Tag Archive for Apple TV

Using Guided Access to Minimize Distractions in iOS

Mobile devices often end up loaded with apps designed to push notifications out to users. Games, social media, communication tools and personal organization tools like Calendar and Tasks are all designed to grab a user’s attention when something needs to be noted. When trying to concentrate on work, this becomes a constant distraction pulling away from the task on hand. It also creates a challenge for people trying to use these devices in presentation settings, as notifications about personal items such as communication or appointments can end up being shared on screen with a class or audience, and audio notifications can interrupt a presentation or playback of audio or video. Thankfully, there is a way to suppress all notifications when you’re using the iPad in a visible setting using Guided Access.

Guided Access is a feature of the iOS settings which allows you to do two major distraction-managing steps: eliminate notifications, and lock yourself into a particular app to help resist the pull of a quick game or social media checkin. Once the feature is activated, you can’t leave whichever app you’re in until you deactivate it (which can be configured with a passcode for more security). It also has a feature where you can specify parts of the screen that won’t receive any pop-ups. If you have a free app that pop-ups up with advertisements from time to time, for example, this could help eliminate those distractions. Finally, while it’s turned on, no aural nor visual notifications will occur from any other app. This includes:
  • Calendar
  • iMessage
  • Mail
  • Addictive Games of your Choice
  • Anything else which Pushes Notifications (Social Media apps, etc.)
You can, of course, disable many notifications permanently in the Settings app. Guided Access gives you the opportunity to temporarily disable them while you are sharing the iPad in the classroom setting and then have it go back to normal mode once you’re done, as well as to force yourself to stay in a mode such as writing, reading or drawing. To activate Guided Access, first turn it on in the Settings app under General->Accessibility->Guided Access. Here, you’ll specify if you want to use a passcode in order to turn it off once it’s activated. Once Guided Access has been activated, go to the app you plan on projecting or playing and triple-click the Home button. You’ll be notified that you’re in Guided Access mode (and, as a bonus for those of you projecting, you can lock the rotation here so that you don’t accidentally rotate your image while sharing). When it’s time to leave the app, triple-click the Home button again to disable Guided Access and return to normal use.
Parents and teachers may initially jump at the option to lock students into a particular app (an e-reader, notetaking app or school LMS, for example) by specifying a passcode which they control, then activating Guided Access before handing the device to the student. In this case, the student would then be unable to leave the app. There may be situations in which this is appropriate (test or controlled writing scenarios, for example), but most use cases for the iPad involve switching between multiple apps. In this case, the teacher or parent would have to enter the passcode every time a student wanted to switch between their electronic textbook, for example, and their notes program. Anybody planning on using Guided Access as a way to “put the blinders on” and focus on a single task should think through whether that single task also involves a single app, or whether a combination of apps is necessary thus making Guided Access a clumsy tool to fit the need. While not a long process, it does add an extra step each time you want to switch between apps to have to de-activate Guided Access and re-activate it in the new app.
Our interviews and conversations with students reveal that they are extremely mindful of how distracting notifications and other apps can be, and are often looking for ways to help manage their devices better to support focus. Coaching students to use Guided Access when appropriate can give them a tool to use when they notice that they need it and when it fits the nature of the task. Similarly, for anyone giving presentations or sharing multimedia in class, using it can ensure that notifications don’t interrupt and cause a potentially embarrassing distraction.

The Egalitarian Projector: Wired and Wireless Projection in BYOD Classrooms

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

Over the summer we upgraded many of our projectors, which gave us the opportunity to refresh our classroom A/V model. In a BYOD school, projection can be a logistical nightmare: students bringing myriad devices with different display adapter requirements puts a burden on the IT department to have adapters available for each class. As anyone who has spent a class period on student presentations knows, valuable time is lost with students shuffling through the front of the room and exchanging adapters even if the correct ones are all present.

Logistics aside, the wired projector also presents a subtle-but-constant “sage on stage” control dynamic: whether student or teacher, whoever is presenting and plugged in to the projector controls what is being displayed. Freeform discussion, question-and-answer, or targeted inquiry are always unbalanced since only one person has the ability to display information.

