Goodbye SmartBoard… Hello Apple TV

I’ve finally ditched my SmartBoard. I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of my SmartBoard to begin with, so parting ways with it wasn’t particularly difficult. To be fair though I have to say that I have enjoyed certain things it has allowed me to do with my class. I have seen some people doing some cool things with SmartBoards but I think the interface/software isn’t great and it’s never really excited me that much. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back came when I was prompted to update the “notebook software”, which I did, and then the board immediately stopped working. I thought (for about 5 seconds) that I might try to trouble shoot the issue, but (after 6 seconds) decided it was a sign, and after an honorary moment (3 more seconds) of silence came to terms with my loss. The funny thing is I actually don’t feel like I have actually lost anything really worthwhile, just worth a lot of dinero. This year I installed an Apple TV in my classroom. For those who don’t know it’s not an actual TV but rather something quite different. From the Apple Website:

Apple TV gives you access to the best 1080p HD content — including blockbuster movies, your music and photos, and more — right on your widescreen TV. You can even play content from your iOS devices on your TV using AirPlay. Apple TV requires one HDMI cable (sold separately).

The last bit is the most important to me. If you have read some of my other posts you know that I use our class accounts for Twitter, blogs, Instagram, Skypeetc almost daily in my classroom. We are engaged in various projects at any given moment and we use these tools as a way to communicate with other classes and people all over the world. Each student in my class has their own iPad which they use at various times during the day to engage with a variety of tools, apps, people (often times using social media), their environment, and each other. What the Apple TV allows us to do is to share what we are doing on our iPads at any given moment with the whole class. Anyone in the room with an iOS device can choose to “Airplay” their iPad screen at any time. Since I have the Apple TV hooked up to my VGA projector, any student can choose to show the whole class whatever is showing on their iPad screen. Airplay works with both audio and video simultaneously.

Turning on Airplay screen sharing on an iPad.

Before Airplay I was bound to using my computer via projector to show examples to the class but now anyone in the class is free to share anything they have on their iPads. We can tweet, read our blog, add pictures and check our Instagram feed, work through math problems, share documents we are working on, share games we are playing, share movies we are making etc, using this method. Another little gem I’d like to share is the fact that you can sync the Chrome browsers on both your computer and your iPad. For example, if I am looking at something interesting on my computer I can pick up my iPad, open the Chrome browser and it will give me the option open any tab I have open on my computer and share it with the class using Airplay. Here’s a very brief explanation on how to do it.

I always thought the Smartboard was a little too teacher centered for me. I think the ability for any student to share what they are creating on their iPad via Airplay has empowered the students as well as allowed them to express themselves using a variety of tools and mediums.

How are you using Airplay in your classroom?

Are you using your SmartBoard in a way you think you couldn’t live without?

Avatar of Benjamin J Sheridan

About Benjamin J Sheridan

MS technology coordinator at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India.
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48 Responses to Goodbye SmartBoard… Hello Apple TV

  1. Thanks for the informative post, Benjamin. Our school has just started to consider buying Smarboards, but a link to your blog is on its way to our school’s tech director to consider the Apple TV option.

    • Hello Beth, thanks for your comment! I’d like to hear what direction your school goes. I don’t believe there is one right way and I like hearing why certain schools chose to go one way or the other. Most chose what’s best for their particular set of circumstances, which may change dramatically from school to school.

  2. Avatar of mmorse mmorse says:

    Was this a school-wide initiative or did you decide to jump in and do it for your classroom only. Our school is nowhere near where you seem to be, and part of seems to related to connectivity but also the technology we have available? I was never too big a fan of Smartboards myself, though many of my colleagues lauded their capabilities in their classrooms. You note that “I was bound to using my computer via projector to show examples to the class…”, which is the same situation I am under in my classroom now. I must admit that despite having Apple devices of my own (a Macbook and iPad), I was also under the impression that Apple TV was simply a device for accessing media via iTunes or Apple. I guess it does that, but even more than I had been aware of. Do all the students have iPads because the school requires it, or they bring in their own tablet devices? Anyway, this kind of device in the classroom would improve collaboration between teacher and students in the classroom; something that our current technology does not support. I will share your blogpost with the tech people at our school to see what they think.

