Should you invest in Apple TVs or interactive whiteboards? This question is covered in various posts on the internet, but you have to be careful when reading them, for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment. First, though, just to be clear what we’re talking about, the Apple TV is a device that can show content on a digital tv from an iPad, and play digital content from various online services, such as iTunes, Flickr and YouTube.
What are the similarities and differences between the two systems? The main similarity, of course, is that they are both capable of displaying content from a computer or tablet as well as from the web. Also, crucially, both solutions are interactive: the whiteboard directly so, and the Apple TV via an iPad.
The main difference is that the interactive whiteboard is fixed in position, meaning that anyone who wishes to use it either has to come up to the board or “drive” it from a graphic tablet of some sort. The Apple TV, on the other hand, can be used by pupils from their seats, via an iPad, though only one at a time. Thus the iPad functionality subsumes that of a specialised graphic tablet.
The Apple TV option provides some further additional functionality, most obviously in the form of a substitute visualiser. By using the iPad video mode while connected to the Apple TV, a pupil or teacher can display their work to the whole class. Another plus point is that any app installed on the iPad can be shown to everyone in the class.
Most people writing about the differences between the two solutions also tend to point to the lower set-up costs of installing Apple TV.
In fact, to read many blogs on the subject, you may well come to the conclusion that opting for Apple TV rather than an interactive whiteboard is a no-brainer. So why my note of caution expressed at the beginning of the article?
There are four issues which are not discussed in the articles I’ve read on the subject, and they are pretty fundamental.
First, upgrading a single Apple TV set-up and doing so for 100 classrooms in a school are two different things. Upgrading the software for your interactive whiteboard is straightforward by comparison: you upgrade it, and it becomes instantly available over the school network. Job done. Apparently that is not the case for Apple TV – although, in the nature of these things, by the time this goes to press the situation may well have changed. At the moment, it will keep your technical support team quite busy for a while.
More importantly, perhaps, is the educational issue: what exactly do you want to do, and will your preferred solution suit everybody? One of the things that a large interactive whiteboard enables pupils to do is stand at the front of a class giving a presentation. It’s very nice being able to keep in your seat and do so, but I wonder how that would go down at a conference, say, or an in-service training session? Can you imagine a presenter sitting in the arena somewhere rather than being at the front, where everyone can see them?
If the whiteboard has multitouch functionality, as many do these days, two or more pupils, or a pupil and teacher, will be able to work together on the board. That can be a very powerful learning experience.
One thing that I have never seen mentioned is the fact that, unlike an interactive whiteboard, a digital tv is not only small in comparison but also has a shiny surface. That can make it very difficult for people to see anything apart from reflections, so the blinds have to be drawn. I’m a firm believer in the classroom being light enough for people to see what they’re writing!
Thirdly, although the iPad-Apple TV combination can be used as a visualiser, it’s not as good as the real thing. A visualiser is fixed in place and means that you can demonstrate something, eg a procedure, with two hands and without the image shaking all over the place. It may be “cool” to be able to use what is, in effect, a workaround, but it is also important to convey to pupils (and senior management!) that there are some circumstances in which you ought to use the proper, purpose-built tool.
Finally, a key issue is what you already have in the school. If it is a new build, you start with a blank sheet. But if not, then you have to consider various options, such as:
- Buying one or two Apple TV devices for particular areas in the school – which ones?
- Replacing all the interactive whiteboards at once with Apple TVs.
- Replacing interactive whiteboards with Apple TVs as the former wear out.
- Gradually install Apple TVs everywhere in addition to the interactive whiteboards.
Whichever option you adopt will have cost, training and technical support implications. Crucially, the question “Apple TV or interactive whiteboard?” is not as clear-cut as it may appear.
Let’s leave the last word to Danny Nicholson, who publishes the Whiteboard blog at http://www.whiteboardblog.co.uk/:
I think the ideal solution in a classroom is having an Interactive whiteboard supported by Apple TV (or reflector/airserver) and an iPad suite, giving the teacher (and students) the flexibility of using both – whatever is more appropriate to the learning taking place at that time.
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