You need some Basic Equipment to Teach Online.
You don't need to spend a fortune though.
Meet Harold Neel. Harold is a resident of Wyoming, USA. He’s one of the many Americans from small towns who are increasingly remote working. Harold was lucky to find ALO7 in 2017, as it is one of the most reputable companies to work with in the online ESL industry. This was the first and only company he applied to work for as an online ESL teacher. With some years and thousands of online lessons under his belt now, he is a veteran online ESL teacher.
Like most online ESL teachers based in USA, Harold teaches Chinese students during their evenings, which happen to be in the early hours of the morning in Wyoming when most people in USA are either still asleep or just rising. He’s done by 8 or 9 in the morning, leaving him the rest of the day to work on other things. When Harold is not teaching, he is an IT Support Expert, troubleshooting and solving all manners of issues users face with their equipment. He’s also busy being a stay-at-home parent. He’s probably not that unique these days, as more people enter the remote working space, doing a range of freelance work, including teaching English online.
So, what does make Harold different to most other online ESL teachers? Owing to his IT skills and background, he was hired in 2018 by ALO7 to provide IT support to its many online ESL teachers based in USA, when the company’s full-time IT Support in Shanghai have left the office for the day. This is a secondary role he is tasked with in addition to teaching online for the company. In reality, Harold probably supports online teachers in Canada, UK, Ireland, and other locations, outside of ALO7’s normal business hours.
Harold has troubleshooted hundreds, if not thousands of technical issues with online ESL teachers and their equipment. This gives him a unique perspective into what type of equipment online teachers use, what works well, and what to avoid.
When we first met Harold, he told us to drop him a line if we ever needed technical support with our equipment. Touch wood, we have not needed it, but if we did, Harold would be one of the first people we would get in touch with. We did meet up with Harold though, and asked him to share his perspectives about equipment needed to teach online. Share he did.
Interview with Harold Neel: What Equipment do you Need to Teach Online?
In this 25-minute video interview, Harold talks about everything you need to teach online. He covers a range of equipment and other technical aspects, including:
- What type of computer you should buy and the specs you need
- What you need to know about computer processors (CPUs) that most online ESL companies don’t tell you
- How to future-proof the computer you purchase
- What you should know about using a green screen while teaching online
- How much you should spend on a headset for online ESL teaching
- How to make sure you meet Internet requirements to teach ESL online
- Why it’s better to buy an affordable webcam rather than a high-end webcam for teaching online
- Why it’s important to think about lighting for your online teaching workstation
Being the honest and generous type of guy Harold is, he goes beyond the equipment needed and talks about:
- Why he decided to become an online ESL teacher
- What it’s like to teach English online and do other freelance work while being a stay-at-home parent
- Why he doesn’t think traveling while teaching online is a good idea
We hope you find this video helpful.
Equipment You Need to Teach Online
It goes without saying that you will need a computer to teach online. While many online teachers use laptops, we recommend investing in a desktop computer instead. Desktops are not only more cost-effective than laptops, but they are far more easily upgradeable, and thus have a longer lifespan. The temptation to buy a laptop to teach online will be high, but the cost of owning a laptop will be much higher, over time. There may be other reasons to own a laptop, though. So, be crystal clear about your specific goals with online teaching, and decide what’s really best for your use case.
Ideally, you should be spending no more than $800 – $1500 on a computer to teach online. Learn more about our recommended computers for online ESL teachers here:
Most online ESL companies require their teachers to wear a headset, and many of these companies expect their online teachers to wear a headset that has a boom mic. This is partly due to the expectation that wearing a headset with a boom mic provides better audio quality, but also partly because wearing one makes you look like a professional online teacher in the eyes of the company and students.
Fortunately, a good headset with boom mic should not cost you more than $50, and there are many options to choose from. Unfortunately, many are cheaply built and break easily. A decent well-known brand of headsets is Logitech, but there are other excellent options as well in the same price range.
Check out our recommended headsets for online ESL teachers here:
Fast and Reliable Internet
A fast and reliable Internet connection is a must for online teaching. Your Internet connection largely depends on the service quality in the area where you live, but for the majority of online teachers working from home, this will not be too difficult a requirement to meet. Still, a few things you need to ensure about your Internet connection is that it meets the online ESL company’s minimum upload and download speeds, but also has a low ping rate (latency). Generally, you should be aiming for upload and download speeds of 10Mbs or higher, and a ping rate less than 100ms.
Some online ESL companies also require their online teachers to use a wired connection, because connecting to the Internet with an Ethernet cable generally means a faster, more stable connection.
Read our complete guide to meeting Internet requirements for online teaching here:
Because you are teaching online, lighting plays an important part at your workstation. Some online ESL teachers go overboard with their lighting setup, but in truth, your lighting setup does not need to be elaborate or expensive. At a very basic level, you can do well with one or two inexpensive LED desk lamps and position them to get the best illumination on your face and body. Your aim is not to glow in the dark here, but rather to ensure your students can see you clearly. The positioning of your lights is just as important as the brightness of your room. We recommend LED lights for most online teaching setups, because they don’t emit as much heat, last longer, and are generally brighter than other types of lights. Some LED lights also give you the ability to adjust the light temperature between cool and warm colors, which is especially useful if you intend to use a green screen while teaching online, but also not a bad feature to have for just about anyone teaching online.
See our recommended LED lights for online teachers here:
Props / Teaching Aids
If you plan to teach online, you will need props and other teaching aids. Your props should be relevant to the age group of the ESL learners you teach, and should provide opportunities to elicit responses and encourage interaction from your students. They can also be excellent for warm-up activities, showing and telling activities, and games. Online ESL teachers should be equipped with props and teaching aids, including:
- Soft toys
- Play food
- Flash cards
Find out what props we recommend for ESL teachers and how to use them, right here:
Although a green screen is not a necessary piece of equipment for teaching online, having one can make a huge difference to your virtual classroom as well as student engagement. With advances in technology, software is getting better at layering your background with images and videos, without having to use a green screen. But it’s not yet perfect, and a green screen still gets you better results for the time being. Besides, they are an inexpensive investment for the value they bring to your online classroom professionalism.
We recommend some excellent, inexpensive green screen options for online ESL teachers, and you can learn how to use a green screen in an online classroom here:
Remember that when starting out as an online teacher, your biggest upfront cost will be your computer. Chances are you probably already have a computer you can use to get started. So, the remaining equipment you need to teach online are an inexpensive but decent headset with a boom mic, good, affordable LED lights, plenty of props and teaching aids, and if you wish, a green screen to layer your background with an image or video. Of course, don’t forget to test your Internet speed and make sure you have a solid, speedy Internet connection (preferably wired).
Some other pieces of equipment to consider are a standing desk, if you prefer standing or switching between standing and sitting, as well as an ergonomic chair for times when you might be sitting for hours teaching online.