online teaching toolkit part 1

It’s official. Fuller Seminary is joining may other institutions of higher learning in moving all courses to an online modality for the Spring. While we have long had many dedicated online courses, shifting classroom courses to online offers some new challenges. Because there is not enough time to maximize the online format, students and teachers may feel both constraint and irritation in this emergency transition.

Over the last few years of transitioning to mostly classroom to now fully online, I’ve gathered some helpful tools to make the process as smooth as possible.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the hardware accessories I’ve gathered that makes sure that my online presence is strong.

While software and online pedagogy are essential elements to master, these also take a lot of time to learn, time many people don’t have.  With the help of assorted grants from Fuller’s Teaching and Learning department, as well as other handy avenues (like Amazon Vine), and the occasional out of pocket purchase, I am really content with my set up.

First, I realized I needed a dedicated webcam and microphone.  A few years ago I got the Logitech C930e It has a really clear picture and otherwise has been very consistent. I’ve used built in webcams and cheaper ones, always with some frustrations, but this one has never disappointed.

I mainly use it with my desktop (which I’ll talk about more below) but it easily transitions to my laptop too.  For online teaching, having a clear, consistent video is essential, and the nicer quality ones do much better in adjusting for different light or other situations.

While that has a built in microphone, it’s not necessarily great for broad goals, and since I do a lot of video lectures, not just live discussions, I invested in a Blu Yeti Microphone.

While there are certainly higher quality microphones out there (as well as higher quality video cameras) the Logitech webcam and Blu Yeti are high quality while also being extremely user friendly.

I’m not a video or audio tech. I just need things to work and these two are plug and play USB tools.  They just take the place of the built in tools without additional fiddling.  They’re definitely good enough for my needs for both live videoconferencing and recording, allowing me to do both with very short prep.

While, these two really are the most important accessories, I’ve also learned more about the importance of good lighting and on-the-fly control of resources. For these tasks, I’ve really appreciated the Elgato line of products.

They’re not necessarily cheap, but if you’re doing online teaching and office-based video work, it is worth the investment. Again, my goal is combining the highest quality with the most simple setup and use.

For lighting I now have a Elgato Key Light Air, which isn’t anything near the cheapest option, but has the benefit of maximizing control without having to move around.  Combined with an Elgato Stream Deck I have the ability to control my full lighting color and intensity with just a button next to my keyboard.

Before I got the Key Light Air, I used a much more basic setup with a couple of cheap clamp lights. The bulbs should be more “daylight” in temperature and bright. Having both cuts down on shadows.

The stream deck is highly customizable for all sorts of other purposes, so I can have it set up to easily call up any kind of resource I need with just the touch of a button, so I don’t have to fiddle around with folder or finding programs or such. Very smooth.  For video recording it also works seamlessly in controlling scenes and resources within OBS (a free, very highly regarded streaming and recording program).

While not at all essential for live teaching, for my video and streaming efforts I got an Elgato Green Screen.  My home office is also our guest room, and has a lot of other purposes, and isn’t nearly ever as clean as I’d want to present to the world, and a green screen offers a nice way to provide unique backgrounds.

And, again, the Elgato isn’t anywhere near the cheapest (a green sheet will do in a pinch), it’s absolutely easiest to work with.  It sets up and folds down in an instant, so I can pull it out when I need it and hide it away when I don’t. That makes all the difference for me actually using it regularly.

Good headphones aren’t as essential, but I’ve found having a set of bluetooth earbuds really helpful. They’re not as obtrusive as regular headphones in both wiring or appearance.  These can come relatively cheap or relatively expensive. I don’t think the more expensive ones are necessary, but do definitely offer better sound (and microphone) as well as better connection and battery life.

I also have two monitors, which I think is the minimum essential for online teaching/conferencing.  One to have the display and one to hold any side information or relevant documents/sites/etc. Or to cue up for sharing online.  My main monitor is 32″ (a nice Amazon Vine catch) and offers a lot of screen space for multiple windows.

That’s the accessories.  Now to talk about my actual PC. But this post is getting pretty long, so I’m going to make that a separate one entirely. And I’m thinking about a post about navigating online teaching. So, let’s call this part 1 of 3 of my short series on transitioning to and succeeding in online teaching.

 

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