Our school found itself with an extra HDTV and an AppleTV, so we came up with a very clever use for them. Along the way, we discovered a useful new app that lets us create a really cool tech-centered visual for all new parents and families walking into the school.
The first step was to mount the television on the wall in the hallway. The TV itself was cheap (we originally used it in a classroom with no projector), so we bought a universal mounting system and hooked it up right next to our school's front office. It is clearly visible to parents as they walk into the school.
Next, we connected an AppleTV. We had to enable the following settings: connect to wi-fi, never go to sleep, turn on screen saver after 2 minutes (screen saver set to Flickr), and passcode lock the AirPlay to prevent students from mirroring their iPad to the TV.
We next created a free Flickr account for the school to maintain. Flickr gives you a terrabyte of space, which is more than any school could ever possibly fill up. Once we had a Flickr username, we created a few sets of publicly available photos for the AppleTV Flickr app to access (which is as simple as adding your account name to the app). The photos have to be set to “Public” for the AppleTV to find them, although you can turn commenting off if you are afraid of students hunting down the photos and leaving comments.
We told the AppleTV to display the photos for a few seconds and then randomly rotate through the set. We also put a few messages to parents in there; we simply created pictures out of the text using Skitch or any other photo software. If using an HDTV for this, ensure that the photos are 16:9 so that they fill the entire TV screen. You can also crop the photos to this ratio via the app mentioned below.
What we needed now was a great iPad app that would allow us to manage our Flickr account and our photos directly. This would make it easy for someone to stand by the TV, make some changes, and then immediately check that the changes went into effect. The fantastic app we found for this purpose is called Flickr Studio ($4.99).
I don't want to go into extreme detail about the many features of this app, but I will quickly show you what we use it for:
First, the app lets us see our photostream (our collection of all our uploaded photos). We can click on any photo and edit its properties quickly and easily.
Second, the app lets us directly upload photos from our iPad. You simply click on Studio –> Upload and then add the items you want to upload. If you have a newer generation iPad with a good-quality camera, you can take the photos with your iPad and then upload them directly. If you use a digital camera, then you can add them to a Dropbox folder on a PC/Mac and then retrieve those photos on your iPad using the Dropbox app.
Third, the app lets you edit the photos. In the bottom-right corner of the above picture you will notice “Edit Photo” and “Edit Meta”. If you edit the photo, you can directly crop the photo into a 16:9 resolution, rotate it, brighten it, and a lot more from right inside the app. If you click Edit Meta, you can change the privacy (remember: it needs to be public), edit the commenting permissions, and add the photos to sets.
Finally, the app lets you see and mange your sets. The sets are what you load via the AppleTV, so having different sets for different days is easy and convenient. The app lets you see which photos are in sets, add or remove photos, and more.
Overall, it is a pretty cool project that I highly recommend. It looks great when parents walk into the school and kids love seeing their faces pop up on the TV between classes. At parent orientation night, we had the TV display directions to teachers' classrooms. The day after our fundraising events, we will have dozens of photos loaded for the kids to gawk at. For packet pickup and iPad distribution next year, it will be displaying instructions for kids and parents follow. I will be sure to do more posts if we come up with any more clever uses of this TV throughout the year.