Streaming in the classroom: Mersive Solstice

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

I’m on a quest and here is the next forray into that quest. I present to you the Mersive Solstice. On paper this thing looks great! It really does. It can allow many people to connect to a single screen at one time, you can even bridge multiple Solstices together so people in other room can see and hear what is happening. It supports 4K output and has Apple AirPlay built in so it is just as easy for Apple devices to connect to the Solstice as an Apple TV. Not to mention that it has a dashboard that you can remotely manage and configure multiple Solstices at one time, troubleshoot, etc. So, do I like it? Not really but we will get there soon enough.

FYI- If you are interested in the Mersive Solstice, you can contact them through their website to arrange for a demo unit like we did 🙂

Cost

Let’s start right here. The Solstice costs $1199 or $1399. The difference between the price is one includes a dashboard to remotely manage your Solstices and the other does not. Either way, it is very expensive. Just to be clear that is the cost for one device.

Setting it up

While the Apple TV is ridiculously easy to set up the Solstice ain’t too bad either. As you can see from the picture below, you have an HD or 4K output option, an ethernet point and audio out a power adapter plug and two USB 3 ports. On the other side is an HDMI port and a USB C port.

What’s really nice here is that the ethernet port supports POE (Power Over Ethernet). This means if you have a switch that is POE or POE+ then the switch will provide enough electricity to run the device itself. Something the Apple TV cannot do. So you get your Internet connection and the electricity needed to power the device all in one port. Very snazzy and convenient.

It’s also pretty small and light, so connecting it and placing it on our mounting near a projector is a real possibility. This means you can install this in house and save a bit of money. Here is a picture next to a current generation Apple TV.

Once you plug it in you need to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Solstice. This will let you access the settings for the device. If you have the dashboard feature you could merely plug it in and configure it from the dashboard, but this is a demo unit so we did all the configuration on the device itself.

It really was pretty simple. You could connect it through the WiFi if you wished (though an ethernet connection is far more stable and recommended), you can name it, give some security features if you like, configure the name and more. It was very easy to find and get going.

Connecting to it

First off – anything can connect to this thing (well maybe not Linux). Android, Mac OS, Windows – no problem. If you have an Apple Device you can connect through AirPlay (like the Apple TV). You can also use the Solstice app which is a free download. The app gives you many more options which we will get to.

Either way you connect, it will ask you for a 4 digit code which is prominently displayed on the screen. Once connected you have some choices. You can Share your Desktop, Share just an App or Share a Media file.

Using it

Here we run into some issues but there is also some good stuff as well.

The Apple TV you can share or extend your screen and that was all. The option of sharing just an app or a media file is pretty great. You don’t have to worry about notifications popping through onto your Mac screen (iMessage notifications) or accidentally showing your email or gradebook on the screen. Nice.

You can also have multiple people share their screen at the same time and the Solstice handles that pretty well. The screens resize to who all the other screens and as a teacher you have the ability to hide all the other screens and bring one forward and then quickly switch to another screen. The Apple TV cannot do this – in fact it takes a little bit of time switching devices. As a teacher, I think we can all appreciate what downtime between presentations is like and minimizing this makes it really handy.

What is also neat about this is that it shows a live view of each screen, so you can see what is happening in real time. Now, if you were thinking of throwing 20–30 screens on the Solstice to monitor what is happening in your class – that is not what this is designed to do and I would be surprised to see if this even works. If it does, I bet it doesn’t work all that well. Go find a monitoring tool – there are plenty out there.

There are other features too, but we didn’t really explore them too much. The reason why is that video streaming is not good. It just isn’t. It doesn’t matter if you are streaming through AirPlay or using the Solstice app on your computer. Streaming wirelessly is not good. We saw it go from laggy, dropping frames to down right unbearable where the difference between the image and the sound was at least 1 second. Check out the video below. It is a short clip (11 seconds) of a TED talk. The lag is very noticeable and in our testing we had seen it even worse.

What was even more surprising is that we connected our computers directly to the Mersive Solstice via an HDMI cable and there was still lag. I am not sure why this happened. Just to be sure, we unplugged the Mersive and then connected our computer directly to the screen we were testing the Solstice out of and it worked fine.

Add the Solstice in between the computer and the screen and there was a subtle lag. We tested this with local video on our computer and YouTube.

Complicated

Another downside we found to the Solstice was that it was not as straight forward as we would like. There was one time when we had it set up to extend our desktop and didn’t realize it. We spent a good five-seven minutes trying to figure out where the setting was. We knew what we were looking for, but couldn’t remember or quickly find where it was. A regular classroom teacher with a room full of students doesn’t have that time to dedicated to troubleshooting problems like this.

The Mersive Solstice can do a lot – there is no question, but in offering so many options it needs to offer those options in a far easier and more intuitive manner. I am not sure what this would look like or how they could pull this off, but the current model does not accomplish this. I can see teachers getting lost and frustrated with the settings and not wanting to venture too far away from simple mirroring or streaming so as not to put a lesson at risk. If that’s the case there are far cheaper options out there.

I know what you’re thinking dear reader and you are right. Workshops and PD preparing the staff for the change would be necessary but there would always be those who still forget. Also, we are a Mac school – getting our teachers to not use AirPlay on the MacBooks would be near impossible and if they only use that – then they would be missing out on some other great features.

If this whole package cost say $300–400 dollars per device I could work with this but at more than $1000 it is hard to accept these compromises. At this price point it not only has to work but has to work better than an Apple TV. While it can do more than an Apple TV it cannot stream or mirror as well as an Apple TV which is what our teachers (and many other educators0 want.

Why it is not for us

The Solstice is not a terrible device. If you are in a mixed environment (BYOD or Windows/Mac mix) then this could work. For us, I cannot justify switching from an Apple TV (less than $200) to something that is more than five times that cost. We are almost all Macs and this does not work nearly as well as an Apple TV. While walking to each individual Apple TV to make changes is a pain, it is not a deal breaker for us.