In order to both create a more flexible learning environment as well as eliminate the dreaded dongle bundles, we have equipped all of our classrooms this year with both wired and wireless projection capabilities that meet our BYOD requirements.


The picture below represents our average classroom dongle bundle– HDMI, Mini Display Port and Apple 30-pin. Since our Middle School iPad program began shortly before the release of the Lightning-based iPad models, this bundle covers most of the laptops and iPads that we see on campus. It does not cover, though, Lightning-based iPads, nor many phones or tablets with mini-HDMI. Also notice that audio has to be through a separate cable. Not every student presentation requires audio, of course, but any kind of video or multimedia sharing will require plugging in two cables.

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

We do have a handful of Lightning adapters and mini-HDMI adapters on hand in IT, but have not deployed them into every classroom. Since we want teachers and students to have confidence in their ability to fully use every space on campus, this isn’t ideal.


The addition to our classroom deployment this year is the use of Apple TV in combination with AirParrot. iOS and Mavericks-based MacBooks made after mid-2011 will broadcast audio and video to Apple TV’s natively. AirParrot is a client to do the same with Windows and pre-2011 MacBooks. I’ve written about AirParrot before, and last spring it didn’t totally work with Windows 8. After conversations with both Squirrels (the company behind AirParrot– I haven’t gotten to talking to actual squirrels yet) and friends “in the know” at Microsoft, it seems like the problem was a very complex display driver setup within Windows 8. Subsequent updates to 8.1 have made AirParrot much more workable for that OS as well to the point where we’re comfortable deploying it to the school this year.

A couple of implementation notes on AirParrot: since we want wireless projection to be available for students as well as teachers, we have purchased licenses for our students to use and will invite them to download AirParrot and request a license from IT if they want to put it on their school-use laptop. This is a cost to the school, but we purchase class-required apps for student-owned iPads in the Middle School, as well as student licenses for e-mail, and this seems consistent with that philosophy.

Second, Windows 8.1 is still not entirely seamless in its display configuration. In order to serve the display needs of both Tablet and Desktop modes, the Desktop mode has a built-in magnification setting which makes the text and icons more usable (instead of being ridiculously tiny as they would be naturally with the default resolution). This setting is the key instigator in display issues with AirParrot, and some devices may need it to be turned off in order to display correctly. This can result in the text and icons being uncomfortably small on the tablet display itself, which requires adjusting the display resolution. To complicate things further, the magnification setting requires logging out to change– it can’t be applied on the fly. This means it’s much more important to get one setting which can be “set it and forget it” rather than adjusting as you go. It seems as though different hardware models have different “sweet spot” combinations of magnification and resolution which will allow the display to be sufficient both a) in Desktop mode on the tablet and b) through AirParrot. The settings I ended up with on my Surface 2, for example, did not translate to the Surface 3 (the 3 looks great through the AirParrot, though!). We’ll continue to monitor this as the year develops.

Projecting a Socratic Seminar

Knowing that this is a slightly awkward first step towards truly seamless wireless projecting, I’m excited to see the ability for students to use the projector as a tool for discussion and small group work as well as lecture/presentation. When students can share information and resources with a group/class in real time rather than simply as prepared delivery, and when the projector becomes one more “open access” collaboration tool, the classroom is a more flexible and balanced learning environment.

Testing Crestron AirMedia Wireless Display Adapter for BYOD (Laptops)

Our BYOD environment supports laptops in the Upper School and iPads in the Middle School, so we’re searching for a wireless display solution which accommodates both. I tested AirParrot and Apple TV previously, and now I’m testing the Crestron AirMedia display adapter. Our goal is to have a classroom-based wireless display system where students and teachers alike can share on the projector or other display in order to work collaboratively.

