iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

Can Your iPad Replace Your SmartBoard?

Whatever your philosophy regarding frontal teaching methods and the uses of Smartboards, there’s no denying two facts:

  1. Smartboards have become extremely popular tools in educational institutions
  2. Smartboards are relatively expensive and eat major portions out of our shrinking school budgets

What if you could create a parallel experience using nothing more than an iPad and a $50 piece of software? One software product with a matching iPad app claims that it can.


Doceri is an iPad app that provides an alternative to interactive whiteboards at a fraction of the cost.  Doceri lets an educator control and annotate on a computer connected to a projector from anywhere in the room. 


Step 1: Install the Doceri software on your laptop or desktop computer. The software is available from the Doceri website and there are versions for both Mac and Windows computers. Install it on whichever computer you want to use for your presentations.


Step 2: Get your iPad and download the Doceri iPad app.


Step 3: Connect the two. When you set up the app it looks for the software on your desktop or laptop and connects to it. Now I have to admit that I had problems with the connection. If your iPad and laptop are on the same wireless network then you can allow the app to “discover” the laptop. This tends to work fairly efficiently. If however they are not on the same network – say, for example the computer is using a wired connection and not on wireless – then you’ll need to know and enter an IP address for the app to find your computer. For novices this can become a little tricky.


One connected, your iPad can now display and control your computer directly. You can open documents, browse the web, play video and more. If that was all you could do then there would be numerous other inexpensive apps you could use. Doceri does much more.


Highlight and Annotate: Similar to the ways in which you can interact with your computer using Smartboard or Promethean software, Doceri allows you to write or draw on the screen using your iPad. Open a blank page and write on it. Open a document or web page and highlight sections or add annotations. You can change backgrounds, pen types, colors and more.


Untethered Teaching: Doceri frees the teacher from being anchored to the whiteboard. Input occurs on the iPad instead. Doceri gives teachers the freedom to move around the classroom and interact with students as part of the presentation process.


Use Any Content: Since Doceri works in conjunction with a PC or MAC, the educator can use any existing content - whether Flash, Powerpoint, Java, a website, or a standalone application. Users aren’t restricted to using content that is available on the iPad.  


Record Lessons for Playback: Doceri has a built-in record function that gives you the option of recording your annotations and playing them back at any time. This enables educators to prepare handwritten lesson snippets in advance, create them in real time, or both. Recordings also allow you to set anchor points that make it simple to jump to any part of the lesson recording quickly.


Just to be absolutely clear, I’m not an advocate of frontal teaching methods. Having said that, there will always be times teachers need to present and demonstrate. As with any other new technology, it takes a little time to get used to Doceri’s iPad-based writing interface. Doceri is however a sensible and cost effective alternative to Smartboards and it's certainly worth your time to download their trial version and see if it meets your needs. 

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Comment by Jess DF on April 30, 2011 at 10:49pm

This is fantastic! I do have to say the Doceri website seems a little short on some info, but maybe you can help. In my classroom, I have a PC, and it's wired to a ceiling mounted LCD projector. No Wi-Fi. Currently, I do most of my presenting at my overhead projector because I like to be able to go through all the steps (math) with students and adapt on the fly. But I hate being mostly stuck in the front of the room and scooting back and forth because the projector and I block some students' views. So now I have an iPad 2 and have been researching ways to use it to present, allowing me to move all over the room and look at students' work, get them involved, etc. It looks like my vision of connecting the iPad directly (wirelessly) to the projector isn't so feasible, but maybe Doceri is even better than what I imagined. 


Yes, I really have a couple questions after all that. First, if I understand correctly, I need to have Wi-Fi to run Doceri. I'm feeling a bit outdated for not knowing, but what do I need to buy and more importantly, what do I need to do (and tell the IT people so they won't undo it) to keep things safe and not pose any security risk to our school network? Second, I'm also looking at ways to use student phones as responders , a la polleverywhere or something of that sort. For that purpose, do you think it best to have an iPad with Wi-Fi only or one with 3G connectivity?

Comment by Bill on April 28, 2011 at 9:27pm
Just installed splashtop after revewing several VNC apps. It has a fast response time and is very inexpensive. I can still use my existing smart board tools to mark up/annotate the screen. So for classrooms with a smartboard or similar interactive system already installed, splashtop is a good way to integrate an iPad into your lessons.
Comment by Mike Guerena on March 25, 2011 at 7:57pm
I am interested in this topic as we have been exploring the iPad as a means for the teacher to be mobile while still interacting with the students. Fortunately we have not made a large investment in IWBs. They are a good technology for creating interaction whole group, but they still only provide interaction between one to a few students at a time, depending of the model of the board. The iPad can be used with pretty clear precision with a stylus. The key to using the stylus to write clearly is using the zoom pinch on the iPad to zoom in. While zoomed you can write pretty large on the screen and then zoom back out with clean writing. I have been using this method of writing since the iPad came out last year.

