Streaming in the classroom: Apple TV

READ ALL THE REVIEWS ON THIS PAGE – STREAMING IN THE CLASSROOM SERIES

Ah yes, the Apple TV. This is currently what we are using in my school and while it is pretty good there are problems I will get into. First, let’s talk about what is, what it does, how much it costs and all that good stuff.

Apple TV HD

Cost: $149 USD

Here are the different connection types on the back.
As you can see pretty good stuff here but a dedicated audio out would be nice like they had on some of the older models the HDMI always makes things easy.

There is a 4K version as well for $179 USD.

How they work

The Apple TV is not only a streaming box (like a Roku or Firestick) but it also has the ability to extend or mirror a teacher’s MacBook or iPad/iPhone. This technology is called AirPlay and it is built into all Apple devices (except the Apple Watch).

You can’t do this with a Windows computer or Android device. This feature only works with Apple products.

The good thing here is that it is built into the operating systems. There is no app or program to launch. It is just there. On a Mac it looks like this.

As you can see all those listed are separate Apple TVs. We have set up a little security on each that requires the user to input a 4 digit code that the Apple TV randomly generates and displays on the screen. This helps keep unwanted people from joining or accidentally joining.

Where it shines

The Apple TV shines if you have a school that uses primarily Apple devices. This is not a surprise to anyone. From a tech department stand point we merely connect it to our projectors through a receiver and then plug it into power and do minimal configuration (changing the name, setting up the security PIN code option, etc.) and then we basically leave it alone and it just works. It is very simple and for the staff or students, using the Apple TV (which requires just connecting their Apple device to it) is very simple, requires minimal training and the results are pretty good.

The price is also a great feature. When a school or organization is looking for a way to let their users share their screen with a common display you will not find much out there that is as good.

The quality of the image and the quality of streaming video is also very good. The image and the sound match up seamlessly and there is little lag when just displaying your desktop screen.

Where it falters

When the Apple TV does not work it just doesn’t work. We have had times when it does not show up in the Airplay list. No reason why it does this and it requires us to unplug it back in. Sometimes it shows up but will not a connection. Again, there is no setting or reason why this is happening, it just happens and we usually perform a power cycle (turn it off and back on again by unplugging it).

Sometimes it just disconnects from an active screen. While it is a box that just sits there, it is also very much a black box that we cannot peer into. We have no idea why it performs this way or what causes it. This makes managing many of them in a networked environment a little problematic.

From and tech department standpoint, they are difficult to manage remotely. You would need to use a mobile device management (MDM) solution like Filewave to manage them and the options you can control are pretty minimal. I don’t believe that we can power cycle these devices remotely even with an MDM solution.

Also, there is no power button. If we want to restart the Apple TV we have to walk to the classroom, unplug it, plug it back in and then wait for it to reboot. A power button or a quick way to restart it would be awesome.

Also, being able to brand it would be nice. A lot of solutions will let you have a splash screen or a screen where your school name and logo are presented. Not the Apple TV. It does have a conference room mode which hides the Apple TV video options but it is replaced with a video screen saver of a flyover of famous cities around the world (this is mesmerizing by the way).

Finally, the most obvious shortcoming of the Apple TV – it only works with Apple laptops, desktops, iPads and iPhones. I’m not talking about AirPlay which has found itself in a number of Sony, Samsung screens. I’m talking about taking a computer, smartphone or tablet other than an Apple and sharing your screen to it. It’s not going to happen.

You have Chromebooks? Forget it. You have a guest speaker with a Windows device? Nope. It does this to help lock you in and as a school you may not have nor want that total lock in. We have teachers on staff who want a Windows device and the Apple TV in the mix throws a wrench into their plans.

Summing it up

The Apple TV is a really good device for streaming and sharing ones screen if your school is heavily invested in Apple products. Despite its shortcomings this may be the best option for you. Sure, they can be a bit of a pain to manage, but their reliability and long life (we have some in our building that over five years old!) they are quite the bargain.

If you are in a BYOD situation or use a lot of Windows, this is not feasible for you. If you’re currently a Mac school but even thinking about the possibility of switching down the road, then avoid it. That lock in situation is very real and having options is good.

If you want it to do more than just share a screen, then look elsewhere. I’m not sure if you will find anything that can that is near the price point of an Apple TV but you can look – that’s what we are doing and why I’m chronicling this search!

Please leave comments below – all criticisms and points of view are welcome!

Apple products in schools? It’s complicated

Apple just unveiled a new MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPad Pro. Much of this news should get schools excited. I want to be excited so why am I not excited? To oversimplify my issue is price. I am not sure the new MacBook Air is worth $1200 and I am not sure the Mac Mini is worth $800 and then to have Apple compare its iPads to laptops (kind of undercutting the MacBook Air a little) it makes me a little worried. So let me ramble a bit more below.

