Upgrade Your Virtual Classroom on a Budget


Professors, special education providers, and the like are moving mountains in efforts to create the most equitable and efficient learning experience for their students, no matter where they are. Whether you’re an educator solely working remotely, or someone who is splitting their time between in-person and virtual learning, an unrestricted workflow can alleviate any additional stressors of virtual/hybrid teaching.

As an educator, you want technology to beef up your system as easily and as cost-efficiently as possible. Acknowledging the wide spectrum of educators, affordability, accessibility, and comfort with technology, there are ways to access easy-to-use, durable, and reliable tech without breaking the bank. Finding the right laptop bag could make all the difference when transitioning between in-person and virtual teaching. Having a document camera can assist with virtual “hands-on” learning needed for students. Purchasing an additional monitor could help organize a virtual workspace.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of budget-friendly to higher-end technological accessories that could help upgrade and streamline your virtual classroom.

Document Cameras

Document cameras provide an up-close and focused perspective on a given exercise or lesson plan that whiteboards lack. The clear image makes it easier for students to see and support certain “hands-on” exercises, like working out a math equation or analyzing a manuscript—exercises that may be more challenging in a virtual learning setting. Think of a document camera as a virtual transparency!

Good: Elmo OX-1 Visual Presenter*

Better: Elmo OX-1 Visual Presenter and Writing Board Bundle*

Best: Hover Camera Solo Spark II Autofocus 8MP Document Cam

*Keep in mind some of these might need adapters to work with your specific laptop or Chromebook.

Computer Monitors

A single monitor can get cluttered quickly. Shuffling between dozens of open windows and multiple tabs can make anyone feel lost in the virtual weeds. Two monitors, or a multi-monitor system, can streamline your workspace by giving you the real estate to organize your virtual classroom to best fit your needs: Designate one monitor for video conferencing and screen sharing and the other for notes and emails!

Good: HP 22uh 21.5" LED Backlit Monitor (HDMI/DVI/VGA)

Better: Acer XF240H 24" TN Monitor (HDMI/DisplayPort/DVI)

Best: LG 34WL550-B 34" Ultrawide IPS Monitor (HDMI)

Docking Stations

A docking station is the Swiss Army Knife of laptop accessories. Moreover, they make toggling between at-home and in-person teaching much more efficient. A MacBook, iPad, Chromebook, or PC laptop only has so many ports, especially in the newer models that are moving more and more to a single type of port—USB-C. If you need an HDMI, VGA, audio jack, USB Type-A, and so on, a docking station is exactly what you need.

Good: Plugable USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C Mini Dock

Better: SMK-Link USB Type-C Multi-Port Hub

Best: Belkin USB Type-C Docking Station/Multimedia Hub

Smartphone Lavalier Microphones

Upgrading your audio will make sure that students can clearly hear you, making it easier for them to pay attention and understand what is being taught. It’s also particularly important for folks who identify as part of the hard-of-hearing community. A simple clip-on lavalier microphone can plug into your device’s audio jack (or the one on your docking station), making them efficient and user friendly.

Good: Movo Photo PM10 Lavalier Mic for Smartphones

Better: Audio-Technica Consumer ATR3350XiS Lavalier Mic for Smartphones

Best: Shure MOTIV MVL Lavalier Mic for Smartphones

Adapter to use these mics on PCs: RØDE SC3 TRRS Female to TRS Male Adapter

Ring Lights

One may not think a light source is as important to add to their virtual classroom arsenal, but a good ring light really does improve the quality of the image you're producing. Also, a good light source brightens up your frame, creating a clearer image and causing less strain on the eyes for the people you’re engaging with on a daily basis. It’s one more thing to keep them focusing on the material.

Good: Revo Bi-Color Vlog Light with Phone Mount

Better: Raya Bendi-Brite Folding USB Bi-Color LED Ring Light

Best: GVM Bi-Color LED Ring Light

Laptop Stands

Laptop and device stands are key in ensuring comfort and reducing muscle strain or ache. There are many variables to the physical setup of an at-home workspace, like the physical space itself, but having your devices at eye level helps prevent neck, shoulder, and back pain. You will want one that offers some adjustability to fit different situations or comfort levels. If you like to stand up and sit down, having a stand that has a rotating axis or height-adjusting legs will be something else to look for.

Good: On-Stage LPT5000 Laptop Computer Stand

Better: Pyle Pro Universal Foldable Laptop Stand with Height Adjustment (Sitting or Standing)

Best: Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand (Standing) or Rain Design mStand (Sitting)

Laptop Backpacks

If you’re an educator who is switching back and forth between home and school, a comfortable laptop bag may be your saving grace. A laptop bag with large storage and organized pockets is crucial. Pockets, compartments, and slots for your docking station, devices, cables/wires/dongles, hard drives, and so on can ensure everything has its place for when you make your trek between home and school.

Good: Lenovo Legion 15.6" Recon Gaming Backpack

Better: Cocoon 15.6" SLIM Backpack

Best: Pelican U105 Urban Lite Backpack with 15.4" Laptop Pocket

Identifying the needs of your students and your workspace is the thoughtful intentionality that is an educator’s specialty. Tech is there to service those needs. Creating a workspace that is comfortable, affordable, and efficient will not only alleviate some stressors you may have regarding virtual at-home teaching, but it will complement and enhance the educational experience for your students.

Are you an educator with your own recommendations? Or do you have questions? Please feel free to drop by the Comments section, below!

1 Comment

Great Article!
During online classes, my Zooms lags behind, even if the internet is working fine. Do you recommend buying a new hard drive or refurbished external hard drive? 
Will that help in speeding up my PC?