    • All of my students have their own school purchased iPad to use for the year. The iPads stay at school, they don’t bring them home. Each student is assigned a specific iPad thought and they use the same one all year. I have been piloting a 1:1 iPad environment and based on the results my school is now going 1:1 iPad from K through 3rd grade. It’s been eye opening how different the interactions between people are when students are using iPads vs Laptops/desktops. It’s a bit difficult to explain but iPads don’t seem to create as much of a barrier between people. There is also an app you can buy for your computer that will allow you to use it to screen-share iOS devices such as iPads/iPods called “Refelctor”. You can check it out here: link to reflectorapp.com
      Thanks for sharing and I’d like to hear in what direction your schools decides to go.

  3. Robin Moore says:

    Ben, I feel compelled to respond. This is one great article. 20 years ago, March, 1993, I started with a very small company called Smart Technologies. I introduced the board to the Western US, having placed the very first boards into many Western states. I was their 2nd US employee This was a paradigm shift, touch on a screen, connect with a projector. Voila!

    20 years later, today, Benjamin just introduced a paradigm shift, much like the mainframe to the mini to the micro. Just think about what they are charging today for a board, doc cam, audience response system etc.

    An iPad costs $499, Apple TV is $100, now let me expand. Add to that an HDMI to VGA converter $50 list to connect your Apple TV, direct to your projector, example,
    link to maxcases.com

    Make your iPad into a document camera, $50-$200,
    link to maxcases.com

    Turn your iPad into a student response system for those 1:1 deployments. Free, or inexpensive content. I believe the providers are competing for your business, already addressing iPads.

    Game over.

  4. Avatar of Vivian Vivian says:

    I LOVE my Apple TV! Thanks for the pointers!

    Benjamin, I don’t have a lot of experience with Smart Boards, but I think this may be a game changer for the smart boards and it has to do with an App that can go on the iPad (IOS device) or any Android device that turns the device into a keypad controller for a smart board. What do you think?

    No More Death by Powerpoint

  5. Lisa M says:

    Thanks Ben! I am one of the teachers piloting BYOD in our district and one of the perks is an Apple TV! Would love to hear anymore suggestions on how I can use it in my classroom. (Will begin in April)

  6. Avatar of Clint Hamada Clint Hamada says:

    One day Ben I’d like to just spend a day in your class, just to see what it’s like!

    On my home network I can ‘project’ an iPad/iPod Touch onto my iMac since they are on the same wireless network. Is this true for any Mac, or just those running Lion? Assuming your computer is hooked up to the data projector, could this be a way around needing even an Apple TV? What is lost when you take the Apple TV out of the mix?

    • Good questions Clint! I looked into a couple alternatives… after I purchased the Apple TV on last years order. I know a bit backwards but we had some router/network issues that were not allowing devices on the same network using the same router to talk to each other. Took a while (way to long!) but I found a workaround.

      One option around an Apple TV is the “Relector” app: link to reflectorapp.com (13.99US) and another is “AirServer” link to airserverapp.com (14.99US). Both are less expensive options that will serve classroom needs quite well.

      Another option I don’t have access to is to screen-share my MacBook Pro to the Apple TV. All new machines should do it fine but even though I am running Lion my machine was made before a certain date in 2011 so it doesn’t have the hardware capabilities.

      As always, great to hear from you Clint!

