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How to set up to teach online

Although the concept is the same, the approach and platform used to teach online is very different and, to some, quite alienating.
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Hello, and welcome to another one of our clips in this teaching virtually video series, designed to give you some basic tips and tricks in setting up and recreating that interactive online classroom experience. In this video, we’re going to be exploring a basic setup that can allow you to teach virtually, but we’ll also be looking at alternatives and upgrades to your setup that could make teaching online just a little bit easier. So to begin with, you’ll need a device and broadband connection. And if you’ve got choppy internet, you could try sitting closer to the router, or maybe even connect your device directly to the router to avoid a wireless connection.
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We understand though, that in busy households, and even in public places, this might not always be possible. Now as for the device, laptops and desktop computers are your ideal choice. And that’s because mobile devices, things like tablets and phones, they often have limited or less ideal capabilities when it comes to using video platforms, like Teams, and Zoom, and even other apps that you’ll likely want to bring into play when you’re teaching online. Now in delivering live and even pre-recorded learning sessions, what you’ll want is a microphone and a webcam.
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Now it is possible to teach without using a camera, but actually feedback has shown that students greatly benefit from being able to see their teacher rather than just on hearing their voice. But, not all laptops and computers have inbuilt webcams and microphones. You can usually do a quick visual check. So on a laptop, look at the top of your screen, and in the bezel is where you usually find the webcam or the microphone. But if you’ve got a Windows machine, you can also open Device Manager where it lists the different audio inputs and camera devices that your machine may have. But what alternatives are there if you don’t have an inbuilt webcam or microphone?
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Well, possibly the quickest, easiest, and cheapest option is to use your phone, if you have one. You can download apps that turn your phone into a wireless webcam, and there are many apps– one that I’ve come across is called Iriun. It’s supported by Windows and Mac, and it’s compatible with Android and iPhone. So what you’d want to do is to download that app onto your phone. So search for Iriun in the Play Store if you’re using Android, or look in the App Store if you’re using iPhone. And then you also want to download the relevant compatible file on your computer or laptop by visiting Iriun.com.
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Now you want to make sure that you’re connected to the same Wi-Fi network on both devices. So I’m using my phone, and I’ve also got my laptop. Then, when you’re using a video platform, such as Zoom or Teams, you want to make sure that you select Iriun webcam. And, voila. You’ll find that the picture quality on your phone can actually be better than from the camera on your laptop or computer.
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Now a second option is to purchase a webcam. And many webcams come with inbuilt microphones, which means that they can serve both purposes. Again, you want to make sure that you select in your video options the camera that you want to use. So here’s my webcam. And if you want to use the microphone built into your webcam, and even the microphone built into your phone, then all you need to do is go to the Audio settings and make sure that you select the right microphone that you want to use.
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Now if all that you are lacking is a microphone, then you can purchase a plug-in a USB microphone. You’ll find relatively cheap ones, and there are some more savvy and expensive microphones out there, and that’s because there are people that are looking for better audio quality. It’s not necessary for all of us, so we would recommend using the microphone built into your phone or even your webcam. So now that you’ve got a screen, hopefully a camera, and a microphone set up, you’re ready to go. But there are a few additional bits that could come in handy. Connecting a second screen or monitor can allow you to set up your display to show multiple apps and files at the same time.
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Connect your second screen, and in the display settings, select extend screen, and you can increase your display area and move additional apps or files across. If you’ve got multiple devices, like a laptop to work from, but a phone as an additional device, getting hold of a mini or larger tripod can be handy. It means that you can use the additional device as a second camera and prop it in a desired place, such as over an experimental setup, and then you can easily go back and forth between your two cameras. So there’s a quick guide to setting up for teaching virtually.
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You’ll find more information on optimising your display, using video platforms and their features, and making use of a second device in other videos as part of our teaching virtually video series. And if you’re looking for free classroom resources and animated videos on astronomy and science, or if you’re interested in booking a school session with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, then check out our webpage. You’ll find the link in the video description below.

Many educators have now experienced the world of virtual teaching and although the concept is the same, the approach and platform used to teach online is very different and, to some, quite alienating. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how to get set up to teach online.

Some basics for setting up to teach online

  • You’ll need a smart device like a computer/laptop, tablet, or phone. Ideally, a computer or laptop because smaller mobile devices tend to have limited capabilities when it comes to using video platforms and other apps.
  • You’ll need your device to have a webcam and microphone. Most smart devices have these built-in but if yours doesn’t there are other options. If using a computer/laptop, the camera on your phone can be used as a webcam, and a plug-in microphone can be an option if you don’t have one built-in. Or a plug-in webcam is a great alternative as many come with in-built microphones too.
  • You’ll need a broadband connection. Whether you’re teaching live or sending things through to your students digitally, an internet connection is a must have. Sitting closer to or having a wired connection to the router can help improve the connection.

To make your life easier you couldalso:

  • Connect a second screen or monitor. Often when teaching online, you might end up having several different windows open (the video call, your presentation, etc.) Being able to increase your display will save you from having to minimise and maximise different windows as you need them.

And if you want to step it up:

  • A second device and tripod can allow you to setup an additional camera – one which you can position on a tripod in advance to look over a demonstration or a model removing the need to move your existing teaching setup to show it.
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