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How to Make Virtual Teaching and Learning From Home A Little Easier

Today’s blog is a guest post from Maggie Brennan, an instructional technology specialist who helps teachers and students work online more effectively. You can reach her at brennan-consulting.com and [email protected]

Remember when we thought the lockdown was only going to last two weeks? Seems like ancient history. But back in March of 2020, we all grabbed a chair and our laptops and sat down to work at our kitchen table, thinking this was going to be temporary. I even remember thinking “this is going to be such a nice break from the routine!” 

Well, that sentiment didn’t last long. We have now been working from home for months, and we will probably continue to work from home in some capacity for months to come. So why not make your home office as comfortable and efficient as possible?

Take some tips from some experienced teachers on how to best equip your desk and your workspace. These same tips would be great for students too!

Tip #1: Use more than one monitor.  There are many teachers around the country using two and three monitors that are “extensions” of their computers. Additional monitors will allow you to see all of your students on one screen (Zoom’s “gallery view”), share your screen with the lesson materials on another screen, and take attendance and monitor email on the third. It saves time and energy to have all of these things available to you at once. An additional computer monitor is inexpensive yet offers a big bang for your buck. It allows you to be much more efficient and productive by allowing you to see more than one screen at a time. 

Tip #2: Get yourself a really comfortable chair.  Treat yourself to an office chair that is both comfortable and good for your spine. Make sure it is adjustable in order to put your head, back and arms in the correct position. This is so important! You don’t want disk problems, carpal tunnel syndrome or neck aches. A good chair can help you avoid all of that. Plus, when you are comfortable and healthy, you are far more productive at work. Learn how to set up your home office desk and chair with proper ergonomics.

A comfortable setup is key to working or teaching from home.

Tip #3: Invest in an iPad as a second device. iPads are totally portable and very convenient. They are also incredibly versatile. They can be used as a creative work pad with iOS apps that aren’t available on desktop computers, yet they can be used as a regular computer as well.  They can be your “teacher view” for interactive activities such as Pear Deck and Flipgrid. If you are back in the physical classroom, you can connect your iPad to a projector, so you can project the lesson or student work examples to the screen at the front of the room. And all the while, you can walk around the room interacting with students. No more being tied to the desk at the front of the classroom!  

Tip #4: Use a Document Camera to share things with the class.  If you’re unfamiliar with a Document Camera, it is a type of camera on a flexible “arm” that plugs into your computer. It allows you to show small objects to the entire class. For example, in science class, it would allow you to show a physical model of a cell to the entire class by projecting it to the screen at the front of your class, or sharing it online over Zoom.  Or in math class, you could show a shape like a cone or a pyramid to explain the 3D concepts. And it’s a great way to share a section of a book that you didn’t have a chance to photocopy, a handwritten copy of a document, a ruler or an interesting object from your classroom. If you attach a document camera on a flexible arm to your computer, you can easily show the students these types of objects, rather than trying to awkwardly lift up your laptop to make the object appear in the view of the built in camera. 

Tip #5: Get fancy with a Stylus. There is no need to type everything! You can handwrite some notes, attach a signature to a document, draw, paint, highlight and more with a tablet stylus. Granted, you need to use a device that is touch sensitive, but nearly all phones, tablets and computers are these days.  You can even purchase a stylus pad that can be plugged into a computer, making any device adaptable to a stylus.  

Another creative way to use them in elementary school is to purchase a whole set of styluses for the students to use. They are inexpensive and a fun way to switch up your class activity. Additionally, it is excellent practice for penmanship skills that students really need these days. 

Tip #6: Have a little fun with virtual backgrounds. Why do we all need to see your living room when we’re on Zoom? Instead, why not use a virtual background that transports everyone to another location? You could use an image that represents you or your subject matter. For example, a Spanish teacher could use different images of Spain as her virtual background.  A social studies teacher could pick a different image according to the unit they are studying and have everyone guess where it is.  The art teacher could upload famous works of art and discuss them in her lesson that day. Or maybe you could just use a photo from the last vacation you went on and share a personal story with your class about your adventures. Sharing family stories is a great way to build your relationship with your students and make all of us feel a little less alone. Check out this tutorial from Zoom for help in setting your virtual background:

The educational world is changing quickly, so we need to be flexible. We need to get comfortable wherever we are; at home, in school or wherever that may be. Treat yourself to one or two of these devices to make your teaching situation more comfortable, because we all know that a happy teacher makes a happy classroom!

If you have any other ideas to make your home office or classroom more comfortable for other teachers, please comment below!

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