Also, we are a single building. If you have multiple buildings or maybe even multiple campuses, a device that allows the Tech department to see them all, manage their updates, power cycle them, make changes to settings, etc. all from a single dashboard, then this is definitely more appealing than an Apple TV despite its lacking performance when it comes to streaming.

Conclusion

The Mersive Solstice has great potential. It can do a lot but it’s too complicated for many teachers to use in their day-to-day, the streaming video performance is bad and the cost should make everyone pause before writing the check. Right now, this is a product to watch but I honestly cannot consider it a strong contender to replace our Apple TV’s.

Streaming in the classroom: Introduction

I’m on a quest! I’m on a quest to find the best wireless streaming solution for a classroom. 2020 is nearly here and there are more than a few options out there and at a wide variety of price points.

Unfortunately, I cannot look at every possible Frankensteined configuration so I will be focusing on some of the big names that are already out there and their solutions. Right now here is what’s on our table to demo and review.

  • Mersive Solstice Airpod
  • Barco Clickshare
  • Airtame 2
  • Crestron AirMedia 2
  • Apple TV (latest generation)

To be fair we already have a deployment of Apple TV’s so I will probably start with that device first. My school just recently received a demo unit of the Mersive Airpod so that will most likely be the next post after that. Then we will just see.

Why?

Our teachers and staff use Apple laptops and the Apple TV’s are really good for that. However, the inexplicably drop the teacher connectinos, sometimes had serious lag with video and sometimes just don’t want to cooperate at all. We are looking for a device that will allow teachers to stream video and mirror their displays with very high reliability all the while maintaining high resolution and not dropping too many frames.

We (the IT team at my school) would also like to be able to manage them remotely from a single dashboard. This allows us to control when to update them, how to configure them and to download logs to analyze or send to the manufacturer for technical assistance.

Goal

Obviously to find a solution that works and that is reasonable in price that is relatively straight forward to use. Will our school find a solution? I am not so sure but it is certainly worth exploring and you, my friendly reader, are invited to join me on this journey.

Kahoot! – Not as bad as I remember but still not great

Back in 2014 I reviewed Kahoot! and was pretty harsh on it. I had sluggish performance, connectivity issues and I didn’t care for the teacher/presenter centric nature of the activity. Despite all those issues Kahoot! seems to have gone on to relative success! Just about any teacher I talk to has either heard of it, knows a teacher who uses it or uses it themselves. Since it is so popular I thought I would give it another go. I mean five years has passed – can it win me over this time?

What is Kahoot!

Kahoot is an interactive question and answer system. A question pops up on a screen and the student/participant answers the question as quickly as they can from multiple options. The faster they answer, they more points they receive. If the student(s) get the question wrong, they receive no points for that round.

At the end of each round it shows a scoreboard so you can see who is winning. It also has a catchy audio loop during the quiz. Did I say catchy? Well, you be the judge. I think it ages like an opened bottle of $2 wine.

Teacher dashboard

There are two Kahoot! sites. One is for the teacher to create and manage Kahoots! and reports and the other is where the student(s) go to find the Kahoot! and start playing. Let’s take a look at the teacher side first. Here is the dashboard.

Pretty straight forward. You can create Kahoots!, browse through other popular Kahoots! and Host games of Kahoot!

For a Kahoot! you host, you can get a report of that game to see who played, how well they performed and so on. Pretty good metrics. To get this information just click on Reports from the top menu.

Then you have the option of downloading it as an Excel file. When you open it up, it does look better than it did five years ago. Notice the worksheet tabs at the bottom. Here you can navigate through more detailed information to figure out what answers were selected (correct and incorrect) and what points they received. The points will give the teacher an idea of how quickly they were able to answer the question.

Creating a Kahoot!

I have to give them points here. This tool is quick and easy to use, easy to navigate between different questions. Let’s take a look at what they offer.

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As you can see it is pretty straightforward. Not a lot of explanation is needed. This is nice.

I wish they had a little more question types. Right now you can only pick a multiple choice or true/false. That is it? Why not matching? Why not fill in the blank? Why not ordering? I do understand that playing a Kahoot! is fast and fun and having to adjust to different questions takes a little more time but come on!

Also, once you add a question type you cannot change it. So if I have a multiple choice question and want to convert it to a true/false type I cannot do that. I can delete or duplicate a question only. Not a big deal but it would be nice to switch on the fly.

One feature that is sort of nice is the ability to add symbols to a question. This makes it good for math. I am not sure you are going to be able to throw some calculus up there but for elementary and middle school math this should be fine.

You can also change the general settings of the Kahoot!. You can give it a name, description (which is highly recommended), pick where you want to save it and who can see it. You also have the ability to add a YouTube video which is what people can watch while waiting for the Khaoot! to start. Make sure you click the Done button and your Kahoot is then ready to be played.

Playing my Kahoot!

As the teacher, you need to go to your dashboard, find the Kahoot! and click Play. This view is nice because you can also see all the questions and answers. This is nice so you make sure you didn’t click the wrong Kahoot! if you have many of them. Also, it is a quick way to check for mistakes.

Before you start the game you do have two options. You can either make it Classic mode (each person has their own device) or a Team mode where teams are against other teams. I’m just going to do the Classic. You also have the option of using a name generator. Kahoot! will create the name that is displayed for the user. If not the user can create their own name (be careful teachers of naughty students who). Luckily you will see all the names before it starts, but if someone has made and inappropriate name it will mean more waiting for the rest of the class.

So I ran the Kahoot! on my computer and joined it with my smartphone using the app. A colleague of mine also joined in on her computer. Before the teacher (me in this case) started the game I got to see that I had the correct number of participants. To join, I had to put in the game PIN on the app and my colleague had to put in the PIN on Kahoot.it Once we joined I started the game!