  7. Codi says:

    Are you kidding? Are you seriously trying to promote Apple tv as an alternative to smart boards in education? Word, excel, powerpoint? Hello, do you even work in the real world? Have you ever tried using your iPad instead of a computer for an actual day in business. GOOD LUCK. I am the proud owner of an iPhone 5, iPad, and Macbook Pro, but seriously, you cannot replace a smart board with Apple TV. Maybe if all you want to do is mirror your screen ( which I see you have. Nice black outlines you have there with your chrome browser. Heard of landscape?) Awesome, we can watch netflix! God, please stop. The world uses Excel, Powerpoint, Word, Outlook. If you really cared about their future you would prepare them to adapt with them as easily as possible, or are you educating those “creative” kids who sit at the coffee shop all day and gloat about how they can “FaceTime” OOOoooo.

    • Thanks for your comment, it made me laugh out loud. Cheers!

    • Charlie says:

      I don’t think anyone is talking about using iPads to REPLACE desktop computers but to complement them. Students do need to use office-style applications but tablets are simply better for the kind of learning and interactions that go on in the classroom.

    • I agree with Charlie – I don’t think Ben is talking about replacing computers with iPads, he’s talking about replacing SMART Boards with Apple TVs. We’ve started doing that in our school in some classrooms and I think it’s great. It seems much more natural for students to display their screens (which can now be done with iPads AND with newer laptops/desktops) than to try to interact with the huge SMART Board – I think the interactivity is better with Apple TV because they’re using a device they’re used to using – iPad or laptop. If they actually learn to interact with the SMART Board really well (which is unlikely because only one student can use it at a time) it’s not a skill they can transfer to anywhere else anyway.

      I personally hope ‘the world’ is starting to move away from Microsoft Office products. I’ve used OpenOffice/LibreOffice for years and love it, and as Google Docs improve I’m using them more and more. Personally I very much hope Microsoft Office is not ‘the future’!

  8. Chris says:

    We have found the lag on Reflector is substantial — when using it with an ipad to model steps it is problematic…fyi. Also, I would like to see more preparing kids for the year 2000 like Cody suggests… ;)

  9. Iram says:

    I am so glad our school was a little late to get on technology train. We did not spend all the money on smart boards and moved right into iPads and projectors and Apple TV. Has worked very well for us!

  10. Avatar of icraig icraig says:

    Have you explored the concept of creating a digital media library using a school iTunes account? With Apple TVs installed directly to our Epson Shorthrow projectors the faculty can have access to music, movies and books all from a central library of sorts. The access is nearly immediate and right through the Apple TV unit in the classroom. Have you or anyone experimented with how many Apple TVs you can hook up to a single iTunes account? The teacher can also tie it to their personal account further expanding the resources they can get from iTunes.

    We are also struggling with the versatility and level of interaction and engagement that our SmartBoards and IWBs provide. The chief complaint from the faculty is that the amount of time spent creating “dynamic” presentations using the software from SMART and Epson versus the actual engagement level in the classroom doesn’t balance. They feel that once the lessons are created they have to use them for a year or two or more to get a return for their time….And then we enter the curriculum toilet bowl cycle..

    Great post thanks for putting it out there!

    • Ian, I really like the idea of creating a digital library and accessing it using an Apple TV! I don’t have the answer to your very good question about how many Apple TV’s you can use with one account. I think it warrants some additional research though. Thanks for taking the time to comment and sharing your ideas!

  11. I often find myself on your blog after browsing around on COETAIL or the web. This is yet another great blog post and like Clint, I would love to spend a day in your classroom to experience all the wonderful things you do with your students. Thanks for all your pointers and tips, and together with all the comments, this has turned out to be a great resource.

  12. Sharon Jordan says:

    Benjamin,
    I am looking for your input. While I can see the benefits of using an iPad in certain academic classrooms, I wonder why you have completely discounted the Smartboard all together. I am not looking to slam you or anything, I truly am looking for input.

    I am a person who truly misses my Smartboard. I was able to use it throughout the day for all sort of uses in my 3rd grade classroom and my students were very engaged as they used it as well. I was able to use the software provided, record math lessons, showing step by step how we did math problems in class and upload all of the pages we created in class to my webpage for both parents and students to reference when they worked on a similar assignment at home. Can an iPad and Apple TV do that? I don’t own an iPad as of yet but wanted to know if that was an option.

