The hearts of a new generation of tech consumers are being fought for in classrooms.

The traditional tools of pen and paper are now joined by iPads, Chromebooks and Surface Go machines. Class projects could result in conventional hand-drawn posters, a presentation using Google Sheets, or printouts of avatar selfies taken in Minecraft.

Long-established brands such as Apple and Microsoft, and newer arrival Google, all have a range of products and applications aimed at students.

It’s all part of a long-game. Build affinity in childhood, and hope this develops into loyalty when children become purchasers.

During the charm offensive students are benefiting from a range of tools aimed to engage and inspire, sometimes offered free by the competing companies.

Apple, the long-time classroom leader, has recently launched an iPad designed to renew its attractiveness to schools. To reinforce the point the launch event was held at a Chicago school.

“We want our students to be engaged in their learning, so they can be successful in their careers.”

The new model has support for a stylus to make drawing on the screen easier as well as increased storage and the ability for several students to have logins on the same device. A classroom app will give teachers the ability to lock, or open a classroom full of iPads, and to set assignments. A kid-friendly Apple Pencil is also part of the upgrade, meaning students can draw or use handwriting rather than type.

In New Zealand Microsoft has a recently renewed agreement with the Ministry of Education to supply software to all state integrated schools. Neither Microsoft or the ministry would be drawn on the value of current agreement, citing commercial sensitivity, however, when initially made in 2001 the deal for two years cost $10 million.

The latest agreement which expires at the end of 2021 covers a number of different tools. It’s up to individual schools whether they want to use Microsoft’s software.

Microsoft’s schools manager Anne Taylor said Microsoft 365 products as well as Minecraft Education Edition are included in the most recent agreement.

The agreement now allows students who bring their own devices to school to use Microsoft tools at home as well.

“In the past as a parent you may have had to go out and purchase that software for the device your child takes to school. Now because of the agreement the students are covered.”

Taylor said it’s not a New Zealand specific agreement. Around the world Microsoft has similar agreements. She describes its goals in the education space as aspirational.

“It’s about empowering students to do their best work, it’s about enabling teachers to do engage with every learner, and we think it is about equity and inclusion. For us that is about the success, it’s a lofty goal but it’s a reality. We want our students to be engaged in their learning, so they can be successful in their careers.”

Microsoft is well aware they share classrooms with other technology makers and has made one of their latest offerings available for iPads.

“A couple of weeks ago we announced we are bringing Minecraft Education Edition to iPads. We know there are loads of iPads in primary schools. We know Minecraft Education Edition supports the digital curriculum it supports creativity, it supports computational thinking. So, let’s make sure that kids can have access to it.”

At Taieri College students use Minecraft for a number of projects. The education edition of the popular world building game allows teachers to create closed worlds for students.

Teacher Rachel Chisnall said some of her students love using Minecraft in the class.

“This morning with my science class – we are currently doing sound waves and hearing. They built representations of high and low soundwaves and they built an ear, so they had the inner and outer ear and the ear canal and the three little bones. Rather than just getting them to do a poster or a worksheet, they were able to go in, put it together and see it in a 3D space.”

“We did underwater shark diving in Fiji and Mexico. We went into space, we went to the Great Wall of China, we went to see the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.”

Google has taken different approach to reaching schools. As well as low cost Chromebooks proving popular with parents and schools, its software is free for schools at no charge to the government.

“The take up rate has been pretty organic from Google’s perspective. We don’t talk to every single school, we don’t have the time to. A lot of them just sign up themselves,” said Google’s head of education for Australia and New Zealand Suan Yeo.

Google would like to formalise an arrangement with the ministry.

“Most of our relationships have been with the schools directly to date, but we are actually working with the Ministry of Education on a potential partnership agreement we want to put in place. They’ve actually approached us. We’ve been having conversations with them.”

Their tools include a Google Classrooms app which allows teachers to set and mark assignments from students. There are also apps for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Other Google apps also get used such as Google Maps and Google Earth. Yeo, who was in New Zealand to judge the Young Innovator Awards last week, visited schools in Tauranga to showcase some of Google’s offerings.

Using Google Expeditions students were treated to a virtual reality experience.

“We did underwater shark diving in Fiji and Mexico. We went into space, we went to the Great Wall of China, we went to see the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.”

“It is a cool tool, I love it. It’s great fun.”

Yeo is upfront about long-game aspect of working with students. He said the education sector is a priority for Google from a “strategic standpoint”.

“We see it [education] as a way to connect to the community but we also obviously see the next generation of users coming online and using software and hardware that might be linked to the Google ecosystem or not.

“That’s something for us to be a part of that journey with them – as they come online for the very first time. We absolutely want to continue to be a partner with schools and universities on that journey.”

Taieri College’s Chisnall sees programs such as Minecraft as another classroom tool which can help teachers reach more students.

She’s seen shy students come out of their shells and collaborate with classmates as well as younger students familiar with Minecraft teach older students how it works.

“It is a cool tool, I love it. It’s great fun.”

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