We’ve all seen the rise of the lone iPad Teacher; every school has one. You will normally find these staff tucked out of the way working in odd subjects such as Mathematics or English, they never really bother any of the IT Techs / Network Manager as they use their iPad in isolation well away from the day-to-day PC user / network. Then Airplay Mirroring was launched and suddenly these quiet individuals started to encroach upon the IT manager’s infrastructure (grrr!) They wanted to plug their Apple TV’s into classroom projectors, sometimes without even asking!
Their aim was simple, to present what was being displayed on their little iPad screen onto their much larger projection screen and at the same time walk all around the classroom to prove a point. Apparently this was truly inspirational and easily the biggest leap in classroom IT since the launch of the interactive whiteboard.
So what usually happened next?
The IT technician was asked to setup the Apple TV, and surprisingly it worked pretty well. The lone teacher was able to get away from their front desk PC, move freely around their classroom passing their iPad around between students. Staff around the school were talking about the idyllic classroom, “How can I do that?” “ I want one of those Apple boxes!” “ Can my laptop do that?” It wasn’t long before this caught the eye of the headteacher and en masse, Apple TV was bought for every classroom.
This all sounds like a nice simple story so far, what could possibly go wrong? It worked well for the lone teacher, so why not everyone else?
When Apple launched Apple TV they didn’t really think about it working within an educational environment nor did they have any reason to; it was designed for the home consumer market after all. Another thing to remember about the landscape 3-4 years ago was that schools’ IT infrastructure wasn’t setup ready for what was about to happen. The age of the mass tablet and in this case Apple TV was just starting off. So when Apple TVs were fitted on a large scale, problems were seen very quickly indeed.
Jitter, video Lag and loss of connection were the most common symptoms. Why was this happening? It worked fine for the lone iPad teacher, after all. It was very confusing for non-technical staff. Up until this point, teachers were quite used to accepting that they needed to log in to their laptop and go and do something else whilst the network struggled to load their profile for 5 minutes and then they would load PowerPoint, after which point there was little network load so all would work well. With Apple TV installed suddenly teachers were all over the network all of the time (both wireless and internet). We now had 50 teachers all wanting to Mirror over the wireless network their latest uber-cool app which would revolutionise how they taught.
In short, the expectation of the teacher changed overnight but the infrastructure hadn’t.
Some schools who were really keen (and wealthy) were able to invest heavily, they bought powerful enterprise grade wireless systems and back-end infrastructures were upgraded and configured to an inch of their lives to help support this new age. Other schools simply couldn’t afford to do this or the thought of VLAN’ing the network was such a daunting task for the network manager they would simply make every excuse under the sun to make this project disappear.
And then nothing… for quite a long time (actually a few years), either you had a really powerful network and things were “ok-ish” or you didn’t use Apple TV or streaming and spent time trying various other platforms which actually never worked very well.
Then in 2014 iOS 8 came out or as I would like to say – Apple caught up.
I probably should have explained in some sort of technical level what was required to make Apple TV work but I felt it was pointless boring you with the requirements of what once was, but in brief you would have had to connect your iPad up to your wireless network from which point your simple Mirror request would actually had to transverse 3, 4 or 12 hops around your network before getting to your Apple TV three feet away from where you were standing. Since iOS 8 you were now able to connect directly from your iPad 3, 4 or Air to any third-generation (rev A) Apple TV. If you want to know if your Apple TV is compatible look for the model number A1469 on the bottom.
Where are we now?
Is every school using Apple TV? No, actually some were burned pretty badly by similar tales to what went on above so they haven’t dared trying to do anything like this again. Others decided to drop Apple TV and look at software solutions (see a Dom Norrish Blog about this).
If you are about to take the jump you are in a far better position than ever before, but there are still a few things to watch out for, but please don’t be put off by them:
- It is still worth separating Apple TVs into their own VLAN. Apple TV has been known for its “Hey look at me, Hey look at me, Hey look at me ” (bonjour) protocol. This basically means all your Apple TV’s will be shouting across your network wanting to be heard by everything and unless they are separated into their own VLAN all of your other network devices are going to be forced to listen to them, which could cause network services to slow down.
- Your Apple TV should be treated much like a wireless access point, don’t just bury it under a load of mains cables, they will interfere with it and reduce the range or increase the likelihood of connection errors.
- If you are installing multiple Apple TV’s ensure you name them something meaningful, so when you come to connect you actually know what to connect to. Ideally this should be the classroom name or number.
- If you plan to allow others to mirror to your Apple TV make sure you enable Onscreen Code, this will then display a four digit number which a user will need to type in before they can connect. The idea behind this is to stop anyone outside the classroom from hijacking your screen as they won’t know what the code is.
- Although internally mirroring apps from your iPad has significantly improved performance wise by tethering directly, generally as schools introduce Apple TV / 1-to-1 schemes then the need for greater bandwidth is increased. Can your broadband connection really handle what you are about to throw at it? I will be writing more about this in my next blog post.