My pervious complaint is back. As a contestant or player I do not see the question on my smartphone screen and neither did my colleague. We both had to look at the computer that was hosting the Kahoot! Annoying and a waste of space for our screens. Check out a screenshot from my phone during a true/false question.

Also we can’t see the choices. Why? Why not put the question and the choices there? It seems like a no brainer but in five years they have not fixed this! Maybe it bothers me a little too much but it seems like such a simple fix.

Now for some reason there was no music playing during my Kahoot! Not sure if that was my computer having issues or if I somehow disabled the music. I went back in and played another Kahoot! and the sound started to play again, so I am pretty sure it was my computer the first time.

So when you get a question correct or incorrect it lets you know which is nice and in between questions is shows you who is winning. Also, you only have so much time to answer a question which does keep the game moving at a good pace.

The music is just as annoying as it was 5 years ago.

Kahoot Challenges

OK – there is a way for students to participate in a Kahoot! by themselves and actually see the questions and choices on their screen (one of my biggest gripes). It is called a Kahoot! Challenge. A teacher can set this up and give a time frame of when a student can complete the challenge.

From the same screen you start a Kahoot! you can select Play or Challenge. If you select Challenge you have to put an end date and time like you see below.

Then you get a URL link for the challenge and the Challenge PIN. You also can share it directly through a few services.

So, if you have the app on an Android device, an iOS device or some select Chromebooks (ones that allow Google Play store apps to be installed), the student just fires that up, enter the PIN and they are off. Here is what one of the questions looks like from my smartphone.

See that! It is the QUESTION! It is right there! Wait! I can also see the choices!! See, folks it is totally doable.

OK – I’m happy about that. Now, here is what I am unhappy about.

Hmmmm – that is from my MacBook. Maybe I messed up? NOPE! You need the app on a mobile device to play a Kahoot! Challenge. There is no way around it, even though they give you a friggin link to the challenge! Why give the link if you can’t access it from a Windows, Mac, Linux or Chromebook? Why can’t this be played in a browser like other a regular Kahoot?

Reports

After a Kahoot! or a Kahoot! Challenge the teacher can access a report and see who participated, their score, which questions people got wrong and which questions most people got right and if they got it wrong, which answer did they chose. This is good data for a teacher to be sure. It gives that person good information to go and investigate further and find out where there are gaps. The reports look good and even though it is in Excel format, you can open that file up with any modern spreadsheet program.

Conclusion

Kahoot! isn’t as bad as I remembered back in 2014 but that’s not to say that it is great either. If you use it, that’s totally fine. Teachers like reliable tools and if this is working for you keep on, keeping on, but I urge you to check out some other options out there such as Quizizz, Quizlet, Google Forms and more. They may not have that catchy tune and may not be as “fun” but they will all give you the same data and guess what it works with any device with an Internet connection.

I Played with Virtual Reality

In the not too distant past there was a promise that virtual reality and/or augmented reality was going to be the “next big thing.” Well both are here and there is less buzz around them than ever before? I have played around with a virtual reality headset and was less than impressed. Let me tell you what went wrong.

Lenovo Mirage Solo

I attended the HECC Tech Conference in Indianapolis this year. Every participant was given a Lenovo Mirage Solo virtual reality headset. What makes this a little intriguing is that it is completely wireless. There is no smartphone that needs to be slipped into a piece of cardboard or power/data cables that are tethered to the headset. There is also a wireless handheld controller that will let you navigate through the menus and also allow you to interact with the different apps.

At the conference, a Lenovo sales representative predicted that every school in America would have a cart of VR headsets for teachers to check out and use with their class. He did say that Lenovo recommends that the headset is used with children at least 13 years or older.

So what powers this thing? The Mirage runs Android and Google Daydream. Of course, this means you need to have a Google account and access to the Google Play store to download apps. It has a wall charger with a USB C connector to charge the device and the remote control (you need to charge them separately). There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side of the headset and it includes some earbuds, though I suspect you could pair some wireless Bluetooth headphones to it.

OK – that’s the background info now let’s get into the use.

Setting it up

I must say strapping on the headset for the first time and powering it on was pretty neat. After the system actually loads you find yourself looking everywhere just to test it all out. There was a preloaded Wild Immersion app that has various videos (all shot in 360 naturally) of a wildlife nature reserve in Africa. It is pretty neat to look behind you and see animals right behind you. It’s a short experience but got me pretty jazzed up and so I jumped right into the setup.

Man, this was like jumping into a 3 foot mud puddle, slow and clumsy. Using the controller to manually type in your Google account name and password took forever oh, but before that, you needed to select and type in the WiFi password. It sounds simple, put pretend a large keyboard is 1.5–2 meters in front of you. This keyboard has very large keys. Now you have a stick and need to type all that in. It’s certainly doable, just not enjoyable or super easy. I’m not sure a solution here but this process stunk.

It is very slow and tedious. Then once in, I had to run some updates, restart the device and then I was ready to go. This (including the Wild Immersion experience took about 30 minutes.

Using it

Once logged in, you can navigate and download apps. You don’t have a normal app store, but a curated one with basically just VR ready apps at the forefront. Select an app, type in your password (like you would on your smartphone) and away you go. The first app I downloaded was a virtual roller coaster. It was free – I’m not going to lie – that’s why I picked it.

The roller coaster app was an unusual experience. It was odd because I was sitting in a kitchen chair, I wasn’t moving, I knew I wasn’t moving, but somehow my brain still experienced moments of vertigo as I crested a tall hill. It is a little surreal. It wasn’t that the rollercoaster was going fast either and I could see and predict what was coming and when. Like I said – surreal.

There are those moments of interest but overall the experience isn’t that great. First, the image was never fully in focus. I had to hold the headset to my head to minimize this effect. Most of the image as but near the top left-hand part it seemed to be always out of focus.

Perhaps I didn’t adjust it just right, I am willing to put that on me, but think for a moment of a class of twenty students and trying to get each student (or even just half of them) adequately adjusted. This sounds like a nightmare.