MacBook Air


This MacBook Air at one point was arguably the best laptop period. It didn’t matter if you were comparing it to a Windows device or not. It had incredible battery, pretty powerful and for the price probably the best laptop you could buy. That was 7 years ago.

Now they have a new MacBook Air starting at $1200. It has a much better display, a fair amount of RAM, a new Intel Y processor, a fingerprint sensor for easy logging in and some others bells and whistles. Sounds good but the problem is that Windows laptops have come a long way since then and if you’re spending $1200 on a laptop and you decide to look across the aisle at Windows, well you can see some compelling arguments to switch over.

A Dell XPS 13″ is a great computer to compare it with. You can find almost the same specs for $200 cheaper. When you’re buying 13–20 laptops at a time – that $200 is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve played around with one and it is a really nice laptop. Also, when most of our work is in the cloud (including our SIS) it makes one wonder why stick with Apple?

I do like Mac OS and I do find it easier to work with but we’re talking a lot of money that could go back into the budget every year. Do we stick with Mac because that is what everyone else uses? How would the staff react? Those are questions for another time.

The OLD MacBook Air

Apple is still selling the old MacBook Air and I would be fine with that if they dropped the price since we are talking about a computer that is still using a processor three generations so it’s not nearly as powerful and they are still selling it for $999. At the price point it is a poor investment for schools. We try to get to four years out of our laptops and while we probably could get four years from the old Airs I wonder how it will be performing for our teachers and staff in four years? It seems like a bad investment.

Mac Mini


I really like it except it is very expensive for a $800 desktop. Still it is a good computer for running a small server (which we do) and will probably pick one up and then manually upgrade the RAM. You cannot upgrade the storage or processor as both are still soldered to the board.

iPad Pro confusion

OK – here is what worries me. Apple is clearly stacking the iPad Pro up against traditional laptops (including their own). It’s priced like a laptop. It is more powerful than most laptops. To me, Apple is clearly telling us to ditch our laptops for the iPad Pro. This only reinforces my opinion that iOS and Mac OS are going to merge one day and the device Apple would like to see that happen is with its own iPad. I have no idea what this would look like and if any company can pull it off it will be Apple.

I’ve talked with a couple of people in various different professions who use the iPad Pro as their daily device. They all said the same thing. It’s great but it takes time to figure out how to do some tasks that are pretty basic with my laptop. Such as finding and organizing files, not using a mouse, etc. This is not a good future in my opinion and I worry that Apple will continue to let its laptop line become more and more mediocre.

Right now we are budgeting to purchase the new 13″ Retina MacBook Air but it doesn’t sit well with me and we won’t make the purchase till the summer so we will see how it turns out.

Changing Passwords: More Than Just a Security Annoyance

44877146

When working in a corporate setting, the IT department will normally set a password expiry date, and on that date, everyone will be prompted to change their passwords. This is seen as a simple straightforward process that does not require any significant tech support.

Unfortunately, in a K-12 academic setting, changing passwords takes planning and needs to be seen not just as a time to update security, but also as a time to look for weakness in the IT organizational structure.

If the teachers and students use school bound Apple Computers, you are going to be in for a fun ride. A ride filed with corrupted keychains and dysfunctional OS X user profiles. Web-based LDAP systems will also need to supported, as they store passwords in the browser. Web-based LDAP, you are thinking, “Oh we don’t have anything like that.” Ever heard of Powerschool, 3SYS, or Moodle? It is very likely some of the technology teachers and students use online, authenticates to the same password that used for logging into the school bound computer.

Let’s start with the OS X keychain. I am not going to explain the Keychain. However, I will include two links that will help make it clear.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keychain_(Apple)

http://www.macworld.com/article/2013756/how-to-manage-passwords-with-keychain-access.html

When a password is changed, the Keychain will prompt some users to either make a new Keychain or update the existing one. For about 20% of all users, this will simply not work. Instead it will corrupt the Keychain. Then, every 5-10 seconds, a window will open asking for a Keychain password. Users will try their old password, and the new password, those passwords will not work. Sys admins will try to use their admin password, and that will not work.

You can only fix this issue with the terminal, and here is how you do it.

1. Press command – option – esc and force close everything. If the pop-up window will not close, just move it to the left or right side and leave it alone.

2. Open the Keychain App. Go to Keychain–>Keychain First Aid.  You need to run a repair, but you will need the SYS ADMIN password. The user’s password will work, but it will not really do any repairing.  When done. Close the Keychain.

3. Open the terminal. You will already be in the users home directory.

Type:  cd Library – hit enter
Type: cd Keychain – hit enter
Type: ls  , and you will see a LIST of files/folders.

The one you need to work with will be a string of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and numbers. It will look somethings like this : CE7B0E5A-CB72-5566-AFE2-9FA95594BF8C
Please be aware, everyone will have a new combination, this is just an example.

