Setting up the ideal online teaching space
This is something we often talk about with our home-based online teachers. Here is our collected knowledge, but there is a lot of personal preference involved so we are keen to hear your tips and suggestions too.
Your chair is going to make or break your online teaching. You don’t want to stoop over the keyboard so a high chair position and high table work well – your back should be straight, so lower back support helps; if you like numbers, it’s a 90-120° angle at the hips and a 90-100° angle at the elbows to the keyboard with your monitor raised to mid-eye height. Some people relax best with a standing desk, but the diagram below shows the typical ergonomics. A chair that allows some adjustment in height will avoid you getting set in one position and the ability to put your feet up on something occasionally adds to comfort. As does getting up and taking a walk around the room with your eyes off the screen for 5 minutes between lessons.
Ideally, place your setup facing the window, it will naturally light your face on camera. If the window is behind you, you are likely to be a silhouette and if you are sideways to a window, you’ll look like two-face from Batman.
If you are getting too much glare, consider a net curtain or transparent roller blind to diffuse the light.
For background, you really don’t want students distracted by the cat or that dirty pile of laundry, so a fairly plain wall is best although bookshelves have been in vogue for some time. A greenscreen can make an amazing difference if you want to use virtual backgrounds and hide that laundry! A pop-up green screen is handy, but you can also improvise using an ironed cloth hung over a dress rail or similar (oh and it doesn’t have to be green!)
An additional source of light like a simple desk lamp can keep your cheeks looking rosy if you use an inbuilt laptop camera. If you use harsh professional lighting, you may find that ring light becomes a permanent red O when you shut your eyes to sleep for the night.
A plug-in webcam is not only usually better quality than the one in a laptop, but it also adds a little bit of height that makes your eyeline much more natural for students when looking at the screen. You may still typically want to raise the computer a bit though so that you don’t look down as you work – literally a pain in the neck.
Audio-wise some sort of headset with a microphone is best. It’s less distracting to those around you, picks up less external noise from them, and avoids you sounding like you are speaking from an echo chamber with huge thumps as you type. If a headset doesn’t suit your hairdo, earbuds work well and AirPods are an excellent unobtrusive way to go. Some people like those big furry ‘vlogger’ mics which look very professional, but apart from being in the way of the keyboard, they also tend to make you slip into character as a sports commentator which isn’t always the best way to reduce teacher talk in the classroom.
Elbow room and space on the table around you allow for anything like notes and a phone (often an essential backup for a quick Google or to get a message to a colleague or student when you need help). Some teachers also keep a few pieces of realia handy on the desk to change role (my bow tie for formal!) or to introduce language (I have seen mugs, pub menus, and a packet of kale, all used to good effect!).
I like to have a second monitor behind my laptop for reference material – most monitors also swivel (yes really!) which is great for looking at a lesson plan or a piece of student writing as you work.
Some teachers, especially those teaching younger learners, like to have a mobile physical whiteboard handy – this can work and makes the statement ‘we are in a classroom’ but it’s only really worth the clutter if you actually use it.
Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.
Learn more about EF Teach Online here.