There is an interesting safety feature built into it. If you move too far from your original position, the screen dims (or fades to black altogether) and there is a message that you need to return to the position for your own safety. I am sure this is to keep people from roaming, tripping, falling or just inadvertently hurting themselves.

Image quality

The image quality is good but feels lacking. The image is clearly framed within your vision forcing you to move your head around to see something. Try to picture yourself looking through a box. In order to see what is to your left or right, you need to actually move your head instead of just your eyes.

Though the headset is fairly comfortable after a while it gets tiring.

The actual resolution is pretty good and there is the screen door effect (where the image looks like it is being viewed behind a screen) but it seems very minimal.

App selection & afterward

There just isn’t a ton of selection out there and what is out there you feel more like a passenger and not someone who can interact. I did download a BBC app called BBC Earth. It is kind of neat but a bit buggy. You can use the remote to access information about your surroundings and you tether yourself to a seal who leads you around the ocean. It’s neat but I had trouble lassoing the seal and sometimes other trouble selecting items to get information. After a good 10 minutes in here, I found myself frustrated and wanting to leave.

There are some YouTube videos that are 360 but again, you are just along for the ride. There needs to be more. I am not exactly sure I can describe what this “more” should be I just know that what I had on my noggin was not enough.

Many of the apps I tried had minimal interaction and some felt as though it was an after thought. Remember when 3D films were all the rage. James Cameron made Avatar – a movie purpose designed and shot on special 3D cameras. Then there was a deluge of all these other films that had been “turned into” 3D films. The difference between the two were staggering and some audience members had issues with the 3D in Avatar as well.

After using it for about 45 minutes I took the headset off and I noticed an issue of my eyes focusing on objects. It was as if my right and left eyes were trying to focus differently on the same object. I cannot explain it any better than that. This effect lasted for a good 30 minutes after I had set the headset down. I don’t believe it would have impaired me from driving but it certainly bugged me.

It needs to just work & other problems

I know this is a tall order but if you want teachers and schools to go through all of this and invest their money (and time) it just needs to work. There can’t be all these slowdowns or bugs within apps. It needs to do more than just allow students to be a “passenger.”

I can see other problems with this. Students jumping into other apps, students jumping into the correct app and then go off exploring without waiting for instructions. Also, when you utilize sound (which does improve the immersion effect) forget about giving instructions at all after that point. Instructions need to be crystal clear and understood before this device is even passed out. Once it is on and the outside world is blocked out the students are on their own.

The remote is another issue. As a consumer it is great to have. It is wireless, fairly easy to use and is pretty accurate (though it can be tedious as mentioned earlier). Now you have a class set. These remotes are fairly small and I can see them getting lost. I mean how often have students “misplaced” Chromebooks or iPads and think how large those are compared to these tiny remotes.

Should you buy it

I think my tone is pretty clear here. Skip this and all virtual reality devices … for now. In the past (heck still now) you can find articles touting how VR will change the world! It may but is pretty far away. It is exciting to watch but don’t waste your time or classroom budget on these devices yet.

They are too big, still buggy, still out of focus, still not fully baked.

I was genuinely excited about the Mirage. I wanted to like it, I wanted it to bring something new to the table. It does but it is fleeting. It is very cool for a few minutes and then you realize that you are just along for the ride. This breaks that immersion a bit. It takes some of the thrill away from the experience.

I still have hopes for VR, but the reality is that it is farther from the mainstream than I initially realized and that unless it is done correctly, it’s not worth being done at all.

Keep hoping people – I know I will.

Airtame – A review

I normally do not review hardware. Primarily because it costs a bunch of money and I don’t feel comfortable receiving products from companies to review – it just feels weird. Anyway, our school needed a way to stream from a computer to a display or projector for outside people who show up to make presentations.

Our teachers have MacBook Airs and an Apple TV in each room and that works quite well for this, but if someone shows up with a Windows machine, well then it is a scramble to find the right adapter, get them connected, test it out and then realize they want sound as well. Well, then we are scrambling to find an audio cord. It doesn’t take too long but it definitely doesn’t feel professional.

Enter Airtame.

Airtame is a wireless device that plugs into the HDMI port of your display or projector, it is powered through a USB connection and works on both Mac and Windows (iOS and Android will be addressed later on). It costs $299 USD (though if you buy 10 or more you can get it for $249) and has some nice features such as digital signage opportunities and cloud management. Let’s dive right in and I’ll give my thoughts about Airtame at the end of the article.

What’s in the box?

In the box you will find the following.
1) The Airtame itself
2) Micro USB to USB A cable
3) HDMI extender cable (approximately 15cm)
4) A power brick
5) Three types of power plugs

Having a power plug and an HDMI extender is a very nice touch. I’ve seen some projectors with no USB input and so a power adapter is necessary. I’ve also seen some projectors that make the HDMI port inaccessible due to the manner in which it was mounted on a ceiling. Having these extra peripherals included is smart thinking from the people of Airtame.

The Airtame itself is fairly small. Though it is a bit wide which could prove tricky for some installations. Here it is next to a standard Sharpie marker.

Setup

Setting up the Airtame is pretty easy. It basically works like this. Plug it into the device’s (in this case my Dell monitor) HDMI port, plug the USB cord into the Airtame and the USB port of the display and wait a minute for the setup screen to load.

Here is what the Airtame looks like plugged into my screen. Something to note, the USB can be plugged into either side of the Airtame. I just chose not to mess with it this time as it did not affect my set up.

When the setup screen pops up it will look something like this.

So when you go to http://airtame.com/setup you will need to download the Airtame application to your computer. The application is free, not that big and downloads and installs quickly. However, this must be done with a computer. I do not believe there is a way to set up an Airtame with an iOS or Android device.

Once installed it lives in the menu bar of Mac and I believe it lives in the system tray on a Windows computer. When you open it up by clicking on the application icon you will see a list of all installed Airtames and any new ones that need to be set up.

