Reflector vs. Apple TV

One of the really cool things about an iPad in the classroom is how you can mirror your iPad’s screen to any AirPlay-receiving device.  Like an Apple TV.  I use this functionality all of the time, basically using my iPad as a replacement for the notorious ‘smart’ board, particularly when using Explain Everything.  It’s very handy and means I can have my iPad sitting on the piano whilst I’m teaching and easily change slides, annotate things, move things around etc.

Apple TV is Apple’s preferred way of doing this, which is their little black box of goodness which you then plug into your widescreen TV by HDMI and go from there.  If you have a widescreen HDMI TV, then this is the simplest solution.  However, most schools are instead running some sort of fangled VGA projector+computer+monitor+speakers+amp, without an HDMI input or output in sight and projecting onto a 4:3 interactive whiteboard.

This results in the following problems:

  • you’ll need to buy a HDMI to VGA converter.  Kanex do the very cool little adaptor that does the trick, but the problem with this (so I’ve been told) is that it can’t cope with a really long VGA cable to the projector as isn’t powered.  Most schools have the VGA cable running up the wall and along the ceiling, adding a good 5 metres of cabling.  You can buy powered HDMI to VGA converters, but this adds another little box, another power lead and all sorts of other tangles.
  • screen ratio issues.  The Apple TV assumes you are going to a 16:9 output, so it just adds black bars to the left and right of the image when mirroring the 4:3 iPad.  When you are projecting to a 4:3 screen, this results in either a weirdly stretched image or a rather small image.
  • you’ll need to switch between displays.  If you’re already running a smartboard computer, the teacher will have to switch displays on the projector to the Apple TV input.  Not difficult, but still a bit of a bother.

Enter Reflector (formerly Reflection).  It’s a Mac (and PC) app that turns your computer into an AirPlay receiver. It’s only $15 and you can buy multiple licences slightly cheaper.  All you have to do is start the app running, and then you can mirror your iPad to your Mac’s display.

The advantages are as follows:

  • true 4:3 mirroring.  If your computer is already running a 4:3 display, then the iPad mirroring will fill the whole screen.  Yay!
  • no display switching.  It just uses your existing screen and projector.
  • no extra wires or boxes.  Which is always good.
  • cheaper!  £10 vs £85 speaks for itself.

The only downside is that iPad Keynote slideshows don’t fill the screen.  This is because the Keynote app assumes it’s mirroring to a 16:9 Apple TV so adds it’s own black bars to the left and right of the image.  Swings and roundabouts I guess!

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Apple European Education Leadership Summit

It sounds a pretty impressive title, and it was a pretty impressive day! Epic location – St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – and usual Apple polish and detail. But it was a very useful and interesting day, with big and small session input, discussions with schools and even presentations from kids using iPads about their learning (very startling that one!)

Apple TV

I think the Apple TV was the secret star of the show, effortlessly allowing iPad screens to be mirrored to any projected surface or TV. This sets the iPad free to become a genuinely useful tool to teach from, share children’s work and all kinds of other things. Lots of interest in this. And it’s remarkably, remarkably cheap. I feel that the rip-off days of the ‘Interactive-if-you’re-lucky-whiteboard’ are numbered.

The ecosystem (the ‘glue’)

A guy called Abdul Chohan from a secondary academy called ‘ESSA’ in Bolton had an amazing story to tell. The school he worked at had something like 55% of pupils achieving 5 A*-C at GCSE. Not great. Something had to be done. So he bought an iPod touch for every student. That, plus lots of other changes, saw the now academy turned around and they now have 100% achieving at least 5 A*-Cs. It’s not magic but technology plays a huge part in it. They now have a purpose-build new campus with technology everywhere. It looks like a stunning place.

The really interesting part came though when he talked about the apple ecosystem (the ‘glue’ – mac/iPod/iPad). In a workshop, he showed us the wiki server that they use to deliver all their lessons. Pupils log on using their iPod touches and then download any resources required, such as ePub documents that can be viewed in iBooks anytime (no Internet connection required). I’ve used the wiki server at school for our ICT club but I never seriously thought of using it to replace a VLE…

Shoes-off Learning

There was also this guy called Stephen Heppell who talked about lots things he’d seen in technology over the world. One thing he mentioned was where classrooms were ‘shoes off’ (mainly in Scandinavian places) which hugely helped children’s learning and behaviour. Apparently it helps kids feel more like they’re at home and so are more relaxed and engaged. Worth a try sometime…?

He also talked about a thing Apple do called Challenged Based Learning. Worth a look too.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. Brain very buzzing!