Readers of our blog may notice that many of our technology-focussed posts relate to either applications that can be used on Apple and Android devices, or online resources. We haven’t, up until now, referred to the operating system that 61% of you probably use every day…Microsoft Windows.
Whilst this omission may seem an oversight, it hasn’t been without good reason. As a team, we focus on emerging technologies that can assist either teachers or learners, and Windows hasn’t delivered specifically in this area recently.
However, it would have been difficult to ignore the Windows release of an updated version of their operating system last month, Windows 10, and as a result of all of the pomp and circumstance (and now seemingly obligatory promotional video with thumping electronic dance music) around the release, we dedicate a post to the new features and consider applications to education. There are many new features to Windows 10 but this blog will explore three – Cortana; Microsoft Edge and Universal Windows.
Cortana is Microsoft’s digital personal assistant (like Apple’s Siri) which remembers your questions/searches and seeks to assist you in the everyday computer tasks (e.g. your schedule, the quickest route, or update you on news, sport and weather). You can interact with Cortana by speaking through your headset/microphone or by typing into the search function found on the Microsoft 10 tool bar. See a two-minute video review of Cortana.
How can Cortana help students and academics? Microsoft have merged their Bing academic search with Cortana to enable anyone writing to ask Cortana to search for references or papers without having to leave the screen they’re working on. This may seem small, but how many times have you researched on the net and ended up browsing for a holiday instead? Asking Cortana to search for you means that you can remain focussed on your writing.
Microsoft has spent the last few years rebuilding its old and much-maligned browser ‘Internet Explorer’ and has replaced it with a new browser named Microsoft Edge.
This has two key features that have applications for teaching and learning:
- The first is integration with Cortana so that you can highlight any word or phrase on a web page, right click and select ‘Ask Cortana’. This opens up a sidebar with a definition and links to websites that may be able to tell you more about it.
- The second feature is the ability to annotate websites. This may sound gimmicky, but the ability to highlight, add text and cut parts of web pages is brilliant for students. There are applications that allow you to do this already (e.g. Diigo) but having the feature integrated into the browser is handy and the ability to share and save documents means that students can annotate web pages together when working in groups and then save them to look at later (much like you can with Pocket).
Windows 10’s cross-device consistency is probably its unique selling point, surpassing what other operating systems offer. Whether you’re on a Windows PC, laptop, tablet or phone, you will be using the same operating system and will have access to the same data. This works differently to both Apple’s operating system (where your phone, tablet and PC work separately from each other) and Windows 8 and is a reaction to the ever-blurring line between tablet and laptop/PC.
Don’t want a Windows handheld device? Not a problem! Whilst the advantages to a universal operating system on all devices are clear, you can still access your Windows 10 data through Microsoft apps such as OneDrive and OneNote. OneDrive is Windows cloud storage ( 1TB for Sussex e University staff and students) and you can synchronise this with both your mobile device and your PC to ensure that you’re able to access your documents from wherever you are in the world. Prior to the release of Windows 10, Microsoft also made Microsoft Office available for free on Apple and Android so you can now edit your documents on the move with Word/Excel/PowerPoint and save them to OneDrive for when you get back to work/home. In addition to this feature, this, Cortana and a range of other Microsoft apps are to be released onto Apple and Android devices in the future.
So has the sleeping giant awoken?
Although Microsoft has certainly taken a huge step in the right direction with Windows 10, and educational institutions are already looking at a potential upgrade, I don’t think their rivals at Google and Apple will be thinking of themselves as Lilliputians* just yet and I expect an exciting response to be on the horizon. Adoption of the new system, Edge, and Cortana will take a number of years but the release of Windows 10 is exciting and has seen Microsoft escape Brobdingnag* and begin a new chapter of their travels.
*If you’re not sure of these terms and are using Microsoft Edge, highlight them, right click and ‘Ask Cortana’. For those who are not upgraded, try a Google search.