    Now, in my 13th year of teaching, I have moved to the high school were I teach all of the science courses – including Physics and Chemistry as well as Biology. I also teach 2 math classes and I miss my Smartboard. I miss being able to add shapes into the notebook software, manipulating them, changing them, moving them and having students do the same. I want to be able to use the tools – such as the clear protractor and the compass to show my geometry students how to solve math problems. I want to be able to use the graphing functions and the other functions found in the software for my physics classes and be able to manipulate them from the board or my computer or have a student do the same. Does the iPad and Apple TV have an app that allows for all of that and be able to save the various pages we create into a study guide and tool on my class webpages? If it does, which I am not necessarily doubting, how does one find such an app and how much should I expect it to cost?

    I believe that all sorts of multimedia and technology are very useful in classrooms. I do so much more than just play videos from YouTube and give presentations. Will the iPad be able to do all of those things? I have seen the drawing software that my husband has on his iPad and it would not be any easier for me to use that then to just draw a doodle on the white board. If I can get a simple, bottom of the line Smartboard to all of those things for a few hundred dollars more and it will do more than show videos and go to websites, I think I am still leaning to the Smartboard. If the iPad can do all of that and be able to show movie and presentations, then you can sway me to your side.

    I think a general statement saying that iPads will do away with Smartboards in classrooms is not quite accurate. I think it depends on the teacher, on the teacher’s abilities (both with technology and engaging students) and largely on the topic you teach and the roll that technology plays.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Sharon thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I was hoping someone who was/has used a SmartBoard with success would share some examples. Hearing about how you used your SmartBoard as well as how you are still thinking of ways you could use it even though you don’t have one really speaks to the value it added to your classroom. It sounds like you really know your stuff!

      Before I address some of your questions let me say that I 100% agree with your last paragraph:

      I think a general statement saying that iPads will do away with Smartboards in classrooms is not quite accurate. I think it depends on the teacher, on the teacher’s abilities (both with technology and engaging students) and largely on the topic you teach and the roll that technology plays.

      You could remove the words “iPads” and “Smartboard” and insert a host of other tools and it would remain accurate. My post was written from my perspective as a kindergarten teacher, and as you said, I was expressing what I have found works best for me in my situation. That said let me elaborate a bit on my reasoning. In my situation I use Apple TV almost exclusively for the mirroring capabilities. I don’t use it for the host of other features it provides. That said, in hindsight I think a better option than an Apple TV ($99.00) for me would have been the “AirServer” app which is 14.99 for a 5 Mac installation download.

      In another comment Craig brings up an interesting point in defense of the Apple TV that I hadn’t even thought of:

      Have you explored the concept of creating a digital media library using a school iTunes account? With Apple TVs installed directly to our Epson Shorthrow projectors the faculty can have access to music, movies and books all from a central library of sorts. The access is nearly immediate and right through the Apple TV unit in the classroom.

      It sounds like you created some dynamic and engaging lessons using the Smart Notebook software. I have historically found the NoteBook software to be rather clunky and a bit buggy. I have heard that it works better on a computer running Windows than on a Mac and maybe this is what I was experiencing. I also have to admit I might have found more success if I spent more time learning the software a bit better. I always felt the amount of time I put into creating lessons wasn’t justified by the result.

      I can almost 100% guarantee there are Apps for each of the tools you described. I know some teachers who, as you did, record (with audio) how to solve math problems etc using a screen capturing app called Explain Everything on their iPads. You can do this while mirroring. You could then upload this video to your website, blog, wiki etc as a tool to help parents and students with homework. I know the list of Apps is growing by leaps and bounds but a great resource for Apps that is put together by educators and contains lists of apps by subject area can be found here on the Appitic website. Another good resource is this LiveBinder full of resources for educators, students and parents. Funny enough there is an app called Smarboard that allows real time collaboration between up to 5 tablets. The really cool thing about this app is it works across multiple platforms.

