Getting AirPlay to work in the classroom

I've talked about AirPlay in previous posts about wireless display technology. It works great in your home, and Apple really wants you to use it in the classroom. Unfortunately, the AirPlay protocol doesn't work that well on networks designed to support hundreds (or thousands) of wireless devices. Apple has workarounds that may or may not be implemented by your school's or board's IT staff. If not, there are still ways to get things working in your classroom, and maybe even for less money than you think.

Note that the following won't work for everybody, but hopefully it can help some people. This was my poster session topic at CONNECT 2013, and I know that it helped at least a couple of people.

Getting Connected

The first step in solving the AirPlay problem is getting all of your devices on a network that is a little more personal. There are a few options.

Bring your own router

If you can get away with plugging a wireless router into your network, this might be a good way to go.

Tether to a Smartphone

If you have a smartphone that can act as a wireless hotspot, you can use it to connect all of your devices together. If possible, you might want to disable your data connection to avoid an out of control wireless bill. Disabling your data does mean that none of your devices will be able to access the Internet, but AirPlay should work fine.

Internet Connection Sharing

If you already have a computer (Mac or PC) in your classroom that is connected to a wired network, you can take advantage of the Internet Connection Sharing feature built into the operating system.

On a Mac, click the Apple menu, then System Preferences, and look for Sharing. Check the box next to "Internet" and share the connection from your "Built-in Ethernet" to "Airport". Click the Airport button to choose settings for your hotspot.

The built-in feature of Windows involves more steps. Alternatively, just download Virtual Router, a free program that simplifies the entire process on Windows. Also, Windows laptops based on newer Intel Centrino platforms can actually share a wireless connection to other wireless devices.

Once you have your hotspot set up, just connect all of your devices to the hotspot and you shouldn't have any problem getting AirPlay working.

Using what you've already got

You're probably used to using an Apple TV to show videos from your iOS devices, but if you already have a computer connected to a projector it is a pain switching video cables or sources. Well, you don't have to.

Check out AirServer or Reflector. Both programs are available for Mac or PC, and make your computer look like an Apple TV to your iOS devices. There are some great reasons to use these instead of an Apple TV.
  1. You don't have to switch video sources. Your computer is already connected to your projector.
  2. You can display multiple iOS device screens simultaneously. Although the programs support more than 2 devices, things start to get sluggish with 3, and downright choppy with 4 or more (I've had up to 5). Displaying multiple devices is a great way to compare student work from iPads.
  3. They are a LOT cheaper. AirServer is $15 and can be installed on up to 5 computers (although you can't mix and match Windows and Mac from the single $15 purchase). Reflector is $13 per computer, or $55 for 5 computers. Reflector does have an extra feature that lets you record the video from your iOS devices.
I personally chose AirServer. I don't need to record the videos, and it is cheaper. If I decide I want to record the videos I can always use the SMART Screen Recorder (free if you have a SMART Board and SMART Notebook installed).


  1. Kyle, I have our first apple tv on it's way and we have three different wireless networks, one for students, staff, and then a rouge one for IT students. Do you suggest still bringing in a personal router, or would my rouge connection that is only shared by a handfull of users work? Great article right in my wheelhouse currently.

  2. Be mindful that adding a router or sharing an internet connection with a computer can reek havoc on the larger network.

  3. Jason, I would avoid adding a network if you can avoid it. Try it out on your rogue network first and see if the iOS devices can see the Apple TV. The methods I describe are "last resort" if the existing network(s) don't work for you.

    Benjamin, they can absolutely cause issues. This is particularly true if your school's network uses private network address space. If you are just trying to share screens and don't need for the iOS devices to have Internet access, I would recommend using a router that is not plugged into the school's network.