I spoke with the rep for Doceri at CUE last week and he said there are some new features that will built into Doceri in the further including student response and eventually the ability to display individual student devices on the screen like remote desktop. The also will have a stylus that plugs into the audio jack and will allow for even finer control on the writing. It will use the audio to listen to the strokes of the stylus. Not sure how this works technically, but they had a prototype that I saw in action and it was the best stylus I have seen for the iPad.

I would like to give a mention to Air Sketch. We have been using over the last week with our iPads. It is a quick way to use the iPad as a wireless slate. It just needs to connect to a computer that with a wifi connection and a web browser. I agree with the purchase of an iPad being a no brainer vs a wireless slate. A wireless slate becomes a coaster for cups when not used with another computer and a projector.
Comment by Glenn Cermak on March 24, 2011 at 7:24pm
Sam - Yes, I have a stylus for each of the iPads in my classroom.  They still are not nearly as precise as the stylus that comes with slate.  I tried today using the SMART Board tools digital ink.  I wrote lines of text on 3 slides using the iPad, and 3 slides using the slate.  The slates was far clearer, and I was able to fit far more on each line, as well as more lines on each screen (about 8 lines with iPad, easily 15 with the slate - obviously different writing size, but wrote the smallest that I possible could and still have it be legible).  If Apple wants to the iPad to marketable as a slate-type device (which they haven't seemed to want as of it), then they need to develop a stylus that works well with the glass touch-surface.  I've tried 7 different styluses on my personal iPad (which I use all the time - so I am by no means an iPad-hater), and none of them are even close to what I would consider acceptable for writing use.  However, if any of them worked half as well as the stylus on my SMART Slate, I would be overjoyed and would be writing notes in meetings on my iPad instead of typing them or using pen and paper.
Comment by Sam Gliksman on March 23, 2011 at 10:29am
Glenn - have you tried using a stylus to write on your iPad? I can understand someone thinking that writing on an IWB is easier than an iPad but if you use a stylus then I don't see any difference between a slate and an iPad... except that the iPad also gives you immediate visual feedback.
Comment by Glenn Cermak on March 23, 2011 at 9:32am
I believe it would depend on what the user is looking for.  If you are looking to have the ability to annotate on slides, presentations, websites, etc., the only choice is a slate or IWB.  The iPad does not have the precision to allow reasonable annotation in a classroom setting.  Yes, you can write on it.  But you cannot write well, and you cannot write nearly as many lines of legible text as you can with a slate.  I will agree that the iPad is probably better for remotely navigating a computer, since you can see the screen on it.  But when it comes to annotation (one of the two big uses for IWB), the iPad is still unable to compete.
Comment by Shawn Beard on March 21, 2011 at 8:16am
My point exactly.  Why would someone spend the money on a slate ($440) that limits their ability to guide a presentation, when they could invest in an iPad ($499) that lets them do so much more.
Comment by Sam Gliksman on March 21, 2011 at 7:59am
Actually a wireless slate would only give you control over the PC. It doesn't offer the ability to point, annotate, record and use all the other functions that the Doceri software offers. In addition, a wireless slate forces you to write "blind" - you can't see anything on it and need to get visual feedback by writing on one surface while looking at another. Using the iPad, you actually see the computer screen as you use it.
Comment by Shawn Beard on March 21, 2011 at 7:34am
Couldn't the same thing be accomplished using a wireless slate?  Yes it could.  But if you have an iPad, which let's face it, is about the same price (16GB Wifi) as a wireless slate, you could do much more than just the wireless slate or the laptop alone.  Plus, you could buy the VGA cable to connect your iPad to your projector which would allow you to show apps on the screen at any time.
Comment by John J Caprice on March 17, 2011 at 1:33pm


The content that is provided with the Interactive Whiteboard is part of the software directory downloaded into your computer. The IWB is merely an input device, a very large, wall mounted, tablet/mouse. The classroom computer does all the work. It can be controlled with a "wireless mouse, desktop or handheld, a wireless tablet (any make or model), or a wireless pen.

If we can control the computer from one or more iPads, (or other handheld), we can free the teacher from the front of the class and develop a more interactive setting.

Overall, any input device that has an active display will allow more mobility in class.

Further, if every student has a similar device, then they can interact, share and save the lesson.


Let us say that we have a 30 iPad classpack and each iPad has a sync'd lesson plan,(AP), for the student to follow. Each of those iPads are individual units only communicating with the student. Might as well have a workbook and a pencil.

But, let us us imagine that all the iPads are part of a classroom network that are under the control of the teacher's computer or iPad. We can now eliminate, student response systems and the tedious "wired syncing" of each iPad. Further, we can collect all the performance and testing information without sharpening one pencil, all for the fraction of the cost to setup a dedicated wireless classroom network.

JJC / Visualedtech


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