The Coronavirus pandemic has made the job for teachers and students that much harder. Many school districts have decided to go fully remote online teaching, while others are heading back to some type of hybrid model. Having the right equipment to teach remotely can make a teacher’s job more accessible and effective for their students. My wife is a third-grade special education teacher and is going to be teaching remotely. I recently helped set up her office and created a remote studio that allows her to use a wireless lavalier microphone and an external monitor. The wireless microphone enables her to talk from any place in her office. She can present from her desk or in front of a whiteboard and not worry about not being heard using the internal laptop mic. The separate monitor plugs into her laptop and extends the computer’s desktop so she can see her online students on the monitor. This enables her to share the computer’s desktop remotely with students and monitor them simultaneously, allowing for synchronous learning. This configuration will work with Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, and other browsers based video conferencing systems. There are several ways to set up a remote classroom or office for online and hybrid learning. We will explore some of these options.
Remote Online Teaching Equipment
Laptop and Webcam
Having a dedicated room or space to set up your teaching area is ideal. This allows for a quiet place to teach your lessons. The first piece of equipment you need is a computer. Laptops work best. A laptop gives you the flexibility to take your work anywhere. Make sure your computer has a decent webcam. Most laptops come with one built-in. It should preferably be an HD camera capable of at least 720p resolution. An external webcam can also be added on through the USB port if your computer does not have one or the one you have is not suitable.
If you have written work to share with students, a document camera is an excellent option. It allows your online students to view the document. Many of these cameras also double as web cameras. You could again turn an existing web camera into one by mounting it to a tripod or stand.
A wireless microphone or headset gives you the flexibility to teach from anywhere around the room. This way, you are not bound by the internal microphone on the laptop. It also keeps you from straining your voice. The receiver plugs into the mini mic jack of your computer.
An external monitor is helpful if you plan on sharing your computer screen with your students. The monitor enables you to see your students on the big screen and keep tabs on what they are doing. This frees up the desktop of your computer so it can be shared and viewed by the students remotely. Most computers will have an HDMI port to connect to the monitor. Some older computers may only have a VGA port, so be sure the monitor takes that connection. If you are using a Mac computer, you might need to use a mini display port adapter to hook up an HDMI cable.
iPad or Tablet
Another option if you don’t want to use a monitor is to use an iPad or tablet. Just log in as a participant to view all of your students in a grid. It will use up a little more internet bandwidth but could be a cost-effective option if you already have one. This can be handy if you are teaching in a hybrid model. It will then free up your HDMI display port on your computer. You may need to display your computer to a monitor or projector for the students in the classroom.
Setting It All Up
This part can become a little tricky if you are not very technical. Since I am in the audiovisual/IT field, I have a lot of experience with this type of setup. I also already had all of the equipment. Your configuration may vary depending on what equipment you or the school system has on hand or what you decide to buy. Here is what my wife’s setup looks like and how I put it all together.
It all starts with the laptop and equipment that gets plugged in and distributed from it—the external monitor plugs in using an HDMI cable. Once I plug the HDMI cable in, the monitor automatically recognizes the laptop and displays the proper resolution. Since it is a Windows-based computer, it defaults to an extended desktop view. This now gives my wife two screens to work from. One screen for monitoring her students in Google Meet and one screen to share visuals and documents with the remote students.
Two Browser Windows
To make this work in Google Meet first, start by opening two separate browser windows. If you are using Google Chrome, just lunch it and add a new tab. Then right-click on that tab and select move to a new window. This now gives you two separate Chrome windows. Now click and drag one of the Chrome windows over to the extended monitor and leave the other browser on the laptop screen. This will allow you to use one browser to login to Google Meet and view your students on the monitor. The other browser can be used on the laptop screen to pull up resources from the web and can be shared with your students. Browsers like Firefox, MS Edge, and Safari will work as well. If you are using a different conferencing system like Zoom or Skype… The setup will be similar.
In this setup, the wireless lavalier microphone is plugged into a mixer. This gives my wife some volume control and is what I had on hand. Most mic systems will plug directly into the 3.5 mm mic jack on the side of the computer. There are other mic systems that will use the computer’s USB ports. It all depends on the equipment you use and have, but the basic functionality is the same.
Enabling The Wireless Mic
Once you created a Google Meetup and are logged in using the Chrome browser on the external monitor, go to the settings after clicking on the three dots (see pictures above). In the audio settings, make sure you select the proper mic input. It should be set to the default microphone, not the internal laptop mic. This will activate the 3.5 mm jack to allow the wireless microphone to function.
Sharing Your Screen
The next step is to share your laptop screen. Go to the present now option in the lower right corner of Google Meet. It will ask you which screen you want to share. Select screen 1. This is your computer screen. You can now watch your students on the external monitor and share your laptop screen with them simultaneously.
Hard Wired Internet Connection
I also set up a hard-wired internet connection to her laptop. Our house is fully wired for the internet and I have wall jacks in each room. Having a hard-wired connection is much faster and you are not competing with other wireless devices in the home. This ensures a stable connection and no wireless drop-offs. I uplinked a switch to the wall port so I could plug other hard-wired devices into it like our voice over IP Magic Jack phone. In most cases, wireless internet will work fine.
Dealing with all of the technical aspects of remote teaching can be overwhelming. Teachers not only have to teach but are now dealt with the task of figuring out all the technical aspects to making a remote classroom work. Without much training or funding, teachers are purchasing their own equipment and trying to make decisions that will ultimately benefit students. I have already gotten calls from several family members and friends for help with their setups. I hope this article can help teachers struggling with these technical issues. Please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you want help with your setup or have general technical questions.