What’s On My Desktop – Tools I Use for Teaching Online
For the last ten years I’ve taught online professional development courses, spoken at countless virtual events, and now due to the COVID-19 pandemic I’m teaching high school computer science classes online. The transition wasn’t too hard for me to make partly because I had experience teaching online and partly because I already had the equipment in place. Here’s a run-down of the equipment that use for teaching online. A few tips on using the equipment are also included below.
I’ve been using and recommending Blue Snowball iCE microphones for at least five years now. They provide high quality recording at a price point that is reasonable for classrooms. Setting up the microphone is as easy as plugging it into the USB port on your Chromebook, Windows, or Mac computer.
If you find that you get a weird buzzing or hum sound when you record, try turning off your computer’s audio playback while recording.
Lighting and sound can make or break webinars and video lessons. I use a ring light to cast an even light when recording videos. I use this LED ring light that has adjustable color and brightness. I also have two cheap clamp lights that are mounted on beam over my desk.
The goal of your lighting should be to try to remove shadows from your face. To do that you’ll need to play with the positioning of your lights. This is easiest to do in a room that isn’t flooded with natural lighting.
Webinar / Virtual Class Meeting Software
For my live professional development webinars I use GoToWebinar and have used it for most of the last decade. I’ve tried other, cheaper, services but none of them have been as reliable and easy to use as GoToWebinar. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the cost.
My current teaching position has me using Google Meet. It lacks the features of GoToWebinar, but it’s adequate and easy for my high school students to get into directly from Google Classroom.
I also use Zoom for the free webinars that I’ve been doing every Friday with Rushton Hurley. It’s actually hosted in Rushton’s account and I’m just a co-host.
I’m always asked if I’m a “Mac guy” or a “Windows guy.” My answers is yes. Because of what I’ve done over the last decade+ I’ve become well versed in Mac, Windows, and Chrome. Therefore, a Dell OptiPlex 5270 currently sits on my desk next to a 21″ iMac. My laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad T470 and my school-issued Chromebook is an Acer touchscreen. If I could only use one of these, it would be the Thinkpad.
If you have the luxury of a second screen, use it when teaching live classes online. Having two screens can make it a lot easier to manage the flow of a class. There is a lot less flipping between tabs or windows when you can use two screens.
I just use the webcam that is built into whichever computer I’m using. One thing that I always make sure I do is to raise the webcam to eye-level or higher. It makes me look marginally thinner and no one has to look up my nose. You can raise the webcam in a laptop by putting it on a stack of books.
From time to time it is just faster to demonstrate something to my students on the little whiteboard that I have hanging in my office instead of trying to bring up a drawing tool on my computer. This is particularly true if there is an off-the-cuff explanation that pops-up because of a student’s question. This is essentially the dry erase board that I have. The only difference is mine has a white frame instead of a black frame.