When you click that setup button it will ask you to name the Airtame (don’t worry this can be changed later on) and to select what network it will need to connect to and the password for that network. Then click the Set up now button.

What happens next is pretty neat. The Airtame has its own WiFi hotspot that your computer will connect to. Once connected it will transfer the new name and network information over to the Airtame. Then your computer will disconnect from the Airtame network and then reconnect to your old network. The Airtame will also rename itself and then connect to the same network. Thus letting the two talk again.

All the while the Airtame will be giving you visual clues that this is happening and it all happens fairly quickly which is nice.

When you’re done the Airtame will let you know and when you click the Airtame app your new streaming device will appear in the list. To start streaming click the Start button. It’ll connect in a few seconds and you’re ready to present!

Streaming

The Airtame is set up and you’re streaming your screen to another screen. You can only mirror your desktop which means whatever you see on your computer screen is what others will see on the second display or projector. The quality is pretty good if you are streaming a slideshow, website or basic documents. The basic settings on your Airtame will be more than suffice. If you stream animation or video the quality starts to drop but we will talk more about that a little later.

By default the Airtame does not stream any audio. If you want audio you will need to open the Airtame app and click the sound button (next to the Start button).

This will create a 1 second buffer to give the Airtame app sufficient time to process the audio and to help that it stays synced with the video (if there is video).

Airtame has a huge amount of options when it comes to streaming. Just click on the SETTINGS link in the bottom left hand side of the Airtame application. Then toggle to Manual Mode

Here you will be greeted with all those settings. You can change the quality of the image, the buffer (0–30 seconds), the resolution and more. Just look at those options!

Now regardless of those settings – streaming a 1080p movie from your computer to a projector for two hours should work in theory, but I would not expect anything close to Netflix quality. The Airtame can do this (not 4K though), but it’s not the greatest. You may have image issues and audio not syncing with the video is also a possibility. Our teachers experience this even with the latest version of the Apple TV, so streaming still has a ways to go before it is truly seamless, but for basic streaming the Airtame is more than capable.

Guests connecting

Having guests connect is just as easy. The Airtame displays a pretty space picture and then there are instructions on how to connect. Check out the screen below.

Now this works fine with Mac computers, Windows computers and I’ve even gotten it to work with our Samsung Chromebook 3’s which is pretty wild.

They will connect to the same network the Airtame is on, download the app and the Airtame will show up in their list. It is really quite easy and so far I can’t seem to find any fault in this. It’s certainly not as hassle free as the Barco Clickshare solution but then again it is considerably much cheaper than a Barco.

On Android and iOS devices it is limited. You need the Airtame app and then you can only stream images, slideshows or certain files from your Dropbox account. So there are those limitations but wait! There is some news. In a beta version, Apple’s Airplay is enabled. This means that from an iOS device you can mirror your screen! This is impressive and I hope an Android option is coming soon.

Signage

The Airtame has a neat little trick up its sleeve. It can serve as a digital sign. When you first power it up there are these wonderful space images, but if you would like to have your own images, slide show or dashboard present instead you absolutely can.

Just access the settings (where Manual Mode is found) and you can change where the instructions are located on the screen (if at all) and you can point the Airtame to a website, an image (either web based or uploaded from your computer) or leave it to the Default space images.

If you point it at a website (say a Google slideshow). It will display that over and over again. A great way for students, parents and staff to see some basic news about upcoming events. Since the Airtame is so small and since a Google slideshow can be updated anywhere it makes it super easy for even basic computer users to create something to share with a large group of people.

They also support a number of dashboards. Now from an school perspective, we wouldn’t have a ton of use for this but then again maybe I’m just not dreaming big enough.

Cloud management

Now we are talking about some fun stuff. An issue we have with our Apple TV’s is that some are updated, others aren’t and when there are issues we typically have to go down there, unplug and take it to the IT Office to test it out. There isn’t a convenient way to remotely manage these devices. I know that you can put them in a system like Filewave but that seems like overkill.

With the Airtame Cloud I can easily enroll these devices and have all the control over each one or a place them in a group and manage the group if I wish. I can change the resolution, point it to a website, reboot it, change the background image add a PIN code to it and even update it to a beta version to get newer features. Check out the very simple and easy to use dashboard below.

It is very easy, intuitive and if you want to update all the Airtames on 5am Sunday morning from your home then go right ahead. You can watch the process while you sip on some tea or coffee.

You can also invite people to help manage the Airtames making it a team effort. That way if one person is unable to assist, then there is a backup.

Should I ditch Apple TV?


OK, this is certainly a great question. If you and your staff use Mac then no. The Apple TV allows teacher to not just mirror but extend their display which is very, very handy. It can allow teachers to have a window that only they see while presenting something else to the class. Also, the image quality on Apple TVs seems to be higher than that of Airtame. Let us not forget the cost. a regular 1080p Apple TV costs $149 USD.

If you have a mixed environment then the answer is probably yes. While a more integrated and centrally controlled system like a Barco Clickshare is probably more desirable the hefty price tag that comes along with it certainly makes Airtame a lot more attractive.

We have two Airtames and will most likely pick up some more. I think that they are definitely worth the $250–300 price tag especially considering the alternatives on the market and all the features it offers.

Wrapping it all up

Airtame is pretty great. It really is. For the price you get digital signage, a streaming device that is quite small, portable and a way to remotely manage them that Apple TVs cannot do.

While I wished the quality of the image was a little better. What the Airtame does deliver is quite adequate and since it is pretty simple to connect most devices to an Airtame this makes it very useful and flexible.

Also, let us consider how quickly they update and try out new features often. The current Airtame beta version gives you the access to use Apple’s Airplay and the ability to stream a single window. It seems that the people at Airtame are always working, tinkering trying to deliver a great product with great and practicable functionality.

If you’re looking at a wireless streaming solution and not sure where to start check out Airtame.

