For quite some time now classrooms have been blessed with the ability to wirelessly stream the contents of their iOS device’s screen to a TV or projector through an Apple TV.
Whilst the form factor of the Apple TV has changed little, (apart from the introduction of the newest model) the connectivity they offer has improved considerably.
When they were first introduced there was no facility to join them to anything other than a standard wireless or wired network. Proxy servers, 802.1x and certificate based networks were not able to be joined. Setting up many Apple TVs in school environments (even those with simple WiFi passwords) was a very time consuming process involving manually entering SSIDs and WPA keys using the tiny Apple TV remote control.
Things moved on when Apple Configurator gained the ability to install profiles over a USB connection to Apple TVs, for the first time you could specify a non-standard network configuration, set proxy servers, update the software and add certificates.
Around this time the Apple TV also gained the ability to broadcast its Airplay capability over Bluetooth. Never iOS devices could discover Apple TVs over Bluetooth and establish a peer to peer wireless connection to the Apple TV nearest to them to initiate the Airplay mirroring session.
An alternative to Apple TV are software solutions like AirServer and Reflector. These can offer additional features like multiple connections and connections to different platforms like ChromeOS. They also tend to be more palatable to ICT Support teams as they can be installed on Windows Desktops and licenced accordingly.
There are pro’s and con’s of both Airplay solutions (Hardware and Software) and which you choose for your setting will depend on a number of factors, we always recommend trialing all options before committing to a rollout of a potentially not fit for purpose solution.
With the release of Apple Classroom and it’s ability to command a student’s device to initiate Airplay it seems that Apple devices are very well catered for when it comes to displaying student and teacher work on a large screen
Now onto Chrome devices...
Over the last year or two Chromebooks and the Google Apps for Education environment have grown in popularity and as has the Chromecast.
The Chromecast is a very inexpensive device which plugs into a HDMI port, receives its power through USB and connects to Wifi. In a home environment this little device is brilliant.
After buying one I decided I no longer needed to pay over the odds for a subscription TV service anymore. I could stream content from my home network, Youtube many other sources to my TV. Chromecast can also accept a stream from a Chrome browser or Chromebook, unfortunately the Chromecast can’t accept any non standard network configuration and it needs to be on a relatively open internet connection without a proxy server. Clearly this device was never intended to be used in a school network environment.
A few weeks ago though I read an interesting tweet from Google Education about Google Cast for Education. This piece of software (still in Beta) looks to be the answer for casting/mirroring Chrome devices in a classroom setting.
You need a Google Apps for Education domain to be able to use this new feature.
The teacher installs the Chrome App on their PC/Mac/Chromebook and invites their class (this app also integrates with your Google Classroom groups) to be able to cast their screen to the teacher’s screen. In the majority of classroom settings the teacher’s device is connected to a projector or large TV screen. The teacher can choose whether the student has to request permission to cast or can just cast away.
Because this feature is still in Beta, you have to enable a certain setting on student and teacher chrome devices and install the latest version of the cast extension in order for it to function.
When Cast for Education launches fully it can be installed centrally through the Google Apps Admin Console and pushed out to student and teacher devices.
I tested this new feature for myself using a Macbook Pro as the ‘teacher’ device and a Chromebook as the ‘pupil’ device. After installing the teacher app, setting up the name of the device and sharing it with my test account, it worked! I did experience some connectivity issues the next time I tried it however and as it is still in Beta this is to be expected.
Google say that it will be finished and live before September so watch this space.
This is the teacher device view prior to any student devices connecting.
Giving access to your students is done through a very familiar google sharing window with the options to leave them present, request access to present or you can remove access altogether.
Once a student chooses to cast a tab of Chrome for example they are given the available cast locations that they have access to.
A notification is shown on the teacher’s device and they can accept or deny the request to cast.
Once the cast is initiated the teachers view is like this. The images are updated in almost real time, the students name and email address is shown so the class knows who is presenting and the teacher can end the cast session.
All in all Google Cast for Education has the potential to be a very powerful tool for use in schools who use Chromebooks or the Chrome browser. In addition it looks like iOS and Android devices are to be supported in the near future which would be very interesting indeed.
I look forward to using the full release version in the next few weeks.