In the terminal,
Type:  sudo mv CE7B0E5D-FB72-5566-GFE2-3FA95577BF8C  .oldfile – hit Enter.

You do not have to TYPE the long string. Instead, you can type the first three characters, then hit the TAB key. The terminal will complete the long string for you.

4. Close the terminal and open the Keychain again. Run the Keychain first aid again.

5. Restart, and let the user login. The user’s Keychain and account should now be fine.

6. If you are using a print-server, after you restart, open the Keychain once more. Find the print-server passwords, and delete them for the user. If you do not have a print server, skip this.

Next, a corrupted user profile. If the user can login but:

1. They cannot change their password or are not prompted to change it.
2. They cannot print anymore.
3. They cannot connect to any LDAP services, like Powerschool or Moodle.

Just stop trying to find the problem and re-bind the machine. This happens on Windows OS as well. It only take a few minutes to rebind a machine to the network, there is no need to waste time trouble-shooting if one of the three symptoms exist.

Clearing the browser or LDAP passwords is the final step. The browser will often ask the user to update their password. Unfortunately, most users will stare at that box and ignore it. They will hit enter and lose their one chance to update their password. This means taking steps to inform people have to complete clear all their browser passwords.

Hopefully a policy is in place so users know what browser they should be using for official school work. If not, send instructions for all browsers and hope everyone will take time to read them.

Wow, changing passwords is so much fun. I still haven’t explained all the other things that happen when the community goes through this process. This post is getting long so I will list these gems of knowledge below:

  1. In order to change passwords for a group of people, the sys admin will enable this in the directory management software. This is software used to group people and give them network permissions. If this directory has been badly maintained, that fact will be realized very quickly. If problems in the organizational structure are apparent, then stop the password changing, and fix the problem immediately. Passwords cannot be changed until the organizational structure is fixed.
  2. Users who have computers that have been improperly clone or configured will float to the top like oil on water. There are always people who have been issued computers that were never setup properly; and there are people who have cleverly hacked their security. Unfortunately for these people, password changing day is a bad IT day for them. Take the time and get their systems setup properly.
  3. Users who have been using a weak password will become angry, and they are probably the ones handing passwords out to students. They are the weakest link! Password changing should include an increase in password complexity, or some change in security. Any minor change will infuriate those who have been using their firstname as their password, or the word ‘password’. Anyone who is irate should be counseled and not ignored. They are easy to ignore, but the IT department should realize they have no sense of security, nor do they think there is a need for it. There is a need for security, so make sure these users understand the reasoning behind the policies.
  4. Students who have been sharing user names will also surface in a very nervous and confused manner. I always setup laptops in batches of 25-50, and coordinate students to change passwords. I do this to observe them and to answer their questions. Their are always students who share accounts, and these students will be obvious, one of them will not be able to login. The odds are pretty low that they will be in the same group and exchange the new password in-front of the IT staff. Finding these students and enforcing the school’s acceptable use policy is important.

I personally feel every school should go through this process twice a year. I think it reinforces security and IT standards. It is also a good time for IT to be out of the office and working with the whole community. Unplanned support happens and good information is exchanged in a very short time span.

I recommend having staff attempt to do the changes themselves, but if they need help, schedule a time and place to meet everyone. Do not use email to support this type of activity. Tell participants to meet IT in “xyz space” between the hours of “whenever-and-whenever”. Be on time, with as many IT people as possible. Also make sure network management is available on all IT personnel laptops.

Students should be informed in advance, but, coordinated during their lunch hour(s) or study halls. The process takes less than 2 minutes, and it will provide valuable information. Also, this is a time to connect with students and answer their questions, they always have more questions for IT than most people realize.

Tony DePrato
www.tonydeprato.com

Wouldn’t This Be Great

Wouldn’t This Be Great
This method of teaching is designed to create autonomous thinkers.

  • Plan and build the main course of thought (theme) through the lessons.
  • Build in potential errors for discovery and discussion.
  • Keep a list of common misconceptions and if they do not come up, bring them up.
  • Start or check with the conclusion and work backwards.
  • The teacher and student agree on the topic of instruction from a list of required topics.
  • The student agrees to attempt to answer questions from the teacher.
  • The teacher and student are willing to accept any correctly-reasoned answer. That is, the reasoning process must be considered more important than pre-conceived facts or beliefs.
  • The teacher’s questions should expose errors in the students reasoning or beliefs, then formulate questions that the students cannot answer except by a correct reasoning process.
  • Where the teacher makes an error of logic or fact, it is acceptable for a student to draw attention to the error.

I think that this idea is great and would greatly benefit any academic setting. In fact someone introduced this novel concept to me recently.

The problem is that, I was a bit appalled. Because what is written above has been around since the 5th century…BC.  It is known as the SOCRATIC METHOD, and the above list of items is 100% plagiarized, by me, for the purpose of this article(citation will be at the end).