Airtame

Chrome Extension – Kami

Here is another extension that I like a lot in Chrome. Now Chrome can view PDF’s and I have never really like the way they handle it. Check out the picture below to see what I mean.

The image is not quite large enough for me to easily read and there is no way to highlight, add text, you know mark it up. Also there are no thumbnails to quickly navigate or quickly scan what is going on in that document.

I get it, Chrome is making it a service and I can download it to my computer and open it up with Preview and do all that good stuff. Then I think No! This is 2018 and there should be a way to do this within my browser of choice. So off to searching I went and have found Kami.

Now Kami the good news here is that Kami does work with other browsers. It will work with Chrome (of course), Firefox, Edge and Safari. This is very good so if you are not a Chrome user you can still take advantage of all that Kami has to offer.

Installation and Use

Installation is as easy as any other browser extension. To use Kami it is dead simple. You may need to sign in or create account. Since it uses the Google API signing through Google makes it very easy.

Now Find a PDF file online and click the link to open it. Kami should automatically open it up in your browser. Here is what it looks like.

As you can see there is a lot more going on. The big scene steeler is the toolbar on the far left hand side. This thing will let you highlight, strike through, leave a comment and a textbox, shape and a few more neat little tools. Heck you can even use text to speech (though that is a paid feature). I’ve taken a quick screenshot of all the tools expanded.

Using Kami is pretty intuitive and straight forward. Now if you want to save the PDF (which if you want your annotations to stick) you have quite a few choices.

I believe it automatically saves all changes in Kami’s own servers. As you can see you are also able to save it directly to Google Drive which works pretty well.

Now there are times when saving just isn’t enough. There are times that you need to export (download) it to your computer. I was very happy to find that rather than just download it gives you some options. Check out the image below to see what you can do.

I really, really like that you can download an unmarked up copy. A lot of services and programs have it that when up a PDF that is it. If you want an original you have to go download it again from its original source. I think this is great for planning. You can show an original and then show the concept or the marked up version. Great feature!

There is a sharing feature but you have to upload it to Kami’s servers first. This isn’t a real feature that I or my school would use too often since we would be handling all the sharing through Google Drive. It is nice to know that if a school does not use G Suite they have do have options to easily

Kami even has thumbnail view! Oh man this is so nice. Just click this little icon and bam! Thumbnails.

Options

I won’t go into all of them because I honestly didn’t have that much time trying it out but check out all those options!

The most important options that do stand out to me is the ability to split and merge PDF documents. Now take this with a grain of salt people. If a PDF is protected it may not be able to perform this task so keep that in mind.

When you click that option it will open a new window where you must upload your PDF to Kami and then you can split or merge multiple PDF files.

Price

When you sign up you are on the Basic plan which is free, but a teacher or you can get Kami for your entire domain.

The teacher plan comes with 150 licenses! That’s a lot for $99 a year. If you break that up it comes to 0.66¢ per student. Not bad at all and you do get a lot of good features for that price. But I am still plenty happy with the basic. The only tool I wish they would throw in is the ability to add text to a PDF.

Overall I am happy with Kami and I think if you look at PDFs in your browser I highly encourage you to try it out.

Kaizena – A review

Kaizena is an Add-on for Google Docs. What it does is allow a teacher or another person to give audio feedback for a Google Doc that has been shared to them. The owner of the doc can then listen to that feedback and improve their document further. Sounds pretty sweet right? Well, let’s check it out and see if it is as good as it sounds.

Getting the Add-on

In order to use Kaizena you must be using Google Docs. It will not matter if your school is using G-Suite or not, but you and the other person must be using a Google Doc in order to install and use the Add-on. To actually install it open up the Google Doc you want to use it with and click on Add-ons from the menu at the top of the document.

A drop down menu will appear. Click on Get add-ons. From here a window will pop up that lets you browse or search a large variety of add-ons that you can install to enhance your Google Doc experience.

Since we know what we are looking for I will just search for Kaizena in the search window near the top right hand corner.

You will see your result and all you have to do now is click the Free button to start the installation.

NOTE: I HAD POP UP BLOCKS AND HAD TO CLICK THE FREE BUTTON A SECOND TIME TO ACTUALLY START THIS PROCESS. I WAS AND AM USING CHROME

Once it starts Google will ask you which account you would like to use. Pick your account or sign into Google to start this process. It will ask you to Allow certain permissions that Kaizena wants to do. Go ahead and click Allow.

It will go ahead and install it. Something to know is that Kaizena will be available for all of your Google Docs not just this particular document. When it loads you will be taken back to your document and you should see this little notification letting you know that it has been installed.

Using Kaizena

Now that it is installed let’s launch it. Go to Add-ons in the menu bar and then select Kaizena (Voice Comments) and finally select Open Kaizena.

When you open Kaizena a window will slide out of the far right side of the document. Your first time it will want you to Complete your profile which means selecting your name from a school list. If your school isn’t there you will need to add your school. Basically there is no way that I can see getting past this part which stinks a little but you have to keep in mind that this is a free service.

Once you add your school and the subject and grade level that you teach it will bring up a quick tutorial.

As you can see you have four options. You can:
– leave a voice message
– track a skill
– attach a lesson
– text message

Let’s take a look at the most powerful of its features – the Voice Message. When you click the Voice Message option a little box will appear with a Record button. I like that. It gives you a little more notice and time to compose your thoughts.

When you finally hit the Record button you will be prompted to allow Kaizena to use your mic. I don’t seem to find a way to use a USB mic or a headset. The voice message itself sounds OK though and I was surprised and how quickly it actually posted. I could listen to it almost immediately after I recorded it.

Since I have a free account I can only record 30 second messages but I think I can do unlimited voice messages so that is OK.

A really nice feature is the highlighting. At first I was a little unsure how this worked but after playing around with it for a few minutes I now get it. You highlight some text you would like to comment on. Then you chose whether you want to use a voice comment, skill, lesson or text message. Select one of those and then add your comment. It will then leave it highlighted in the document (even if Kaizena is not opened) making it easy to give the comment more context. Very nice.

