5 Tools That Have Helped Me With Virtual Learning

A few weeks ago, I shared this post on Instagram. That day, I had everything set up to go well. We were going to be reading "The Bus Ride" by Sahar Sabati, so I went all out and tried to decorate for the virtual lesson, I had creepy music playing, and I was even planning to read the short story with the kids using flashlights.

Then, my mic wouldn't work for about 20 minutes. I couldn't figure it out, I was getting extremely flustered, but thankfully, my kids were understanding. Unfortunately, by the time I figured it all out, there wasn't much time left in class, and I was worried that not only did we lose time, they didn't quite walk away learning what I had hoped.

So, what did I learn? These things happen. Distance/remote/virtual platforms are so vastly different from what many of us have experienced, and even though I've been teaching for 8 years, this feels like I'm right back in year 1, and I know many of you can relate. 

It's okay to offer everyone a little grace right now. No one is doing this perfectly.

Over the last few weeks, I have failed, adjusted, learned, and succeeded, and while my district is planning to make its gradual return within a few weeks, none of us are quite experiencing the same teaching and learning right now.

I wanted to share with you all five tools/tips/tricks that have helped me navigate this new experience.

1) A USB Hub

Like many of you, I find myself having to plug in what feels like 8 million things in the morning. Did I plug my camera in? My mic? My mouse? My computer monitor? My four different USBs that I never know which files on which one (hopefully I'm not alone in that regard...)? The point is: I have a lot of stuff to plug in, and having a USB hub saves me a lot of time and effort in the morning. I grabbed one at Walmart that has 4 USB plug-ins so now, at the beginning and end of my days, I can just plug in and or unplug and go!

2) A Second Monitor

Some people have used a second monitor for years. I didn't really know the benefits of using one until recently, but I didn't have the money to go and buy a new monitor. Fortunately, I had a small TV in my room that I never used, and I thought, "This could probably work..." and it did! All I had to do was buy an HDMI cord from Amazon, plug it in, and now I can project and work from two screens.

On one screen, I'll have my Blackboard Collaborate session open with the kids, and on my laptop screen, I'll have Schoology opened. This makes it super easy to me to navigate between the two and also keep an eye on everything at once.

If you want another screen, consider checking out Facebook Marketplace or asking friends/colleagues/family for old TVs. You'd be surprised at what people have lying around :)

3) A Reliable Microphone

After my fiasco with the microphone, and after testing our multiple microphones over the years with for my Keeping the Wonder videos, I knew I would eventually want a nicer microphone.

Call it fate or just simply good luck, but Blue Microphones reached out to me shortly after that botched lesson and asked if I would like to try their Yeti Nano mic.

As we prepare to head back into the face-to-face instruction, I know that I will likely be teaching digitally and in person at the same time. A few facts about me as a teacher and a person: I don't like staying still, I like convenience, and I like teaching. A lot.

With the Yeti Nano, you can simply plug and play. There's no software required, and I haven't had a mic issue since. It also has this really neat feature that you can change depending on how you're teaching: use the cardioid mode if you are sitting at your desk and recording/providing digital instruction, or use the omnidirectional mode if you are going to be moving around. Whatever your teaching method, this mic will capture the sound and make it feel like you are being heard live in the classroom. :)

I know many of us are trying to make this as normal as we can, and having a quality microphone with sound can be just one step in doing that. I made a short video below highlighting my various microphones, and it's no surprise that the Yeti Nano provided the clearest quality:

If you want to get your very own Yeti Nano, check out their website here. You can also shop for them on sites like BestBuy.com and Amazon.com :)

4) A Daily Checklist

I'm a very task-oriented person, and with virtual learning, I feel like I have a never-ending to-do list. Did I take attendance? (I'll be honest: I'm never good at that lol). Did I upload the recordings? Did I grade everything? Am I on the right schedule? Did I lesson plan for the right class? Am I in the right class? 

I use a planner, but in case you don't have one, I also made this agenda template that you can just print and use, or you can simply add some text boxes on top! I don't know about you, but there's something satisfying about crossing something off my to-do list with a pen, so I like to print mine :)

5) An IEP/504 Accommodation Tracker

Although there are many aspects of virtual learning that are not ideal, in many ways, it is allowing us to work 1 on 1 with more students. In fact, some students prefer learning digitally and are performing even better than in the traditional classroom. One of my friends mentioned that her son is able to sit and remain completely focused whereas in person, he struggles with distractions. We all have different learning needs and are all trying to make the best of what we can with what we have.

This free IEP/504 accommodation tracker is something I have posted about on Instagram before, but I can't say how extremely helpful it is to have students' accommodations and supplementary aids on an at-a-glance reference sheet. This tool has completely changed the way I lesson plan and provide instruction. In the virtual learning environment, I use this tool to navigate and drive the work that I provide and do with my students, and being able to use some of the features in our platform like private chat working in their individual documents has been a positive.

Whether you are already back with face-to-face instruction, whether you are going back soon, or whether you decided to take the entire year off, I hope and wish you well. It is challenging, and we are certainly being challenged, but we got this :)