The main issue is not that people have forgotten or never been taught the discipline of this tried and true form of teaching, but that they feel like their ideas are new. In an age where we can test our knowledge and ignorance with a few key strokes, why are people re-writing methodology that was simply abandoned by a previous generation?

It is rare, extremely rare, to actually have a new idea. My recommendation to educators is to pause and do some research. Thinking everything in the past is useless to the current and upcoming generation is not wise. It is through our history and rediscovery of ideas that we often find the solutions to our greatest problems.

For Example:

Tony DePrato
tonydeprato.com

(Socratic Method : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_method)

Apple’s iCloud

Come and GET IT NOW!

edmodo1012-2011-09-18-16-52.png

Our good friend, and Mac enthusiast, Paulo has found a way for you to get Apple’s new iCloud service right now. In case you are wondering iCloud is Apple’s new cloud storage area where your iTunes, App store, email, and bunch of other stuff will be stored. Read Gizmodo’s overview of what iCloud is and be sure to check out Apple’s own info here. At any rate, it doesn’t officially kick off until this fall, but Paulo has found a way that you and I can get it right now. The steps below have been created by Paulo himself. All you need is a current MobileMe account. Read on and let us know what you think.

My lesson plans are on my desk

photo.jpg

For about 8 months I’ve been scouring the Internet for a free, easy to use, attractive, and easy to share lesson planning program. It didn’t matter to me if I could download it or use it online. I found only disappointment in my search (cue sappy violins). Then I came across this eHow article by Heidismiles (that’s her eHow username people) about how iCal can be used as a lesson planner. While this is far from perfect, it had more or less what I was looking for and beat the socks off the competition in my opinion. While Heidismiles’s guide is not bad, I felt it lacked some pictures, so I’m going redo it and throw in a video to boot! Read on past the break to see how iCal can be leveraged to help YOU out with your lesson planning.

PS iCal is only on Mac computers and the glorious video is at the bottom of the post

Continue reading “My lesson plans are on my desk”

Educational iPhone apps -April

It’s another month of fun filled app for the iPhone! Last month I took a good look at March themed apps. This month it is more of  grab bag and while some of them deal with grades, others for video, but to get to all the goodness, read on past the break Continue reading “Educational iPhone apps -April”

Educational iPhone Apps – March

iphone-apps-march.jpg

I thought I would try something a little different this time. I decided to try and get some March appropriate apps and boy did I get some good ones. They’re free, helpful, and can do some good in the classroom. Read on past the break to see all the goodness.

Continue reading “Educational iPhone Apps – March”

Educational iPhone Apps – February (Late edition)

Hey folks! Well, it’s about five days too late, but I can’t let it go. I need to get this done! So I’m currently on a week long school trip (which is awesome by the way) and the place I’m staying (contact me for details) has been graciously enough to offer up their WiFi. Gotta love it. So this batch is pretty good but only three apps. They are all good so let’s get to it. No break, since it’s a short one. Oh did I mention they are all FREE!

Pleco – Chinese dictionary
plecochinesedictionaryforiphoneipodtouchandipadontheitunesappstore.jpg

This is a winner-hands down. If you know anything about Chinese, then this will make sense. If not, then if you’re thinking about learning Chinese, then check it out. You can type in the pinyin or English and it will give you the character you need. You can tap on any character in the app and it will, nearly instantly, bring up what that character is and other uses for it. This is the basic, but you can purchase a ton of in app upgrades. You can use download a feature that will use your camera to take a picture of a character and look it up, or you can actually draw the character right into the app itself. It’s a gem

WordPress
wordpressforiphoneipodtouchandipadontheitunesappstore.jpg

This app recently had a pretty big update. Now the app does crash from time to time and blogging on an iPhone is far from ideal, but if you’re out and the inspiration strikes, it will do the job. You can even add pictures or video (if you have that option on your blog). One thing that I wish it would add are the categories. You can add categories, but it does not download all the different categories or tags for that matter to your app. Still it works pretty well and I’ve been using it a lot on my school trip this week.

Flashcards +
flashcards.jpg

I bet you can all guess what this does. While the app always asks me to rate it every time I open it, and while I often find myself tapping a little too often, for a free app it is not bad. You get the freedom to create whatever flash cards you want. You can even download your Quizlet flash cards to the app to practice on the go.

Educational iPhone Apps – Novemeber

iphoneappsnovember1.jpg

It’s been a good Thanksgiving weekend and now as I sit on my couch a few belt notches wider watching Machete by Robert Rodriguez, I am pleased to bring you five helpful apps for the king of mobile devices the iPhone. Read on past the break and see how you can better bring out your iPhone in the classroom, and remember Machete don’t text.

Continue reading “Educational iPhone Apps – Novemeber”