Five tech purchase ideas to improve teaching from home

As we look ahead to another semester of teaching remotely, you may be considering ways to up your virtual teaching game for the winter. If you are wondering what tech could improve the experience for you and your students, this list is for you.

What will work best for you and your students depends on the size of your class, the format, and the discipline. No one set of options will work for everyone. So instead, I’ll offer multiple options in five categories ranging from nearly free to a couple of hundred dollars. You may also decide after reading this post you have everything you need without spending a dime.

#1: A second monitor

I cannot imagine running a live class, grading assignments, or researching new tech without my dual monitor setup. If you find yourself deciding between seeing the chat or viewing your slides in Zoom, or if you wish you could see the rubric in D2L Brightspace at the same time as reviewing an essay, the solution is the second monitor. By extending your displays, you can easily slide browser tabs and apps between the two. Zoom even offers a dual monitor option in its settings.

Most monitors will work with both PC and Mac, and it really comes down to the size and picture quality you prefer.

A few to consider:

#2: A way to demo

Whether you are pre-recording lectures or holding live sessions, slide presentations are only one option for content delivery. Showing a piece of equipment, demonstrating a concept with objects, or working out an equation is often more engaging and valuable for students.

In our workshop Chalk and Talk: Demonstrate and annotate
in a virtual classroom
(watch the recording), my colleagues and I took participants through several options. One of my favourites is connecting to a Zoom meeting with both my computer and my phone, and placing my phone on a simple wire shelf, camera facing down. This creates a surface where I can place a piece of paper and draw, show a book, or use manipulatives to illustrate a point.

But, if you are looking for a more high-tech solution, or a more versatile writing surface, here are some ideas that cost more, but are worth the investment.

For even more ideas, check out the Chalk and Talk workshop slide deck which is full of links to equipment and accessories.

#3: Better transcripts

I’m bringing back this tip from Toronto Metropolitan University Library’s Kelly Dermody whose team provides captioning and transcript services for courses with students who require these accommodations.

Accessibility is a vital part of the process in digital content delivery, but it can be time consuming. One web app is big help. uses AI to analyze audio and produce a surprisingly accurate transcript. It also learns over time. If you have discipline-specific terms, correct them manually and Otter will apply this knowledge to the next transcript.

You can upload both audio and video files to the platform and within about 10 minutes generate the transcript that can be downloaded as a text file and added to your D2L course shell alongside your audio and video recordings. With the pro version, you can also download the transcript as a closed caption file.

#4: Improved audio and video

If you are using a webcam in your teaching or recording your voice, you may want to consider purchasing some equipment to improve the look or sound of your live sessions and recordings. Here are a few suggestions:

That said, buying equipment beyond your laptop is not always necessary. Sometimes, some minor adjustments to your environment work just as well. Here are some tips:

  • Add textiles to your space, such as curtains, an area rug or large blankets and pillows. These will help to dampen any echo in your environment and will improve audio quality immensely.
  • Reposition your laptop so there is a light source, like a window, in front of you. This can give a nice, soft even light that is just as good, if not better, than a light you can purchase.
  • Raise your laptop using a pile of books to improve the eyeline.

#5: Invest in engagement

Polling, quizzing and games can help students stay engaged during live sessions, especially in large classes. There are several apps on the market that allow you to quickly create interactive opportunities, such as Mentimeter, Kahoot!, and Quizlet. All of these apps offer free versions, but their paid versions offer far more features and flexibility.

Depending on your needs, Presentria, a quizzing and activity app developed by educators in Ontario, is a free option worth considering. Google Forms, which is part of the Google workspace available at Toronto Metropolitan University, is also capable of creating polls and quizzes, not to mention the built-in polling tool in Zoom.

A friendly reminder that introducing external apps should be considered carefully. For information about using digital tools with your students, please refer to Using External Tools or Apps for Remote Teaching.

Sally Goldberg Powell is an Instructional Technologist, eLearning at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Toronto Metropolitan University. She also teaches two first-year courses at Toronto Metropolitan School of Journalism.

For more tips, check out the Tech for Teaching page.

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