Note: This post was written back when the program was called Reflection. It has since been renamed Reflector, produced by AirSquirrels. This is the same exact app with a different name, although I have found that Reflection is much more buggy. Looks like if you bought Reflection, the license for Reflector is free.

From the moment I got my iPad I’ve been wanting to use it more and more in the classroom with our overhead projector technology. I bought the VGA adapter dongle but it’s limiting in a few ways. First it doesn’t show the home screen and second it doesn’t work with all apps. It’s not a true way to mirror what’s on your iOS device and sometimes students need to see that step-by-step to follow along and learn.

For what I teach, this is a big problem. I want to show apps without resorting to videos, for example. I want to walk through the process of editing video and photos. And sometimes I just want to use this as a presenter, to flip through slides without a clicker.

Surprisingly, Apple hasn’t given us an easy way to interface an iOS device such as an iPad or iPhone with a Mac computer for screen projection. I thought Apple TV might be the solution, because it uses AirPlay technology to mirror an iOS screen to a television through the small black box. In fact, I was convinced I could do it with a few extra cables after reading IEARs post last November. But then I hit a problem that is a big barrier in many education environments: our ethernet and wifi systems use static IP addresses and Apple TV (and indeed AirPlay itself) can’t interface with those. AirPlay is built for much simpler networks, the kind you see in homes.

The only solution was to set up a rogue wifi signal and that was too much trouble. I needed a simple solution.

By chance I stumbled on that solution while reading TUAW’s blog today. A new $15 Mac program called Reflector lets you mirror what’s on your iOS device to your screen, which you can then show on your overhead projector. This is actually much more elegant than what I was trying before, which was a complicated setup through Apple TV and then using a multi-cable setup to connect it to the projector.

Reflector uses the same AirPlay technology so I wasn’t sure I could use it, figuring I’d run into the same static IP problems I had with Apple TV. And I did. So I tried another workaround, trying to connect via Bluetooth, but that didn’t work.

Then I got an idea: Turn on Internet sharing in my Mac’s control panel.

Because my podium Mac is plugged into the Lehigh network via ethernet, this allowed me to turn turn my Mac into an Internet router, essentially, by enabling network sharing. Once enabled, I logged into the Mac’s internet connection with my iOS device and created a username and password for access. The static IP problem was overcome, and within seconds I was mirroring my iOS device on the screen.

I know a lot of educators have been looking for a simple way to teach with iOS and we haven’t had it. With a few configurations, you can set up Reflector to run on a podium computer in a matter of minutes. And the results are glorious.

When your device is mirroring it loads up the streaming image within an image that looks like either an iPad or iPhone, and it automatically senses and switches from vertical to landscape mode as you do. There is a tiny bit of lag, but it’s negligible. But what you get is a perfect mirror of what’s on your screen, viewable on the projector without much image degradation. The mirroring also channels sound through the podium Mac’s speakers, so the students get full visual and sound.

There’s even a full screen mode so that if you want to block out any of the surrounding windows and just focus on the iOS device, you can.

And, as I discovered, you can demo your iPad and iPhone side-by-side to compare apps and how they work on different devices. Best of all, Reflector plays what’s playing on your iOS device, meaning you get full streaming video and audio.

Right now I’m teaching a course in which every student has an iPad, and I’ve been struggling with how to show apps without walking around and physically showing them what’s on screen. I’ve solved that problem with Reflector. Some things I know this will be good for in terms of teaching:

  • Video editing
  • Photo editing
  • App demonstrations
  • Presenting via Keynote or Powerpoint
  • Working with documents
  • Virtual chalkboard apps

Some of these things worked before with the VGA dongle, but some of them didn’t. And even for ones that worked, Reflector helps you cut the cord. This seems like something Apple should have built in already given how flexible AirPlay is, but AirPlay just isn’t ready for university settings with complicated setups. Universities often use static IP and AirPlay is virtually useless without a lot of crazy workarounds.

This might be the most important program to come along and improve my teaching in a while. If you teach with mobile devices this is easily worth the $15. The only imperfect thing here is you need a Mac at the podium computer, as my workaround doesn’t work on a PC interface, but I assume you could hook up a Macbook and do the same thing. Even so, it’s a serious step in the right direction for those of us who want to teach mobile in the classroom without resorting to screenshots.

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Reflector app for Mac lets you teach smartphone apps
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