A robust review of Microsoft's updated touch-responsive interface, and resources for further exploration
Love it or hate it, Touch has now become part of the Windows experience. It’s heavily integrated into Windows 8, and has been refined and rationalized in Windows 8.1. Teachers and other education professionals who have access to Windows 8 Touch devices for their students can take great advantage of it to enhance the overall educational technology experience.
Setting Up for Touch
One huge difference between Touch in earlier Windows versions – mostly notably Windows Vista and Windows 7 – and newer versions (which include both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, currently out in Preview form as a free download) is that the Windows 8 versions require very little tweaking or tuning to make Touch work properly. Older devices may not support enough so-called “touch points” (the number of individual points of contact the display can recognize simultaneously) to meet Windows 8’s requirements for a minimum of five (most older touch displays and devices support only two), but they will still work. And aside from failing to support certain Windows 8 gestures, they will work fine for screen based navigation and interaction. Newer devices labeled “Windows 8 Touch” or designated as “Windows 8 Touch Ready” should work seamlessly with all modern Windows Touch applications and the Windows 8 interface itself.
Even so, there are a few things that teachers or system administrators can do to improve the Windows 8 Touch experience, especially for younger students still mastering hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
- Because so many education applications run inside a Web browser window, one can magnify the view to increase the size of radio buttons, check boxes, text buttons, etc. to make them easier to see and touch accurately. In working with TeacherWeb, for example, increasing the browser zoom to 125 percent will make the native interface much more touch friendly.
- Windows 8 screen resolution can be reduced to make objects (and by extension, touch controls) visibly larger. One need only right-click (or press-and-hold on a touch-only display) the desktop background, then pick “screen resolution” on the resulting pop-up menu to manage resolution.
- Windows 8 offers numerous controls over screen appearance and layout. In the Modern UI, app tiles can be resized at will, and on the desktop icons may be displayed in large, medium or small sizes. The display item in the control panel includes a slide controller that permits alteration of all items on the screen or alteration only for text sizes.
Figure 1: In the Display item, you can manage the size of all on-screen objects, or simply manage text size separately.
Judicious use of built-in controls can help to deliver a better Windows 8 Touch experience for students and professionals alike. Don’t overlook the additional controls built into many Windows 8 apps, either, because they will also enable additional controls over specific user interface elements as well.
Key Windows 8 Education Apps
To make the most of the Windows 8 experience, it helps to obtain and use native tile-based Windows 8 apps built specifically for educational use. Fortunately, there are a great many of them (many of which are free for educational use, with friendly licenses, so they may be used in the classroom and at home with equal ease and facility). Some particularly useful items in this collection include:
- How Stuff Works: A famous site for curious minds, which explains how systems and objects work and behave.
- Khan Academy Viewer: Video player for Khan Academy’s educational videos, developed by Joel Martinez as a Coding4Fun Community Project.
- Mathrathon: A mathematics game in displays two operands and a plus or minus sign, to which the player must respond. Great arithmetic training, lots of fun.
- M8!: Mind mapping applications great for organizing thoughts and ideas, taking notes, organizing studies and projects or tasks.
- Periodic Table: A visually-oriented tool for exploring the elements through the periodic table, including properties, appearance, chemical behavior, and more.
- Physamajig: Sketch an object or model to turn it into realistic physical objects, with properties for elasticity, friction, joints, and so forth.
- QuickMath: Presents two randomly chosen numbers from 0 to 99 which player must multiply; apps provides immediate feedback on calculation.
- SAS Flash Cards: Flash card app generates cards on the fly, or by uploading a spreadsheet; Quiz mode supports auto-emailing of results to a designated recipient.
- Wikipedia: A widely-used online information source, this version is Touch-friendly, and also supports semantic zoom features.
- Wordament: A word game where contestants compete against each other to extract as many words from the letters in the matrix as possible in a two-minute long tournament.
This is just a smattering of the hundreds of thousands of high-quality education apps already available for Windows 8, and optimized for Touch use.
Some Suggested Windows 8 Touch Devices for Classroom Use
Generally speaking, either standalone tablets (devices designed to function well without attaching a keyboard or a mouse), laptops or convertible notebook PCs are best for classroom use. Below are some specific makes and models to take a look at for classroom use.
|Asus||AIO P1801||0.70”x18.35”x11.58”||5.28lb||18.4” 1080p screen is large, bright, and kid-friendly.|
|Dell||XPS12||0.59-0.79”x12.48”x8.46”||3.35lb||12.5” 1080p screen flips over for tablet or laptop use. Surprisingly sturdy.|
|Dell||XPS18||0.70”x18.25”x11.17”||5.04lb||18.4” 1080p screen is large, bright, includes external keyboard and mouse.|
|Lenovo||ThinkPad Tablet 2||0.34”x10.1”x0.34”||1.25lb||10.1 1366×768 display does not support full HD video. Great little unit.|
Though school boards may not be ready to buy the Touch devices in a big way, loaner units or one-off purchases can bring them to school sooner rather than later. If you do get access to one (or more) for classroom use, they could make a useful addition to your teaching toolkit.
More Windows 8 Education Resources
- The Australian Education Blog: Windows 8 Education Apps
- “Collaborative Learning with Windows 8 Multi-Touch Apps…” Ray Fleming
- Windows 8 For Education (Microsoft in Education)
- Top Windows 8 Apps for Education (Microsoft clearinghouse: a searchable database)
- 10 of the Best Free Windows 8 Apps for Teachers and Students
- Free tools for Educators (Microsoft Partners in Learning)
- Windows 8 Tablets In K-12 Education
So, are you using Windows 8 in the classroom yet? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.
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