There’s a lot of advice out there for teachers who’ve recently had to start teaching online. You can find a lot of information about platforms, how to upload work, and ways to get started. We wanted to offer some advice that we weren’t finding in other places that established online teachers have said was useful information for them.
What to Look for in a Headset
Why Use a Headset
If you’ve got other people at home with you, background noise, or have trouble hearing your students, a headset will really help a lot. We recommend gaming headsets because they are made for comfort, durability, and wearing sessions that last hours. Just be sure they are PC compatible.
Here’s what we look for in a good headset.Comfortable Ear Cushioning and Head Band
When you're working long hours, you really need to wear something comfortable. Look for ear “muffs” and bands that are padded, but also breathable (there’s nothing worse than a sweaty ear when you’re in your third hour of teaching for the day).
Noise-Cancelling Ear Phones
If you have kids, a spouse, a roommate, or pets who are home with you all day, possibly also working, you need noise-canceling earphones. You’ll still hear your kids if they get hurt or need you, but the smaller, everyday sounds will be greatly reduced. Muffling those sounds will help you focus on your students and lessons and keep you from being overly distracted.
A lot of people dislike hearing their own voices and automatically balk at the idea of using an external mic, but when you use a noise-canceling mic, you’re increasing the chance that your students will hear you AND pay attention to what you’re saying. It clarifies your voice and like the headphones, cancels out noises from your home that aren’t your voice.
NOTE: Encourage kids to wear some sort of listening/mic combo as well, even if they are just standard earbuds with mics (we sell them on our site at ridiculously low prices if you need some). It helps them in the ways we described above, but it also helps to physically “tether” them to their computer. They can’t wander off as easily when they’re plugged in!
“Office” Space and Teaching Equipment
Walls and Windows
Although we all like a nicely decorated space, less is more when it comes to online teaching. Students have enough to look at and be distracted by without clutter, lots of decoration, or “busyness”.
Try to set your camera up in a place that shows a blank wall, or something fairly close to that. Open your camera and look around your reflected image. What do you see? A pile of papers? A bookshelf? Your lunch? Hide or move whatever you can to decrease distractions.
Set your station up as close to a wall and as far from “traffic” as possible. Kids, spouses, roommates, significant others, and fur-babies are lovely to have around, but they don’t need to be photo-bombing your talk on photons. Place yourself in a corner somewhere if at all possible to cut down the temptation for your family members to give you “bunny ears”.
Windows are an important subject, and we’ll touch a bit more on this in a moment, but a lot of teachers want to be near windows as they teach, thinking it will enhance their lighting situation.
Be sure not to have an open window behind you. Not only is it distracting, but it also causes an uncomfortable glare that really messes with your camera. If you have to have a window behind you, be sure it’s either shaded with blinds or a solid color shade (patterns can be too much for students).
Whiteboards are to teachers what toilet paper is for the rest of society. You really don’t need it, but everyone seems to be desperate to be sure they have one or more.
The beauty of teaching online is that you really don’t need ANYTHING besides your computer. All the things you would normally do on a whiteboard can be done virtually.
That being said, sometimes it is just easier to write something on a whiteboard than it is to write using a mouse. However, be sure you test your usage with a friend because some cameras flip your image, causing your words to be displayed backward when you write and display something by hand.
Whenever possible, just type out what you’re wanting to write, or write on the virtual whiteboard.
We know you aren’t producing a YouTube show, however, there are a few lighting basics that can be important for teaching students with hearing impairments, students who are learning languages, and students who are very young. They need to be able to see your face clearly to hear and understand you.
We mentioned above that you shouldn’t teach in front of an open, unshaded window, but if you can turn your teaching area around so that the light is in front of you, that can be a good light source. Granted, the light needs to be diffused in some way and not full, unshaded rays. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble with glare, shadows, and burnt retinas (just kidding, but it can definitely be unpleasant on the eyes).
Try to use white or LED light for your face. If you are using a lamp or small LED light, try to keep the light even or slightly above your face. Look for shadows. You need your eyes to be clear, and you don’t want to look creepy. Adjust your light for clarity and non-creepiness values.
If you are thinking of purchasing something, LED ring lights are the best option because they evenly light your whole face at once. Some of them are pretty inexpensive, too.
ManyCam has some fun features that you can use to liven your virtual classroom up with the click of a button. Some of the features include “masks” you can layer over your face, graphics, and frames you can use to make your “classroom” more exciting (and you can get rid of them with a click of a button, as well, just in case it’s too distracting). You can alter the colors, create rolling credits or tags across the bottom of your screen, and feed videos through your screen.
It’s a little more advanced technologically, so if you’re having a tough time with Google Classroom, Zoom, or other programs that your district is requiring, you may want to hold off on adding this additional app.
For those who are tech-savvy, you might enjoy it!
The last we checked, you could get a free account, and the next level up was an annual fee for $30 per year.
Why tell students about something when you could show them? Pictures, videos, or actual objects are all great additions to your lessons, and they can keep students engaged. Live objects are especially beneficial for young students.
If you have printouts or photos and need to keep them nearby to use frequently, you may set up a project board nearby and velcro things to that for easy access.
One thing that may be useful in this regard is visual instructions. If you don’t have a way to show instructions on the screen, it comes in handy to have a print out of instructions much as you would in the classroom nonverbally communicating reminders (like “sit down”, “listen”, or “read with me” or more content-specific instructions - even vocabulary words, illustrations, and examples can be displayed). Those can be extremely helpful in keeping virtual students on-task.
Noise Makers and Other Silly Things
When students start to get distracted and you notice they are drifting away, you can use a noise-making app or a novelty noisemaker to grab their attention. Noise machines and apps have some seriously funny noises. You can use anything from a screaming goat as an attention-getter to the sound of thunderous applause for celebrating correct answers.
In fact, because your tools are limited due to the fact that you aren’t in the same room, employing any attention-grabbing, silly, outlandish shenanigans (within reason) should be performed with great gusto and regularity (but also at your comfort level). Now is the time to pull out all the funny hats, silly costumes, and novel, attention-getting things you can find.
You don’t have to be a total clown (although if we’re honest... it can help - but not a literal clown… that would be creepy).
Younger kids love puppets, talking to stuffed animals, and participating in games with friends. There are so many fun things you can do to keep their attention.
With all of the advice being thrown in every direction, education can be an overwhelming experience right now.
The truth of the matter is, though, you can have all the best equipment, the best setup, and the most “entertaining” lessons in the world, but truly, the most important thing you can provide your students with is your relationship. There are many things that can enhance your lessons, and lots of ways to draw students into their learning experiences.
There is only one you, though.
And that’s what your students need right now - time with you and time with each other. They need some structure, sense of “sameness”, and routine.
The advice above can enhance your time together, but none of those things are the key element. You are.