When our school buildings closed in March due to COVID-19, none of us knew exactly when we would be getting back to business as usual. My school district implemented a continuity of learning plan which kept us in contact with our students and engaging in weekly lessons, but was more of a temporary stopgap rather than intentional virtual teaching.
I found out last week that because of the continued community spread in my county, we are going to be doing virtual learning for the entire first semester of the 2020-21 school year. Now that we know in advance, it's no longer a temporary contingency plan. It's time to be purposeful and plan meaningful lessons that we implement synchronously and asynchronously.
Usually this is the time of year that I start roaming through Target and my local thrift stores to snatch up new goodies for classroom decor and fun toys or manipulatives. However, this year it looks very different: instead I'm filling up an Amazon shopping cart with the tools I will need to set up my space for successful virtual learning this fall.
It is so great to be able to see my students' faces when we do our virtual class meetings. However, when I need to share my screen I have to choose between looking at the meeting or looking at the document I'm sharing. It's important to keep an eye on the meeting in order to monitor the chat and look for students who may be raising their hand for clarification. But then I can't see the song or presentation that I'm sharing with the class.
The solution is to hook up a second monitor so that you can have the meeting on one screen and the presentation on the other. I know many teachers who use a TV as their second monitor. However, since I have small children at home I can't work in the living room where the TV is. For me, it made the most sense to purchase a second monitor for my workspace.
I'll admit it: my husband and I are pack rats. My "home office" (read: small desk that I've had since childhood) is up against the wall in a cluttered room full of children's clothes, board games, workout gear, my husband's recording equipment, and so much other
junk useful stuff.
One way I was able to adapt my cluttered space to make it more useful with working from home was by turning my desk around. Now I have a plain wall behind me for filming teaching videos and participating in Zoom conferences. To jazz it up a little, I decided to purchase a wall tapestry to hang on the plain wall. Now I have the option to use a simple white background or a nice nature scene when I need to be on camera.
I am lucky to have a touchscreen device provided by my school system which functions as a laptop or a tablet. It's extremely versatile and I love using it as a tablet, especially to screen share with students and use tools like a virtual white board. However, writing with your index finger is clunky at best, so this year I will be investing in a stylus pen.
A major downside to having my workspace in the basement is the lack of natural lighting. With only the overhead light available in the room, I look like a dimly-lit pink blob. But with one click of the ring light, I can be in a video and look like a normal human!
One thing I learned from doing online grad school in July was that the blue light from my screens was really affecting me. I was getting headaches every afternoon and it was taking me hours to fall asleep every night! Fortunately, most devices have an option in the screen settings to reduce blue light automatically. However, that does affect the tint of colors on the screen. Many people opt to wear blue light filtering glasses instead.
None of us knows exactly how long this virtual learning situation will last. But, as usual, I plan to be prepared for anything. And also as usual, I prepared by doing some online shopping! If you're interested in the specific items I've been shopping for, the following are paid Amazon affiliate links for the things on this list: