Since the mass transition to virtual teaching in Spring 2020, I’ve have countless people ask me what setup I use to teach online and what equipment they should get to make their own transition as seamless as possible. After years of teaching online college courses and having served on the front lines of the epic 48-hour move of high school teaching to remote learning, I have amassed a list of equipment that have proven essential to remote teaching.
I’ve collated the following list to be of help to educators and professors who have limited time and funds. I’m sure there are more fancy versions of the products that I am about to share, but these are the ones that were within my modest (at the time HS teaching and adjunct) budget and that I found to be worth every penny and then some. The equipment is still a financial investment, so talk to your supervisor and get creative with funding sources if money is especially tight right now. I have very limited space in my home, so these items are meant to be small-space friendly and I have listed them in order of critical importance, but you may value some over others. Do what works for you. If you can’t afford everything on the list, start at the beginning and work your way up from there. Before too long you’ll be the go-to remote teaching expert your school!
This list presumes that you have basic equipment already like a laptop or desktop computer and mouse.
Disclaimer: I am always trying new gadgets and edtech, and I’m always happy to share what has helped me with others. Please note that some of the links on this site are affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through those links. I currently own or have extensively used and would purchase again all the products listed on my website and recommend them because they have made my life and work easier. Please let me know if you have any questions about anything listed!
Remote Teacher Starter Pack
Webcam (not the one on your laptop) ($115)
This first piece of equipment you might be tempted to skip because you “already have a webcam” on your laptop. You may think that you look and sound fine on Zoom. The difference that a stand-alone webcam makes is like night and day. First, your laptop webcam is situated at an awful angle that will always make you look like you are hovering over your computer. My Lenovo Carbon X1 Thinkpad had a really “decent” webcam. However, the day I bought my Logitech C920 Pro HD 1080p Webcam was the day my teaching kicked into high gear. Not only is the HD video brighter and more vivid, the audio is clearer and crisper than that of my laptop. It also allows me to choose a wide variety of places to stand in relation to the camera, which will become important later on…
Bluetooth Headphones ($159.95)
You probably already knew that you need headphones. Talking into your laptop is a pain for both the speaker and the listeners. However, people tend to be very picky about their headphones. I’m not an audiophile, but I am fussy about objects on my head, so my headphones must be comfortable. The pair of headphones that I’m about to recommend are not for audiophiles. They are, however, the best practical, comfortable, and useful headphones that I have found for teaching online AND they also happen to be the ones that I use throughout my day for running and general listening. They are these AfterShokz Aeropex Open-Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones. These headphones are Bluetooth, so no cords. They are nearly weightless — I sometimes forget they are even on my head! The real difference however is that they use bone conduction to transmit sound and it WORKS. I initially purchased these for running, because it allowed me to listen to music while simultaneously staying auditorily aware of my surroundings. This works for teaching because I can be present in a Zoom meeting and still be able to hear and respond to external noises if necessary. I don’t have children, but I can imagine that this is beneficial for folks who have them ;]
Green Screen Setup ($22.99) + ($18.99)
A green screen was one of the first purchases I made during the transition at my high school from in-person to remote teaching. I knew I needed something to block out the back of my living room and that I could also potentially use as a teaching aid. This tool was complicated, but luckily for you I went through several green screens before finding the perfect one that worked. Note that there are creative ways to accomplish the green screen effect and you’ll have to see what works best with the space that you have. I have very limited space so I simply used an Ikea curtain line kit to hang a wire with the green screen attached as a backdrop. Because it’s on a curtain I can roll it away when not in use and adjust as necessary. I ended up using a 10×10 foot size fabric so that I can adjust as necessary to be closer or farther away. The fabric is critical. I purchased and subsequently returned about five from Amazon before finding the perfect material. It needs to be a seamless, non-woven material in order to pick up the light. It cannot have any sheen, or the camera will have trouble picking up the fabric. The fabric color needs to be rather bright as well, or you’re going to have the issue where a thunderstorm suddenly destroys your virtual background.
