By Ian Miller
If you’ve decided to make use of mobile devices in your classroom, it quickly follows that you will want a way to show your screen in a way that everyone can see.
There are a few options to do this successfully. All of these options can be connected to an existing projection system, or a TV.
1. Firstly, a low tech method. Use a visualiser. This has the advantage of working with any make, model or size of device. The quality of the image will depend on the quality of the visualiser, and some fiddling may be necessary to get rid of reflections from a shiny screen. The demonstrator also will need to be careful not to obscure the image too much with their hands.
Onto the more technical options, focused on the Apple iPad and iPod touch devices:
2. Use an Apple adapter. Apple can supply adapters which plug into the dock connector of iPods and iPads. The adapter mirrors the display to an output. The output you choose will depend on the inputs of your display.
Check to see what inputs your display has. A modern system should support HDMI, in which case the digital AV adapter is the best option. Otherwise choose the VGA option, and as a last resort use the composite video adapter. More about HDMI later…
This system is great because you get a high quality image of exactly what you have on your screen. The downside is your mobile device is no longer mobile as you are ‘tethered’ to your display system by the adapter cable. Apple have considered this, and (on a minimum spec of an iPhone 4S or an iPad 2) offer the function of mirroring your display wirelessly, using their system called ‘Airplay’.
3. If you have a Mac already, then you can use AirServer http://www.airserverapp.com/ as the ‘receiver’ end and just plug the Mac into your projection system as normal. There is also a Windows PC version, but I’ve not had the chance to try it out yet. The software isn’t free, and of course you need to consider if you have a spare computer to work as the receiver.
4. My preferred option is the Apple TV http://www.apple.com/uk/appletv/. This is a little black box which connects directly to the HDMI input (if present) on your display (as long as it has a HDMI input). It then needs to plug into the same network that your wireless uses (It can only connect wirelessly to very simple wireless networks). If everything is set up correctly you just find the AirPlay icon on your iPad, choose the name of the AppleTV and select ‘mirror’.
The networking area is a little complicated, and you’ll almost certainly want to talk to your institution’s IT support folk if you haven’t already done so. For the techies: at the time of writing, the AppleTV wifi interface won’t do WPA/WPA2 Enterprise (though a recent software update might have fixed this), but if you can connect the wired interface to the same VLAN/subnet as your wireless clients then the Bonjour broadcasts that are necessary for AirPlay will just work.
I’ve mentioned HDMI connections a couple of times. Modern displays, projectors and TVs will have these digital connectors and stuff should just work. If, like us, you’re still using projectors from a few years ago then they will only have analogue input connections such as VGA. Converters from HDMI to VGA are available, but there is a catch: HDMI includes a feature called HDCP designed to stop media being copied. If the digital ‘chain’ between the source of the media and display is broken then HDCP considers that there is a risk of the media being copied, so will stop the display from working. If there is an analogue link in the chain (e.g. a converter to VGA) then copy-protected media will not play. For simple mirroring of your iPad this isn’t normally a problem, but it does mess up things like YouTube videos.
Getting the ideal experience of being mobile around a classroom while being able to show things on screen- or even students sharing their work with the class from their personal device – isn’t trivial, but the benefits easily repay the modest investment in time.
Apple designed the iPad, iPod and AppleTV to be consumer gadgets to be used in the home by one person, not educational or commercial devices to be used in schools or businesses by many people. Non-domestic environments typically have special security and usability requirements which need to be considered carefully before launching into buying new toys!
If you have found this post interesting and would like to find out more about using mobile devices in the classroom – in particular Ipads, the National Science Learning Centre will be running a course “Learning science with Ipads.”
Other ICT related courses are: