Virtual classrooms can be easy to set up, depending on how minimal you want to be with your online teaching presence. Khan Academy is arguably one of the most impactful online classrooms in internet history, and that was started entirely with screen capture software and a microphone.
But you shouldn’t set your sights only on the minimal equipment necessary to create effective learning in a virtual class. There is so much more that you can use to enhance your teaching experience.
Let’s start with the absolute minimum requirements. In terms of hardware, you likely already are using everything you truly need to host a virtual class that will work.
To get started, you need:
Technically, you don’t even really need the microphone, but it’s so useful it can be counted as a practical necessity.
With the computer you will be using your software solution to capture your content. This can be you using painting software to draw equations or stick figures to illustrate a lesson. From there your software tool will broadcast your content live, record it for later viewing, or both!
While this minimalistic approach to doing online teaching can be very effective, the prospects of online teaching can be much richer than even physical presence in a traditional classroom.
With only a webcam, a microphone, and a computer with the right software, you can easily capture the same experience that students receive by being present physically in class. Simply position the webcam or cameras in a vantage point that allows it to capture you teaching as you would normally. As long as you are in the field of view of the camera, and you can be heard over the microphone, watching you online will be almost the exact same as being there in the classroom.
There are some benefits, to doing that over a physical classroom though. A physical classroom can’t include students from all over; you can only ever reach a local audience physically. Digital media has global reach and can reach an unlimited number of people.
There is no rewind button in real life, so if a student misses a point that you made, or just plainly lost focus for a while in class, they have no good mechanism to catch up. When your lecture is online and available all the time, your students will be able to access the whole of your lecture on their time, and give it the attention it needs on their terms, without the need for you to repeat yourself.
But it still gets better from here.
Some of the equipment you can incorporate into your teaching can enhance the experience far beyond what is normally available to conventional teaching methods. You may have times in the classroom where you simply want to easily draw on a piece of paper in a way that shows it to the whole class. You may be familiar with doing this with an overhead projector – but did you know you can just as easily do that digitally?
With a drawing pad you can make sketches or write with your hand and share that instantly with an unlimited digital audience. While this is technically a replacement for a mouse, it’s important not to understate how much of a difference the ergonomics of using that equipment has for both the instructor and the students.
But in the desktop environment, even very complex geometries can be shown and used to teach with the use of CAD software. 3D modelling has major applications in the fields of geometry, design, engineering, and even as visualization aids in any other field of teaching.
Special lighting setups, green screens, and editing software can enable you to have very high production value if you are aiming to host recorded lessons later, for maximum engagement throughout the future. If you are primarily recording your lessons, you can record in HD. This is different from live-streaming, where sometimes stream quality may be limited by the bandwidth of your internet connection.
Lighting itself can really make the visual aspect of your digital presence pop. Especially if you take care to get as even lighting as possible to soften or eliminate shadows, especially on faces. The green screen can not only cover up potentially distracting background objects, but can open up a whole world of possibilities once you get involved in video editing.
Audio and video can be edited to professional quality with freely available tools online like blender and DaVinci. On PC the most popular video editing software tool is Windows Movie Maker, and on Mac the most popular video editing software is Apple iMovie. But video editing software of any kind allows you to really refine your lesson to a condensed and web-friendly version fit for a digital audience that you can’t replicate in an in-person classroom.
Audio, in particular can be difficult to get perfectly well, even with the help of diaphragm microphones or especially lapel mics. Audio editing tools can easily edit out background noise, or even pops and scrapes that are prone to be picked up by lapel microphones.
From getting started to a top-of-the-line production setup, there is no wrong answer to taking your lessons into the virtual world! There are examples of very good instructional courses using very little specialized equipment, and also examples of very high-end and recognizable content creators that spare no expense on using all the tricks available to create the best online courses possible.
Don’t feel too daunted by the question of what equipment to get for starting an online classroom, because there is a myriad of affordable options that are only limited by your own special goals and your creativity in how you want to pursue them.