Standing Desk ($149.95)
In many ways I wanted to put this item at number one. I found it essential for my physical and mental well-being while teaching. The ability to stand while teaching not only improves your posture and makes you generally feel better, but you simply look 100% more professional and better standing up straight than you do hovering over or in front of a computer. Take a look at these images for comparison. If you are teaching for hours every day on video, and you have no health issues that prevent you from standing, you need to have a standing desk setup for your health. I strongly recommend one that quickly transitions from standing to sitting so that you too can adjust your posture multiple times a day. When I was first looking for a standing desk I got discouraged because many were a huge size, shaky or wobbly, and slow or cumbersome to adjust. After tons of research I ended up purchasing this FEZIBO Stand Up Desk Converter, which actually sits on top of a table and adjusts via a lever on the side. It’s super easy to move up or down and is 34” wide which offers spacious room to work.
Balance board ($22)
Once you have the standing desk do yourself a favor a buy a balance stand, like this Yes4All Balance Board. I know, it sounds hokey, but it will save your back! I initially got back pain from standing in one position for long periods of time, but after adding this balance board the pain disappeared and I felt like my calf and back muscles got a mini-stretch from the balance work. It also works like a fidget wheel, helping to clear your mind of distractions. Just a quick note: it was a tad slippery on my floor so I put a yoga mat underneath which solved that issue.
Ikea Tables ($24.99-$45.99)
In all my years through graduate school and then teaching, I have never technically owned a desk. I don’t generally favor desks because I am super tall, and most do not allow for enough leg space. I am however the owner of a vast collection of Ikea tables. You probably already know them: they are the LINNMON tables with the ADILS screw-on legs. This makes them incredibly practical for those who move frequently, and an affordable and effective replacement for the traditional desk. Buy two of them and set them up back-to-back.
Large separate TV monitor (varies)
I use two cheap Ikea tables for my desk setup. On the one in the back, I have an old 43” Sony TV that I bought used from a friend for $30. I use it as a monitor. You can use any monitor you want, but for me, I like a huge screen because it’s easier on the eyes. Also, TVs are vastly cheaper than computer monitors for the same size. This is an item that you can potentially save a ton of money buying used. Check out craigslist or your local classifieds or wait until Black Friday. You don’t need a stellar TV for this purpose. If it has an HDMI port you can use it as a monitor and voila! Just hook up the TV with an HDMI cable to your laptop.
Ring Light ($77)
This one I held off buying until recently but once I committed to the purchase and tried it out I wish I had done so earlier! Light makes such a difference when recording video or live streaming. While my setup was in front of a long line of windows, the amount of light was still very much dependent on the time of day, and the desk lamps I had left shadows and uneven lighting all over me, making me appear less fresh than I actually was. A basic LED ring light changed all of that. Yes it looks goofy on your desk, but you’ll never want to go without it after seeing the difference it makes in your appearance. This 18” light from Amazon was $77 after a $15 coupon. You can get by with a smaller light, but I would recommend at least a 14”.
While my Aeroplex headphones work fine for Zooming, sometimes I want clearer audio, particularly for video lectures and YouTube videos. When that time comes I use a dedicated microphone. I’m not claiming that my snowball microphone is the best that money can buy, I’m simply claiming that it has worked for me for years and consistently delivers quality audio for video-recording purposes. It is easy to set up and use via USB.
Office Chair (varies)
I almost forgot to even put this on the list, because most of the time I don’t use a chair at all. I generally stand/balance at the desk OR move to the couch or bed if I need a short break. I’ll borrow a kitchen chair for the times that I want to sit to work at the desk. However, most people will need a dedicated chair on which to sit. I used one from Staples for nearly a decade that was almost identical to this one on Amazon and it served double duty as an office chair and extra seating in my studio until it finally gave out in my last move. As of this writing I haven’t yet replaced it (thus the kitchen chair temp fix). Chairs are a very personal choice, so my main recommendation is to pick one that works for your body, your space, and your finances.
At the end of the (school)day it’s ultimately not about the equipment. Your knowledge, confidence, personality, and willingness to embrace the uncertainty of online teaching is going to matter far more than a new tool. However, these tools can help to decrease your workload, make teaching physically easier, and boost your confidence – all of which are critical to making the remote teaching experience feel like the job of your dreams!