Monday, October 28, 2019

Mac's New Catalina Sidecar Shows Great Promise for iPads & Education

Recently Apple’s new operating system for Macs, Catalina, was released. When looking through the new features and debating how soon I should upgrade, I noticed Sidecar. Sidecar allows users with an iPad to use it as a second display for their Mac, either mirroring or extending their desktop. But it also allows way more than that—you can use the iPad itself to control the Mac, sort of like a Remote Desktop program. This caught my attention because we are always looking for ways for our teachers to make the most of the technology tools we have to help deepen learning experiences and make instruction more meaningful. Catalina Sidecar seems like a great new feature to do just that. 

Back in the early 2000s we installed interactive whiteboards in almost all of our classrooms and trained teachers to use the software. As I wrote previously, SMARTBoards were a catalyst for future technology integration and helped to push our teachers to digitize their curriculum. They helped teachers think about how to make lessons more engaging and interactive. 

Over the past few years many schools have been getting rid of interactive whiteboards and replacing them with HDTVs. Unfortunately doing this removes much of the interactivity possible and instruction has to move back in time to either pre-made slide presentations or lessons that limit how much a teacher can annotate, sketch and interact with the displayed content in general. There are many instructional benefits to having an open canvas/space to work out a problem, draw with digital ink, mark something up, etc. Having this electronically to be instantly saved, stored and/or shared collaboratively is lost when the interactive teaching tool is removed from the classroom. 

At our elementary level, much of our curriculum is in SMART Notebook after well over 15 years of use of that program. So as we look toward the future use of interactive displays, we don’t want to just replace SMART Boards with HDTV displays that don’t allow the teacher to interact with the content on it. That would be going backwards and against instructional best practices. 

Many of our teachers currently use their iPad during instruction and project it wirelessly onto a screen using software like AirSquirrel's Reflector or an Apple TV. Usually they are using an app like Notability to write and mark up something together with their students. But for our teachers with years' worth of curriculum in SMARTNotebook, switching entirely to an iPad would mean a lot of work to change the platform and/or start over rebuilding lessons. 

In my initial tests of Sidecar as pictured above, SMARTNotebook can controlled through an iPad connected wirelessly to a newer Mac connected by a HDMI dongle to either a projector or a HDTV. The display can either mirror the Mac's desktop or be an extension of it, allowing the teacher to have dual monitors which is super helpful. Sidecar allows the instructor to freely move around the room, write on the iPad and interact with and use the tools of SMARTNotebook (or any other program on the Mac). So not only could you potentially remove the SMARTBoard but keep the interactivity and the software, you gain the ability to move around the room and no longer have to stand at the display. This is very helpful for classroom management (see Tip #5 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Make Classroom Management an Early and Continuous Focus).

All of our teachers have an iPad Generation 6 and many have an Apple Pencil. However, not many of our teachers have a MacBook, let alone the newer models needed--most have a PC desktop connected to a SMARTBoard. So as we continue to test out Sidecar, we will need to weigh the pros along with the costs. But instead of buying replacement SMARTBoards this initially looks much more promising!

Interestingly, I found one HDTV model we had where this didn't work, and two that did, so be sure to do your own testing. And if you are considering this for classroom use and test things out, let me know what you think. FYI, Apple has detailed instructions for Sidecar here.

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