      I like the iPads as it allows me to easily transition from one thing to the next and if I see a teachable moment I can do so from anywhere in the room using anyones iPad, I’m not bound by my computer.

      I’m really delighted you took the time to join the conversation and leave a thoughtful, well articulated comment. I hope to hear from you in the future.

    • Claire says:

      You are able to download the SMART Notebook app onto your iPad (R56.99 in South Africa) and you have all the functionality available to you. You have the ability to build activities that you can now share with your students directly onto their iPads. If you have Apple TV, the SMART Notebook app on your iPad and a projector then you don’t need a SMARTBoard at all.

  13. Claire says:

    The combination of the SMART Notebook app, Apple TV, a projector, iPad and internet access means that there is no limit to what you are able to do with your students. If you allow your students to connect to the wireless network then they are able to show what they have on their iPad screens, too. Lessons become truly student-centric. Throw some resources into a shared Dropbox folder and you are able to teach and the students to learn at an incredible pace. I don’t want any board in my classroom at all. Just have the walls painted with white or clear whiteboard paint and you have all walls to write on, project onto or whatever you would like to do. I teach senior accounting students and love that I am not constrained by one screen or board in the front of the room. I have no front of the room and the data projector can be swivelled to project anywhere. My notes are saved in Dropbox and the students can access them and any templates they need directly from there at any time.

    • I love the idea of just having the walls painted with whiteboard paint and having the ability to write on any wall in the room. Very cool idea. Teachers on a Google Apps domain could also use Google Drive in the same fashion you have described using Dropbox. You can even automate the share folder process. You can even automatically assign different share privileges to different folders using gClassFolders script. I’m with you in thinking that their are no limits to what we can do with students now… only our ingenuity, motivation, and of course time! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Nancy Erkkila says:

    We’ve found an inexpensive tool to enable us to use the iPad and Apple TV as a document camera. It’s a wire mesh locker stand. The height is right, just set the iPad on top so the camera is over one of the holes. They are available at Amazon (link to amazon.com) or at many local office supply or big box stores in August when school supplies fill the stores. Also useful when demonstrating the use of math manipulatives.

  15. Claire says:

    I’ve just checked out the gClassFolders script. I’m going to try this with my Grade 9s. The kids are so keen on integrating technology into their classes.

  16. Robin Moore says:

    The definitive video on the subject of Apple TV replacing electronic whiteboards, doc cams and free software, presented by an Apple Distinguished Educator. Must watch! link to vimeo.com

    Also, look at http://www.maxcases.com, actual education prices are about $24 and <$179. Don't pay attention to prices on the website, I'm told.

    • Nice video! It does a really good job of showing how easy an Apple TV is to use. The video also does a good job of giving some great examples of simple, free, but powerful Apps such as Nearpod and Educreations. The video also does a good job of highlighting the versatility of an iPad with examples of how it can be an interactive tool, whiteboard, document camera etc. The only thing I would add is that you don’t need a television to use your Apple TV but can also use it with a projector as I do. Thanks for sharing this resource.

  17. Robin Moore says:

    Apple TV only has an HDMI output. For projectors without HDMI input, which is most, an HDMI-2-(VGA+Audio) converter is needed to connect a Apple TV to the projector. fyi, try this. Careful, you will need audio. I’m not sure about the k12 price. link to maxcases.com Maybe other sources available.

  18. BL says:

    I am curious about why you did not just use Airplay with your SMART board. Our district has SMART Boards in every classroom and use Airplay to connect our iPads (one for every staff member and one for every 7th and 8th graders). We have the funds to get Apple TV, but I am wondering if I will lose the interactivity that I have with the SMART Board. My third graders have access to my iPad all day and an iPad cart for a portion of the day. While not using an iPad, the SMART Board allows them to use online games and such interactively on the big screen of the SMART Board. From what I have researched, it seems we are better to stick with the SMART Boards for the interactivity and use Air Server to connect when we have the iPads in the room. Am I missing something that screams I should abandon my SMART Board and move toward Apple TV?

