Gear for Virtual Teaching And A Virtual Classroom Background

Picture stylized with Prisma photo app. 
A back in March I posted a picture of my classroom on Twitter and suggested teachers take pictures of their own classrooms to use as a virtual background on Zoom. That tweet has turned out to be very popular, so here is a little more info.

To add a virtual background on Zoom you will need to go into your settings in the zoom app. I find it easiest to do this if I launch a meeting and click the arrow next to the camera icon. One of the options is to add a virtual background. It remembers the backgrounds you add, and you can have more than one. There are much more specific directions from Zoom here.

Note that the full image, and what shows up on Zoom are slightly different. Zoom trims all the edges.

The Gear: (Updated in August 2020 because I found some things I like better.)
Virtual backgrounds work much better if you have a green screen. I happened to have one already and I was glad I had thought to bring it home from my classroom. I have one like this. (Affiliate link) It works great. Right now I'm using some big binder clips to hang it from the shelves behind my desk. I think I'm going to mount some hooks to make it easier to put up and take down. Update: The hooks and binder clips worked great.
Jen in zoom, with her virtual background and good-ish lighting.

The other thing that helps to have for video calls is a headset with a boom mic. The set I had was six years old and not super comfortable, so I borrowed my son's gaming headset and then bought my own. These keep going out of stock. Here is one to try. If it is out of stock search [gaming headset]. Try to find one you like for under $40. (Every time we have a zoom staff meeting a colleague will email me afterward to ask about my headset. They say I sound more clear on the call than anyone else. I am usually the only one with a headset.)

My last suggestions is about lighting. There are very fancy ring lights you can buy if you need to look really good for the television audience at home, but to just get not-so-scary-looking I suggest this simple inexpensive USB light. (Also affiliate link) It plugs right into my laptop and puts just enough light on my face to cut the pallor of this new indoor lifestyle.  Update: I've discovered "selfie ring lights." They are meant to clip onto your phone, but the one I got clips to my computer just over my built in web-camera. This one is about 3" wide, very bright, rechargeable, and inexpensive. If you can't sit near a window I recommend it. It's also really portable if you need to change locations mid-call or work while traveling. 

New teach-from-home space:
As we get ready to head back into virtual school, I am planning an overhaul of my teach-from-home space. (I know I shouldn't have to spend my own money on this stuff, but also it's my workspace and I want to be comfortable and efficient. I saved a lot of money not attending several conferences this spring/summer, and now fall, so I'm going to treat myself to the gear that makes me happy.) 

I splurged on a standing desk, it was back ordered and took several weeks to arrive, but it is awesome. I'm using a second monitor my neighbor was giving away, yay free stuff! If I had to buy one though, I would be sure to get one with the four holes on the back so I could put it on a vesa mount like this one to free up desk space.  

I'll keep updating this post with what is working best for me in terms of virtual learning gear. In other posts I'm writing about what I find to be best practices for online classes. If you found this gear post helpful, then you'll probably really love this spreadsheet for gathering student responses during virtual classes. And this sheet for making preplanned breakout room groups in Zoom that are not just random. Thirty seconds of uploading this to zoom before class can make groups much more intentional. 

PS If you use my affiliate links I get a very tiny bit of the revenue from your purchase. I use that to get books for my classroom. So, thanks.