So let’s take a look at the other options. Text is just what you would expect. This is actually built into Google Docs anyway, so it is a bit redundant but I get it. You want all your comments in one place. The other two are interesting.

The Skill feature lets you rate a particular skill. For example lets you rate a very particular skill. Kaizena has some preloaded basic skills but you can also make your own by heading to app.kaizena.com.

For this example I am going to rate my title. So, I highlight it, select the Skill button and then chose the Title skill. Now Kaizena asks me to rate it out of four. I’ll give it three for whatever reason. You can add more levels and add descriptions about what each level means. It’s nice – it is like a rubric that for you. I can see a number of teachers using and liking this feature. It is pretty simple and very visual. I can see some people wanting to type in a comment along with the rating, but Kaizena does not allow this and I think it is a good thing. You could go and leave a voice message in addition to it, but this feature is just to give the author and the teacher some quick visual feedback.

The Lesson feature is also created at app.kaizena.com. This … needs a little work. A lesson is just that. You can type instructions in or you can embed a YouTube video into the lesson. For example if you want your students to practice using a semicolon. A lesson may help remind them. I see the idea here and written instructions are definitely the way to go. YouTube videos are soooo small and tiny it seems kind of silly if you ask me. I think this is an OK idea but I just don’t love the way it is implemented.

Student view

This is something I really like about Kaizena. The student view is basically the same as the teacher view. Students can view all the comments left by the teacher and reply to each and every one of them if he/she chooses.

I think students could really leverage Kaizena by highlighting passages and start asking questions before the teacher gets their eyeballs on it. This is good.

Conclusion

Should you use Kaizena? Yes – definitely. It is an effective and efficient way to give meaningful feedback to your students. If you’re a teacher then you know how valuable and important feedback is to the learning process period. If your school has G Suite and you use Google Apps in your class you then Kaizena is a great improvement over the standard commenting built into Google Docs.

Kaizena is also free too – definitely check it out.

Kaizena

Anchor – A Review

Anchor says it is “The easiest way to make a podcast. Ever.” Well we will just see about that and also see if it is a good fit for you in the classroom. There are three things that make Anchor a bit different than its competition. One, there is no limit to what is hosted. That means no bandwidth limit, no storage limit and no time limit. Go crazy creators. The second thing is that you can “move” your podcast from one site to Anchor. The third thing is that it is completely free. As an educator who has relied on services before, I am a little skeptical about this one but we can discuss that later.

There are mobile apps for iOS and Android but for this post I am going to focus on the online webservice.

Getting started

Super duper easy. To create an account you can log in with your Facebook or Twitter account or sign up using an email. Before you give any info it asks if this is a new podcast or if you already have a podcast. I’ve chosen to make a new one.

Then you have to give it a name, cover art, description and add its select its category.

Then it wants your details such as email, password etc.

It is pretty standard but I like that the importance is all about the content right up front. Most places ask for your details and then start asking about what you want to create or do. Nice one Anchor.

Creating a podcast

Now that you have an account and are in Anchor wants you to start creating immediately and this is nice and simple. Check out your choices below.

  • Upload – Upload your own podcast, segment or jingle
  • Record – Record right in the app
  • Messages – People can “call in” using the Anchor app and leave voice mails that you can integrate into your podcast
  • History – A list of all your previous audio files that you create or upload to Anchor
  • Transitions – Royalty free (I’m guessing) jingles and transition sounds you can use to help make the podcast that much more professional sounding

When I first heard about Anchor I thought it was going to be one of those services where the recording has to be done inside of it. In that respect it nice to see that the teacher, students or whoever completely produce their own episodes outside of Anchor and then upload it later.

Very nice.

The record button is expected but I’m just not super excited about it. I’ve long stated that mics on laptops, tablets and smartphones tend to stink. I understand though that recording in the app is fast and easy, but that speed usually comes with a tradeoff of quality. Of course you can use a USB microphone to get some pretty great sound (check out my post Podcast crash course to get a quick overview. You could also get a USB mixer but then you’d probably be better just mixing everything in Audacity, Garageband or another DAW and then uploading the file directly to Anchor.

The history is another interesting aspect. I don’t know how many times I would love to pull in a clip of a past IT Babble podcast right into the show and there simply isn’t an easy way. This fixes this issue and it also gives you a nice overview. I wonder though if you end up with hundreds of uploads how will you find anything?

Then there are transitions. There are a surprising amount of these transition pieces. You cannot mix two or more of these jingles together but hey for a quick transition it is very easy, they sound excellent to boot.

Recording is also pretty simple, when get ready you look at this screen. You can easily select if you want to use your internal mic (please don’t) or an external connected one.

Now when you want to make a show, you don’t have to do it all in one go. You can break it up into segments. This is a good idea. It helps you and your guests distill the information you want and as for planning goes it makes a show a lot less daunting.

Let me say just say bravo Anchor.

So when you make your recordings, add your files and transitions. To do this simply click the + button and then they audio files show up on the far right hand side. You can also preview your show with the preview button. Another nice thing is that it does show you the duration. When you’re done and ready to start publishing click the Save button at the top.

Publish

Now that it is saved it is time to publish your show. This page is also nice. It lets you preview your show, add the episode name and a description. They also give you a chance to add custom artwork, so if you’re like the IT Babble podcast, you have custom artwork for each show.

If you have it saved but maybe you’re not ready to publish it no worries. Anchor offers you a way to save it as a draft or to schedule it which is very, very nice.

Once it is published you get this screen.

The statistics below are a bit misleading. I don’t think anyone can really do podcasting statistics accurately and that includes Apple. It may give you an idea of the popularity but don’t take too much stock in these statistics. You can listen to it, you get the social media buttons, the embed code and you have the option to edit the audio. Very nice.

Here is what it looks like on the web if you bring up the page – very attractive.

And if you want to listen to this ridiculous podcast you may do so below. Here is what the embed code will look like.

