Unchained from the Desk: How I Went Completely Wireless

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Disclaimer: Normally I do not like to specifically discuss products, but in this case I will be required to do so. I am not recommending any products, I am only explaining how I used a combination of two products to achieve my goals. Other products on the market will certainly work, and possibly better.

In the spring when I was planning a brand new STEM space, I had a few non-negotiable goals. One of those goals was to have a decentralized and fully modular classroom and workshop.
I knew I wanted to have full wireless audio and video from my laptop, mobile device, or desktop computer; I knew I wanted students to be able to use the display(s) as well without any physical connection; I wanted a hardware based solution that was centrally managed; and I wanted the display and even the tables to be mobile.

In the end, I achieved the solution for about 1500 USD for the wireless functions and interactivity; the actually display can be anything with an HDMI input. A cheap 65 inch LED TV for example with a rolling stand would be large enough for a big room. If you wanted, you could use an existing classroom projector as well.

That means, on scale, the cost would be $2100-$3000 USD per classroom (depending on the display choice) that allows the teacher and the students to quickly connect and share their device screens/work.

I Can Do That with Software Over the School Wifi

I have used software only solutions in the past, they are ok. They are very affordable.
However, they can be unstable, they can be interrupted by the Wifi traffic, and they are a security risk if they are not properly setup.

When working with audio, software solutions do not really have any features to truly stream audio and video. They are simply allowing the students to connect through the teachers laptop/desktop to the display. The teacher workstation is still wired.

Apple TV and other Streaming Boxes

The Apple TV is a common solution to doing wireless display. However, it is limited in features, it is a consumer solution, and it has no central management for the hardware. As an IT Director I do not want 50 Apple TVs in the building that cannot be centrally managed.

Also, I want students and teachers with Windows and Apple to be able to interact and not limited by brand compatibility. In a STEM space, some equipment only works well with Windows. Therefore, students should have some operating system flexibility.

Other companies like Roku and Xiaomi make very cool boxes that allow for wireless connections. Some of these boxes do not require any special brands; nor do they all require an account like Apple.

However, they have performance issues and lack central management. They are consumer products designed for home entertainment not the classroom.

I Did it with Barco ClickShare

SMART, Promethean, Apple, Windows, etc. are all common names in educational technology. But Barco? Not really.

This is how it works:

  1. Barco has a base station with HDMI; and it can be assigned an IP address and managed on the network. These base stations have different versions at different price points. The one I have supports 8 interactive laptops or mobiles devices.
  2. The base station creates it’s own network (very cool), so it does not need the bandwidth from the student/teacher Wifi network.
  3. Each table in STEM lab, and the teacher workstation, has a “button”.
    The USB goes into the laptop; and then there is a small program that has to be launched. The process takes about 30 seconds. But so far I have a 100% success rate. The connection is immediate. Tablets and phones share the screen with an App and QR code.
  4. When I want a student to show their work, they tap the button. The student’s laptop video and audio streams to the display in realtime.
  5. The buttons can be purchased separately, and registered to any base station. The more expensive base stations support more buttons.

How this Changed My Class Dynamic

The best thing about this, is I am not the center. Most display systems waste time keeping the teacher in the front of the room in an attempt to use gadgets and features.

When the students come to class, I choose someone to be the pilot or the driver. They work through the lesson, problems, activities, etc. and share with everyone else.

When team work is completed, the team can easily share their work, and immediately take feedback and make changes.

In my style of teaching/instruction, I would have challenges and goals ready for the students online before they arrive. I would spend a few minutes launching the class, but then I switch off my display and let them take over (sometimes nervously).

Since the display is mobile, I can rearrange the entire room per the needs of the students and project.

Safety issues and repair issues with cords etc. are eliminated immediately. So even a single Barco with one button would be ideal for classrooms with smaller children full of kinetic energy.

In fact, one button is so easy to pass from table to table, that having a button per table is not needed. Sharing is easy, and the delay of 30 seconds is not going to impact a lesson.

I really like being free of the chains of cables and wires, and the STEM spaces are whatever they need to be, when they need to be. The spaces are fun.

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. ~ Dan Kerr

 

About Tony DePrato

Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.
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