Tag Archive for learning spaces

iPad “Test Security” – Class Policies and Layout


(img: Apple.com)

As use of our iPads expanded last year to include supplemental materials such as calculators, dictionaries and notes, teachers reported concerns about having iPads available in test environments. No matter the device, many teachers are hesitant to have devices accessible during test conditions, primarily due to a student’s ability to access programs or resources such as search engines, external websites or notes. Testing environments vary wildly in terms of their intent and scope, but with a few considerations the iPad can be present in the testing environment with a relatively high degree of security. The following guidelines can help if you want to utilize iPads either to access an online testing environment or as resources during testing through apps such as calculators, dictionaries/glossaries, or notes (when desired).

While the iPad is not meant to be a testing tool, and a course which is built on lecture-and-exam style delivery will be at odds with any 1-to-1 program, there are many scenarios in which a teacher may want to create exam-style conditions while still having access to the iPads. Possible examples:

  • Accommodations for students
  • Use of calculators or simulation tools
  • Dictionaries, thesaurus, glossary, translators
  • Open-book/open-notes exams

Two Class Policies (plus a bonus)

One of the great advantages of the iPad over laptops for this use is the wide viewing angle of the screen in combination with the ability to place the device flat on the table. While it takes some force of will to introduce, I suggest two clear-cut policies when beginning a testing situation with the iPads:

  1. The brightness must be turned all of the way up. Ensure that students can use the four-finger swipe or home button double-tap to get to their Control Center, and turn the screen brightness to its highest setting. This will allow you to clearly see what app or website is active on a student’s screen from a fair distance around the room.
  2. The iPads must be flat on the desk. The iPads have an extremely wide viewing angle, and when they lay flat on the desk, a teacher standing or moving throughout the room should have line-of-sight to most of the screens in the room. This is a major difference from laptop screens which traditionally have a more limited viewing angle and have to be vertical, which blocks teacher line-of-sight.

The combination of these two policies when in “testing conditions” makes it very easy to quickly scan the room and identify which apps or websites are active. One of our teachers has also implemented a policy where students known that he can (unannounced) double-tap the home button on a student’s iPad to access the list of active apps while testing. If he suspects that a student has another app running in the background, this may catch that app. My only hesitation around that policy is that iOS doesn’t, by default, ever shut down an app–apps run silently in the background when you switch to another app or back to the home screen. I could foresee a scenario where a student was studying at the last minute, walked into class and switched to the approved testing apps, but had notes still running in the background. This teacher’s strategy would “catch the notes,” even though they weren’t being used at that time. It’s a valid approach, although it seems like it would require explicit instruction to shut down all apps before the test begins.

Managing by Walking Around

In any 1-to-1 classroom, room arrangement and physical proximity/visibility is vital to a productive working environment. In general, I encourage teachers to consider multiple classroom layout options (when possible) to reflect the nature of that period’s work. For example, having standard classroom arrangements for lecture/presentation, group work and test/writing conditions help to support each use case. These can be as simple as drawing the room on the board and asking students to move the desks/tables at the beginning of class.

For test conditions, I would recommend a room layout which provides easy and quick scanning of as many screens as possible. A horseshoe/”U” shape, often used for class discussions, works very well if the iPads are flat and bright, since the teacher can stand in the center of the shape and see all the screens at the same time. Many other layouts are possible, but consider vantage points and line-of-sight to the highest number of screens at any point in time.

Coaching vs. Guarding

This all may seem draconian from a class management perspective, but this can be part of an ongoing conversation with students about managing distraction and devices in a class environment. If we reflect on our own technology habits, I think most of us would agree that a little visibility helps “keep us honest” and on task. When I’m working some place public or visible, I find that I’m less likely to be distracted and jump to off-task websites or activities. It’s not a forced working condition– I often put myself in a visible location when I know that I need some extra help staying focused to take advantage of the conditions. Talking to students about managing distractions, and being explicit about creating a situation where you can support their focus and help reinforce their good habits, can frame this as a positive learning environment rooted in solid class management principles.

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.

Don’t Make(r) a New Computer Lab

Our Makerspace is, as with many schools, located in the room which used to house a computer lab. The transition from pull-out lab-based computing to immersive 1:1 environments has left a variety of spaces available to be used in creative ways. Schools looking to offer Maker and tinker-oriented programs (including robotics or other tech-based activities) can make a natural transition of that space by adding maker tech, and it even makes some logistical sense– these are rooms which are often designed to offer easy access to power and network outlets, and may have lockable storage for peripherals or laptops which can be repurposed for tools and supplies. But in the rush to revise the computer lab, have we recreated “The Computer Lab?” At the Independent Schools Educators’ Network dinner at ISTE 2014, I spent some time chatting with Kelsey Vrooman of the Urban School and Bill Selak, now at Hillbrook, about this very question.

