What is it?

Logo for company Air ServerAirServer is an application that acts as an AirPlay receiver for Mac and PC. It allows you to receive AirPlay feeds, similar to an Apple TV, so you can stream content or mirror your display from your iOS devices or Macs (with built-in mirroring functionality) running Mountain Lion or newer.  It is a great tool in today’s B.Y.O.D (Bring Your Own Device) culture for inclusiveness and collaboration.

How does it work?

AirServer facilitates collaboration and discussion in a classroom by allowing multiple device screens to be mirrored to one location. Install AirServer on a computer that can project in the classroom and, at the discretion of the instructor or discussion lead, you can extend that mirrored display functionality to all users.

This application emulates an AppleTV and touts these benefits:

  • Users do not have to use any additional/special hardware
  • Users are not limited to one platform or operating system. It is compatible with many platforms allowing users to share pictures, videos, mirrored desktops, and more from their iPhones, iPads, Windows Tablets, PC or OS X laptops, etc.
  • AirServer is both Miracast and AirPlay compatible, and there is no need to install anything on the client devices. AirServer is installed on one computer and that device, and the shared wireless network handles the workload and connections for other devices.

Who’s using it?

Sue Hagen, Senior Instructor, Mathematics, Virginia Tech, used AirServer in her Fall 2014 course, Secondary Math with Technology. Below are some of her thoughts on using it in the classroom:

Overview and how the class used it:

I wanted the students in class to have a more active role in the course. I had used an AppleTV in classes, but only one student’s work could be on the screen at a time. Air Server allowed multiple students to display their work simultaneously. We were able to compare and contrast solutions to problems together rather than look at one at a time. Most of the time displaying two students’ work at a time was all we needed; however, there were times when we found

 

Image of air server displaying screens from 2 tablets at once
Teggin demonstrating AirServer

displaying three or four screens useful. We used Air Server on a daily basis, to share work using whiteboard programs or other apps on the iPad. 

While researching topics in class, students were able to share videos and other media quickly. 

One of the class requirements was for each student to design an electronic course portfolio using a free web design program called Kompozer. There were frequent questions about how to display content in certain ways using Kompozer. Those who knew how would use their computer displayed through Air Server to walk the rest of the class through the process involved. AirServer was preset for us (The AirServer was installed by the IT classroom manager). The only thing I had to do was turn on Sharing in the system preferences. Students then joined the “shared” network wirelessly. They

used the AirPlay on their iPad or iPhone to share their screen with the class.

Challenges:

The program worked with very little effort. We went through the “how to” only once. When the process didn’t work, it was usually that the student didn’t join the correct sharing network. Air server worked pretty flawlessly. One problem we did find was that when sharing some apps, the screen would not display in the right direction. The display through Air Server would be sideways, while the display on the iPad was upright. No amount of turning the iPad fixed the problem. I’m not sure if it was the app or the settings on AirServer.

Final Take:

I would love to have this program installed on my own computer as it really made the class more interactive. It was so easy for students to display their work as long as it was in digital form. Though even when it wasn’t digital, we used the iPad camera to display the written work – like a document camera.

 

Why is it Significant?

Educational licenses start at $11.99 (February 2015) and decrease with quantity, versus $99 for an AppleTV.  AirServer also has the added functionality of supporting multiple device connections and recording the live stream.  Recording is useful in the creation of application demos, while multiple connections allow a presenter to show the output of multiple devices at once.  Another cost-saving benefit is the ease of integration into an existing room setup; a classroom, conference room, etc., with an existing presentation computer can simply install the app, while adding an AppleTV may require additional wiring to the room projection/display system.  In testing, our results have been excellent and well received by faculty.  The most recent version now supports Miracast, adding Windows mobile devices into the mix of what’s supported for wireless display. Once the software is purchased an instructor can use the technology anywhere they have a shared network connection with other devices.

What are the downsides?

A computer will be necessary, whether it be Mac OS X or Windows, to install and manage AirServer connections. A license must be purchased for each of these controlling computers. This is less of a drawback when a classroom/conference room/etc. already has a dedicated computer that stays within the room. AirServer may not operate properly on all wireless networks that have enhanced security features. As of our testing date (February 2015) we were not able to get an Android device working with either a Windows 8 computer as the lead device or with an OS X MacBook Pro. The company’s website listed both Android devices that were used in testing trials as compatible but neither would connect or keep a connection with the AirPlay driving devices. Windows setup took more “googling” than we thought should be required to have everything up and running but was an overall positive experience.

Where is it going?

This technology is not in widespread use at Virginia Tech yet, but it is relatively inexpensive and portable. Individual instructors or departments can purchase it and deploy as needed either in specific classrooms or to individual computers. IT support for the department or classroom may need to be contacted for assistance with installation depending on the individual computer setup, the classroom, and administrative access.

What are the implications for higher education?

With the increase of B.Y.O.D (Bring Your Own Device) popularity this is a simple solution to content sharing across multiple devices and operating system platforms. Many times device type can inhibit collaboration if a user’s device is not compatible with the existing hardware or software in a given place or group. AirServer address almost all issues without the need for extensive adjustments on the user’s part to share with a larger, typically non-compatible, device group. Once Android (Miracast) functionality is improved, this application will be a one-stop solution for multiple-device, multiple-OS wireless display mirroring at a low price.

 

Resources

AirServer website:

http://www.airserver.com

Authors: Sue Hagen, James Dustin,  Crystal Farris, and Teggin Summers