Projects Underway

Presentations Unplugged: Mobile Devices in the Classroom

Tom Blake

Project Team

Binghamton University


Tier One

Project Abstract:

For years, we have striven to provide classrooms with projection and audio systems on campus where faculty members can project a computer screen for their class to see. All of our classrooms are “laptop ready” to allow the hookup of a faculty laptop to drive the system via a VGA cable feeding into a switcher device from Extron. Some classrooms, called “multimedia rooms”, also have installed computers and multiple projection screens along with a VGA cable for laptop hookup. For almost as long as we've had multimedia rooms, some faculty have complained of being constrained by a stationary computer (some speak of "the tyranny of technology.")

On June 7th, 2004, Apple introduced AirTunes, a protocol to play music from an iTunes library through remote speakers, by connecting an AirPort Express (a small wireless router) to a stereo amplifier. On January 9th, 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. It gave users the Internet in the palms of their hands, as no other device had done before. In addition to telephone capabilities, it has a touch screen, a true web browser, and the ability to easily install additional software (Apps.) While it uses a cellular network, for higher data bandwidth, it uses Wi-Fi (if available.) On September 5th, 2007, Apple introduced the iPod Touch, a lower-cost, Wi-Fi only device, an iPhone, without the phone. On January 27th, 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, essentially the same technology, but with a larger screen. Some models communicate strictly via Wi-Fi (like the iPod Touch) while more expensive models can also use a cellular network (like the iPhone.) As the iPhone changed the "smart phone market, the iPad changed the tablet market. Virtually overnight, Apple went from having no entry, to dominating the market. The trend is clear on campus.

Shortly after its introduction, faculty began to ask if they could use the iPad for classroom presentation. They want a way to project what they see on their iPad's screen, while they walk freely about the lecture hall. When asked, our only answer has been to recommend they buy a VGA adapter, so they can connect to the video cable (which really isn't the answer they want to hear.) On September 1st, 2010, Apple released a new version of their set-top box (the Apple TV, an appliance for playing streaming media) which includes a renamed AirTunes technology, now called AirPlay because it is no longer limited to music. Audio and video from iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches & iPads) and soon Macintoshes can be transmitted wirelessly to a large screen, via an Apple TV using AirPlay.

It appears that our solution might be at hand. Rather than connecting iPads to a VGA cable, we could connect an Apple TV to the classroom projection system, freeing faculty members from their bunkers. Presentation software (Keynote) can be run on iOS devices to give PowerPoint style presentations. Or, their screens can be mirrored on the big screen. The solution appears simple in concept:

Mount an Apple TV somewhere in the classroom, presumably close to the projector.
Connect the Apple TV, using an adapter to the projector, using something like:

A Belkin HDMI to DVI Cable (for projectors with an HDMI port available)
A Kanex ATV Pro to connect to a VGA port.
A projector which supports an HDMI connection would be ideal. (In that case, no adapter would be necessary, only a standard HDMI cable.)

Name the Apple TV in a clear fashion, using the room ID (e.g. LH-14)
Teach faculty how to connect, using AirPlay.

There are challenges we face:

The Apple TV is designed for use at home. Will it work well on a university campus?
Adding new technology "to the mix" may increase the need for technical support, at a time when budget cuts have decreased our support staff.
Although we have established and implemented standards, we still have varying equipment configurations. A solution which works in one room may not work in all rooms. In some cases, it may be relatively easy to integrate an Apple TV into the existing infrastructure, in other cases, it may be close to impossible, without significant additional expense.
Given budgetary constraints, a solution may not be viable due to the cost of replicating it across campus.
AirPlay is a proprietary protocol. (How cross-platform will this solution be?)
How will we mount and secure the Apple TV? • How do we incorporate audio, which will be expected?
Naturally, there will be unanticipated challenges. That's why we are starting with a proof of concept (POC).

We propose to purchase a small number of Apple TV's, iPads an Android tablets, and appropriate video adapters to test this solution, first performing internal testing, in controlled areas, then with help of a small number of faculty, expanding our testing slowly into labs, and hopefully to classrooms, with the idea of developing a proposal for this exciting new technology to the campus Learning Environment Committee for implementation campus-wide.

Project Outcome:

During the funding timeframe, significant challenges were encountered to enable objectives on an enterprise network. The PI offers other solutions through publications as this technology matures.