About the AirMedia


AirMedia Display Adapter

One thing that differentiates the AirMedia right off the bat from an Apple TV solution is that the AirMedia has both HDMI, VGA and 1/8″ Audio Out. This makes it much more likely to play nicely with existing classroom projector and sound systems. Where the Apple TV is built to interact with your TV or home theatre system (hence the HDMI out carrying both video and audio, requiring something like the Kanex ATV adapter to separate them), the AirMedia is clearly meant to serve existing business/educational A/V infrastructure.


AirMedia displays IP address and a connect code for each session

When connected, the AirMedia projects an IP address and an access code. Anyone wishing to present must download the AirMedia client (for Mac or PC) or App (for Android or iOS), enter the credentials given, and log in. Once one device is bound to the AirMedia and actively presenting, no other devices can connect until the projection is released, preventing accidental (or non!) hijacking of the display. The code is randomly generated each time a session is started, meaning that your access code from Monday’s class can’t be used on Tuesday.

Like the Apple TV, the AirMedia runs a network service which must be accessible from any devices that you wish to use. In other words, if you have it connected to your wired network, you won’t be able to access it from Wi-Fi unless you have your network properly configured. For testing purposes, I had my computer and the AirMedia on our Ethernet network. I’ll test with the iPad at home and report in a separate post.


To do each test, I used the device with the AirMedia as the primary display for normal daily operation, then threw some YouTube videos and streaming from ESPN.com at it to test the video smoothness.

Windows - Tested on a Lenovo Helix running 8.1. 2 GHz, 8 GB RAM.

Performance was seamless using the Windows device– operation on the display was nearly real-time with no noticeable lag. If I had the wireless network operation set up, I’d be using this as my main display with the Helix in tablet mode.

Mac – Tested on a Mid 2010 MacBook Pro running Mavericks. 2.4 GHz, 4 GB RAM.

Performance was noticeably laggy on the MacBook. The display continually ran 1-2 seconds behind input on the MacBook, and occasionally the videos would get choppy. Curious to see how this was taxing the OS, I noticed the following in Activity Monitor:

  • Memory usage was pretty constant: around 30 MB of RAM being used at any given time. Given that the MacBook has half the RAM of the Windows machine, my first guess was that I was maxing the RAM out. Doesn’t look like it.
  • CPU load was between 15-30% during normal operation. Jumped up to the high 60s (63-68%) when showing video. Again, that’s for the AirMedia process itself, so the actual rendering of video in Chrome isn’t factored in there.

Obviously, with a consistent 1-2 second lag, using the AirMedia as a primary display isn’t an option. If your students are using this to project on the main projector, that may not be a concern. In my quest for transparent/invisible technology usage, though, I don’t like the fact that everyone’s eyeballs would be on the screen being shared (i.e. projection) except the person manipulating it, who would have to be looking at their own computer. I’m less excited about this than the Windows performance, certainly.

Finally, while the Windows client works out of the box, the Mac client needed a little configuration to work with Mavericks. The initial install would only work for a few seconds before disconnecting because of a performance feature in Mavericks called App Nap. Turning App Nap off fixed the connection problem (Get Info on the AirMedia application, and “Prevent App Nap”), but in a BYOD environment, every student with Mavericks would have to configure this individually. Also, since the point of App Nap is to conserve battery power, this will have an adverse effect on the CPU power usage, but only while the AirMedia application is open. Crestron says that an update is coming soon.

Bottom Line

AirMedia is spendy– near $1000 a unit. Compared with an Apple TV and AirParrot, I’m not seeing anything here that is worth the extra $800 (at least). In a managed environment, or a Windows-only environment, it may be an option, and the VGA output will work with more projectors out of the box. We’re unlikely to move forward with this device, though.

Testing AirParrot and Apple TV for BYOD

One of the biggest challenges in the design of our 1:1 program is building the infrastructure in the classrooms to support a 1:1 iPad program (Middle School) side-by-side with a BYOD laptop program (Upper School). We have to build our systems to work flexibly with all types of devices, while still honoring the mobile mentality of the iPad school. A great example of this is in projecting: How do we build a wireless projection system in a classroom to accommodate everything? I’m now testing a combination of Apple TV and AirParrot by Squirrels to achieve wireless projection in a classroom for laptops and tablets together. Read more