different places in the classroom. “The combination of Windows 10 and Office apps gives us a lot of tools, with not a lot of hardware,” he says. “While many factors contribute to successful learning, last year our students saw great results. We saw concrete evidence that having the right tools in place makes a difference in student achievement.”

Simplifies management, enhances security

With Windows 10, CBE is streamlining the management of its Windows environment. This will save time and operational costs for the CTS team managing the district’s systems and resources, while ensuring that students and teachers can work uninterrupted with reliable devices. “We have challenges centrally managing, tracking, and keeping the iOS and Chrome OS devices in good working order,” says Vasile Goia, Client Technology Services at the Calgary Board of Education. “We look forward to continuing our use of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to remotely manage our Windows devices. Our management and other existing security capabilities, such as antivirus and encryption, can simply be extended to these new devices.”

Eases upgrade process

Upgrading devices running the Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems was straightforward. “The process for deploying Windows 7 or 8 or 10 is consistent. This makes the transition for our CTS team really easy as we begin upgrading the approximately 22,000 Windows devices across our district,” says Mike Marr, Client Technology Services at the Calgary Board of Education. “And most of our learning applications converted seamlessly to Windows 10. We will be taking advantage of the Windows as a Service update model and are looking forward to an evergreen platform where updates are deployed automatically.”

CBE is using AppLocker to create a highly secure, locked-down environment for students writing exams. In an educational environment where many students share the same device, it was a challenge for IT staff at the school board to authenticate access for students using the same iPad. “A Windows device interacts with Active Directory the same way as a PC, and is bound by the same security authentication protocols,” says Marr. “Windows 10 offers an appropriate balance between security and usability. Overall, it makes an exciting addition to the learning environment at CBE.”

Boosts accessibility, drives confidence

Other features which contribute to student success are the accessibility options that are built into the Windows 10 operating system. These options help to meet the needs of CBE’s diverse student population, including students identified with exceptional needs and English language learners. Comprising nearly half of CBE’s student population, it is important that these students have the tools they need for learning.

“Accessibility is extremely important,” says Auld. “Using accessible learning tools may increase student engagement in the learning process, so we are interested in built-in accessibility features to avoid having to purchase extra software to accommodate our learners. Windows 10 has Narrator, which reads text aloud, the on-screen keyboard, and Magnifier—each provides a different learning modality to improve student success, at no extra cost.”

Overall, with the addition of Windows 10, CBE has simplified the work required to deliver the educational tools that teachers and students need to optimize learning—for everyone. Concludes Smith, “Windows 10 is a great product, and in my classroom it helps me and my students to be more engaged and productive."

We always look for ways to personalize learning…. Windows 10, Microsoft Surface Pro, and Office 365 support personalized learning environments through flexible forms of input and collaboration.

Cory Spence: Director of Client Technology Services

Calgary Board of Education

Windows 10 has Narrator, which reads text aloud, the on-screen keyboard, and Magnifier—each provides a different learning modality to improve student success, at no extra cost.

Pauline Auld: Learning Specialist

Calgary Board of Education