WordPress.com strips out most iframes which is why I couldn’t embed the Anchor player.

https://anchor.fm/it-babbles-podcast-2/embed/episodes/Test-Episode-e13dqk

Messages

If other people have the Anchor mobile app they can leave an audio message via the app and it uploads so I decided to try it out. I downloaded the app, listened to my “awesome” podcast and left a message. It must take some time to process on their end because the messages I left haven’t shown up. I am sure they will though it is just a matter of time

Should you use it

Yes! Without a question you should use it. Anchor is one of those rare platforms that lets you make it as simple or as complicated as you like. The interface is very simple and easy to navigate. There is nothing that is intimidating here at all and their support page is quite helpful.

If you want to explore podcasting this is definitely the place to start – hands down! I believe with mobile devices, Chromebooks or laptops you and a class could make podcasts with very little training (if you use USB mics or just the built in mics) and allow students to focus on the content. Don’t focus so much on the process focus more on the content – that’s where it is at.

Final thoughts

The IT Babble podcast is hosted on Podomatic. We pay to have it hosted and it’s not too expensive and not as easy to navigate as Anchor but I am not switching the IT Babble podcast to Anchor and here is why.

It’s completely free. How can this be sustained? In the most recent article on TechCrunch the CEO Mike Mignano had this to say:

What tools and at what cost? Most likely what you see on Anchor will probably be the same, but they may charge for promoting the podcast, more transition and jingle sounds and eventually they may charge for storage. Until then this is a company that is not making any money.

I’ve relied on plenty of online resources in my time only to see them close up shop for one reason or another. Anchor is great and if they stick around I’ll probably change but I need to know how long they will be around. Even if they are profitable there is nothing to say that a company like Google may buy them out and then shut them down later. It happens quite often.

On another note, I really wish I could go and download the actual MP3 file that Anchor creates for each episode. That is a nice thing about Podomatic in that regard. It gives you some options for archiving and embedding that otherwise you may not have.

I really like Anchor and if you’re a teacher it is certainly worth your time if you’re interested in doing some podcasting with your students, but don’t think it will always be there. Usually things this good don’t last so I would enjoy it while you can. Hopefully Anchor lives on far longer than I expect. At least I hope.

Anchor – https://anchor.fm/

ClassHook – A review

I saw ClassHook on Free Technology for Teachers and thought to myself Hey! That looks interesting. So, here I am writing a review of the service and trying to determine if it is worth your or my time as educators.

What is it?

In it’s own words: ClassHook is the best place to find educational clips from popular TV shows and movies

That pretty much sums it up. You can search for a particular topic and they have a short clip (usually 1–4 minutes long) that helps explain the concept, gives an example or adds a new type of perspective to the topic. Here is their YouTube video below that explains their service.

Signing up and using

It’s pretty straightforward to sign up. Just click the Sign in button in the top right hand corner and it will give you an option to sign up. You can only sign up with an email account. That’s fine, having the single sign on options with Google is nice but adding some info isn’t terrible.

At the bottom it “asks” if you would like to be a part of the Vetter Program. This is a program that lets you evaluate and say if a clip is suitable for the classroom. They will send you clips to vet about the subject area you included in your profile. The say it is low commitment and you can opt out at anytime. By default this is checked, but it is good to know you can join in or out at any time.

After you sign up you get a link that you can share out to invite more people to ClassHook.

You also get an email with a verification link in order to fully activate your account.

Now you are taken to your dashboard. It’s pretty simple. You have your name, subject you teach, the ages groups you teach in (E = elementary, MS = middle school) these go all the way up to college. You have some badges (badges are fun) you can earn. You have bookmarks, you can create Playlists (handy for organizing clips for classes) and if you submit any clips for approval you get those clips right there (upon approval). That last feature is nice. If you submit a clip, chances are you want to use it. This certainly saves you from having to search or try to find it.

Using it is very straightforward. You type in what you want to find clips for and the service will return the clips.

For this examples I searched for “computer”. I only received 11 hits. Yikes that is not a lot, but at least I can rest assured that others have viewed and vetted them to be OK.

At the top of the search results is a window to refine the search further. You can refine based on grade level, length, series even add a subsearch. One nice feature is the No Profanity box. This will remove clips with profane language.

If your search doesn’t yield what you want you can peruse all the clips. In the top right hand corner and click Browse. Then select All Clips.

This will take you to a list with everything broken up into sub categories. On the right hand side is a menu that will let you jump to a certain category if you like.

So back to our example. I searched for computer and I received 11 hits (again that is a little on the light side). Let’s say I want to use this clip from the movie In Good Company.

When you click the video it gives you a description of the video and while most of the videos are the entire clip this one has even been shortened a little as you can see in the timeline bar from the images.

Also from this page you can grab the embed code (it is a little below what I grabbed for the above picture), add a discussion question, add a standard or a comment.

You can even add it to a playlist. by clicking the Add to button or add it as a Bookmark.

Should you use this?

No, not really. Almost all of the clips are from YouTube or Vimeo. I found one clip from Hulu but I could not get it to load for me. I originally wanted a clip about a hard drive but found 0 results. So I expanded it to computers. If I wanted a clip that explained how a hard drive worked or discussed a hard drive I would just go to Youtube – which is what I did. I searched for hard drive on YouTube and the fifth video was a quick video showing a hard drive move in slow motion. It is 86 seconds long.

If I want a video about how a hard drive works I just need to search for it and there are plenty more to chose from.

The point is, you can find all those clips in YouTube. ClassHook is supposed to save you some time by providing a curated list of clips that have been submitted and approved by the community of educators. It sounds good but the results are just too few to truly be useful.

If you do find some good clips remember this is most likely from the entertainment industry. Some of the clips could be not 100% factual either.

These clips could be good for a discussion starter, but with a little bit of planning and a little digging you can probably find what you’re looking for on YouTube without the need of ClassHook.