    • Hello, sounds like you have a system that works quite well for you! I say go with it!

      • BL says:

        Thanks for getting back to me and for your advice. My feelings were that we had a great set up and now I feel reassured in that. Thanks again!

    • In my opinion there’s no reason to get rid of the SMART Boards if you already have them as they add the extra option of interactivity right at the board, but when they’re due for replacement I’d seriously consider if that extra option is worth the huge expense.

      In my experience students prefer interacting with their personal device (which is displayed on the big screen) rather than (in my opinion) the less natural, less responsive and less reliable SMART Board. Also the ‘skill’ of interacting with a SMART Board is not transferrable to anywhere else.

  19. Sandra says:

    Sound?? I am piloting some Apple TVs as an alternative to/addition to Promethean boards but cannot figure out how to get better sound out to the class. The ATV and kanex adapter is mounted way up on the ceiling mounted projector that that is fine but the sound from the old projectoer is terrible. Teachers do have some powered computer speakers but they are down on the floor and they still want to be able to use them for their laptop. Ideas?

    • You bring up a good point. I can tell you what I have done if that helps. I actually have my Apple TV placed on my desk. I use a two monitor set up so I have a VGA out line right on my desk. I have the VGA going out from my laptop to a splitter that then routes the output to my second monitor as well as my projector. My projector displays my second monitor which I have found is a nice way to manage what students see. You can que up things on your main screen and then drag them across to the second screen for the students to see. When I want the Apple TV displayed by the projector I simply unplug the VGA from my laptop and plug it into the Apple TV via Kanex adapter. I also have an audio splitter that I use. I have a pair of speakers on my desk as well as a pair mounted up on the wall near my white board. Having two sets of speakers really helps. Since I have the Apple TV right on my desk I can easily switch the audio plug from my laptop to the Kanex adapter. It might sound complicated but it literally takes about 5 seconds to make the switch. Since my desk is next to the wall I have the cables to the second set of speakers and projector run up conduit on the wall and through the ceiling out of sight. I know it sounds a bit complicated but it actually makes things simpler for me to have this flexibility.

      One a side note, I often like to listen to music while I work during my planning time. I often get sick of sitting at my desk and will go find a spot on the floor to work. I use Airplay to wirelessly stream music to my Apple TV so I can still get the benefits of the better sound the four speakers provide. If you have a newer MacBook(which I don’t) you can screen share your Macbook to the Apple TV and still get the benefit of wireless audio & video sharing. It’s quite nice!

      Let me know if this makes sense to you.

  20. Charlie says:

    I agree with everything you say – I love using technology but have never quite got the point of a SmartBoard. As you say, it’s very teacher-centred, and I’d say almost a “hey, look at me, look at all the cool things I can do” piece of technology. You make an interesting point about iPads with Apple TV (or Relector or AirServer) making a paradigm shift to a more learner-centred classroom.

    One question I have: what’s to stop the little beggars displaying their iPad on the projector whenever they feel like it? Is there a password needed for mirroring via Apple TV as I think there is with AirServer?

  21. Nabil says:

    Has any one considered using iBooks Author to create personalized lessons and then share them from your iPad to the class, through your Apple TV?

    Try it, it is easy to use: link to apple.com

  22. John says:

    How about the best of both and all worlds? Panasonic sells a 60 inch TV for $1500. An interactive pen that turns the TV into a Smartboard like device for $18. An extra what $100? for an HDMI card and cable for the computer to TV connection? If I’m not mistaken the TV should also easily connect to Apple TV device right? At least half the cost of a Smartboard and a much more mature technology than interactive boards (should last longer), no projector shadows, and no more $300 bulbs to replace. I’m guessing the screen resolution would be much better than an interactive board too. Seems like that’s the wave of the future….comments?

  23. Have you looked at Google chrome cast. Cheaper than ATV lighter and also lets you get power from the usb port on your TV or projector. Chromecast vs Apple TV Our IT guy is playing around with both now. I will let you know how it goes.

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