I believe that the most important reason for 1:1 computing in schools is context: students using computers in Language Arts creates a context of use for the computer which places it within that discipline. The message of this style of use is clear: you have a variety of tools that you use to discover, experience and demonstrate the discipline of Language Arts– your computing device is one of them. The computer lab model decontextualized technology use by creating an abstract space, time and skill set for computing use, and we have abandoned that model because it no longer fits with our view of technology an integrated, immersive, just-in-time resource.

The goal of adding a Makerspace is either implicitly or explicitly expressive of some of the same desires and goals of 1:1 computing– “soft” skills or ideals such as creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and authentic work, or concrete curricular goals such as STE(A)M or 21st Century Computing/Technology Skills. As we asked with 1:1 computing, we should ask the same ideological questions about the location or environment of a Makerspace: pull-out, or push-in? Standalone, or immersive? Remote, or classroom-based?

Seymour Papert described the computer lab through the lens of systems and schools in “The Children’s Machine” by calling the lab a school’s attempt to control and homogenize a resource that it didn’t know how to adopt. The lab, he argues, is a construct borne of the school system’s need to clearly delineate expectations, input/output and “expertise” (in the form of a responsible teacher). Many of his observations about the “unknown” nature of tinkering-based learning hold just as true for the Makerspace as they do for computing. To be sure, there are logistical concerns which lead to a separate Maker space (just as, in the pre-mobile days, it wasn’t reasonable to put 1:1 device ratios in a classroom using only desktops): a Laser cutter has to be installed with specific air circulation needs, for example, and isn’t going to be rolled into a class on a period-by-period basis. That doesn’t mean, however, that many of the elements of the Makerspace can’t be mobile: materials, tools, (and more importantly:) skill sets and challenges can be pushed in to classes and contextualized just as we are now doing with 1:1.

We have reached a compromise on our campus of the personalization and contextualization of 1:1 computing for most needs, with specialized resource centers of computers for unique needs beyond that which a personal device may cover. Our publications classroom has specialized software and additional computing power for photo and image processing. The same goes for an art classroom. When Middle School students, armed with iPads, embarked on a MinecraftEDU project, we supported them with a collection of classroom laptops to run that software. The challenge in building our Makerspaces is to strike the same balance: what are Maker activities which require a specialized and purpose-built space, and which deserve to be pushed-in and integrated into class contexts?

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.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?



According to this TeachThought.com list, the #1 app for a smoother-running classroom is a timer. Not a communication tool for students to work together. Not a note-taking/organizational tool for students to save their work. Not a research tool to help them access whatever resources they need. Nope, if you want a smooth-running classroom with your iPads, invest in… a timer.

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

How Do We Put Digital Learning on the Wall?

I love the Internet... searched: "fridge computer."

(image from “Reincarnating an Old Laptop as a Fridge Computer,” Samidh Chakrabarti)

An open question for you…

Visualize a school hallway. Better yet, peek out of your door and look at your school’s hallways. I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t have to walk far to see your first piece of student work on a wall somewhere. In classrooms, libraries, hallways and common spaces, we post student work everywhere that we can. There are several reasons why we do this– off the top of my head:

  • Celebrating student success
  • Making learning visible
  • Creating interest in visitors and other students
  • Demonstrating what happens in classrooms
  • It’s fun!
  • Making useful resources (timelines, reference posters, etc.)

All of these are important, because they honor and validate student work. Just as families put good work up on the fridge or wall at home, we value students’ learning artifacts.

When those artifacts are visual, though, how do we value them? How do we honor them and give them a place of importance in our learning spaces? We can’t stick a website on the fridge, nor can we hang a movie in the library. If we want our students and teachers to value digital learning artifacts, don’t we have to be able to afford them the same role and (relative) permanence in our school as the physical posters, art projects, photographs, graphs and charts that we can use to line our halls? I’ve had very open-minded teachers say to me that they would love to make their project products more digital, but they want them to be on the walls so that everyone can see them.  On the flip side, I’ve had great student work that I’d love to hold up as great examples of learning– except they can’t be held.

How can we turn a school from a display vehicle for physical learning artifacts into one for all learning? How do we share high-quality digital products with our community in a way that honors and values their work? What are our “digital fridges” upon which we can display great work?