As our classrooms and learning spaces shift from public buildings to our homes, it can be a challenge to consider how best to connect digitally. This post will share some of the tools and profiles involved in online learning to help you stay connected.
High tech means missed connections
As virtual classrooms and online learning proliferate, a connection to these digital spaces is essential to making sure that learners are not left behind.
The challenge is not all schools, educators, parents, or children are equipped to effectively learn in digital spaces. Many of these challenges disproportionately impact low-income students and those with special needs.
Each of the profiles that I’ll identify below begins with a laptop or desktop computer, connection to the Internet, and a space to conduct work. Many of our students and instructors do not have those basic connections and as a result are abandoned as we make this transition.
Identify your home base
All of the classrooms begin with a space to work. This can be a desk, or a kitchen or dining room table. I understand that your situation at home may not make it easy to carve out a space for a classroom. In this event, find a small area to identify as your work space that you can go to…and leave each day. If needed, you can set things up, and take them apart at the end of the day.
It is important that you identify a space for work that becomes your home base for work. This helps you create some balance as you work from home. Just because you can work all of the time from home, doesn’t mean that you should.
You should identify days and times in your schedule when you will enter the home classroom, and the time when you’ll leave. Just like you would go to a physical classroom space…either driving there, or going into a classroom…you should take this same mindset as you think about your home classroom space.
With that caveat, here are the four different levels of real world home classrooms.
Level one starts with the use of a laptop or desktop computer and an Internet connection. Yes, you could use a tablet, or mobile device…but you do not want to. I understand that not everyone has access to a laptop/desktop computer and an Internet connection, but this is a mandatory for a home classroom.
The computer pictured below is an older MacBook Pro. For many home classrooms, a Chromebook is a much better option that a more expensive computer. Very good Chromebooks are often very inexpensive, and they keep themselves updated. For most home classrooms, a Chromebook is an excellent option.
Most times, we connect to the Internet using wifi. Most people don’t think twice about the way they connect to the Internet, we just expect things to work. In the photo below, I include an ethernet cable. This is a hard wire connection to the modem or router that brings the Internet into your home. Most times this will give you a far superior connection than you’ll get from wifi. If possible…use an ethernet cable.
Headphones are a mandatory tool to use as you connect online. They help remove/reduce feedback as you connect to a video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, WebEx) meeting. Many times they’ll include a microphone that is better (or at least closer) than the mic on your computer.
Your cell phone is not necessary, but it may offer a good option for a secondary screen if you have it. The computer in the picture below has a 13-inch screen. This can be a challenge to use if you have multiple spaces open. Using a cell phone, even an older used phone, can be helpful as you pay attention to text chats, or listen to YouTube video or podcasts.
Power cables and a surge protector are important as you want to remain plugged in all day while you work.
Lastly, I recommend several other elements to make your home classroom more user-friendly. Notebooks, and printed out copies of worksheets or teaching materials is helpful. This creates an offline space for you to quickly jot down notes, or complete activities. A desk lamp behind the webcam or screen of your laptop helps light your face and makes you look more human in a video chat. Hydration is also important. Drink your water.
The second level of classroom contains all of the components of the first classroom, but adds a tablet. A tablet is helpful as you can use it as a second screen in your workflow. The use of a tablet obviously gives more screen real estate, when compared to a mobile device.
Many tablets also can be used in conjunction with your computer to give you a second monitor. This means that you can connect the tablet to your laptop with a wire or wirelessly, and you can drag materials across both screens. Depending on the laptop and tablet you’re using, there are multiple opportunities to connect a tablet as a second display. Search online to get a better sense of the options.
If you cannot connect the tablet as a second display, I usually set the tablet up like an easel next to the laptop and use the tablet to monitor text chats, review webpages or documents, or listen to content. This allows me to use the laptop for typing, video conferencing, or more intensive activities.
Most of what we’ve shown up to this point details items in a home classroom that are a bit easier to obtain, set up, and take down each day. Level three includes all of the elements in levels one and two, but adds in another monitor. This is the setup I’ve used for my home office for years.
I brought my laptop to work, school, and/or home. While at home, I used a spare monitor as a second screen. Most laptops (Mac, Windows, Chromebooks) will allow you to connect the laptop to a monitor using the VGA or HDMI cable. This is the same sort of use if you were to connect it to a projector for a presentation. In this use case, you can use the secondary monitor as an extended display.
The second monitor might be an old television, or computer monitor that is no longer in use. The monitors I’ve used in the past were ones that I obtained for free from neighbors that left them out for the trash collection. Garage sales, and online swap services like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist are great places to find inexpensive or free monitors.
Level four includes all of the elements shared in the previous levels, but switches out the laptop for a desktop computer. This is my current real world home classroom. The setup in level four also includes a microphone for use in recording webinars, podcasts, or joining video chats.
The desktop computer I bought in pieces on Facebook Marketplace and rebuilt it to use for this setup. Instead of the laptop screen, I’m using an ultrawide screen display and mounted it to an arm that also supports my old display that I used as the secondary display with my laptop. The ultrawide screen is basically the equivalent of having two 24 inch monitors side-by-side.
The desklamp is positioned in the corner to flood light behind the webcam (which is mounted in the middle of everything). This creates some lighting to assist in video chats and webinars.
This workspace is overkill for some, but it is something that I’ve build up over the years as I work and learn from home. Review the video below for some guidance on my home office/classroom, and to see how things are set up.
Hopefully this post helps you think about developing a good real world home classroom. Please send in pictures of your spaces as well.
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