The options to teach online and in person simultaneously

If you want to know how to use your phone as a webcam/document camera I explain the steps to follow here.

Due to Covid-19 there is a possible teaching scenario which involves reducing the number of students in the class groups. You can’t halve the groups, duplicate the teachers and double the space in the schools, right? So there might be a need to teach online and in person simultaneously. Half of the group of students attend the lesson in person in the classroom, as usual, while the other half ‘attend’ the lesson from their homes via live streaming. 

The problem

The main problem here is that your students are in different locations, some are with you and some are at their homes seeing you through a screen. What works for the former might not work for the latter and viceversa.

On this page I have written the thinking process I have gone through, trying to find the best solution for the problem I have facing me as a teacher. I know that nothing can equal the teaching experience in person, but with the use of the right technology tools I can optimise how close I get to that experience.

Solution 1: Record the whiteboard

My first thought was to put up a camera on a tripod to live stream the whiteboard of the classroom to the students at home. This is a very comfortable way for me to deal with it, as it doesn’t change my teaching style. But let me tell you some reasons why I think it won’t work for the students:

  • The camera microphone won’t get my voice loud and clear as I’m meters away from it. Same problem if I use the laptop microphone.
  • My handwriting on the whiteboard will appear tiny for the students at home, even if they are using a computer screen. 
  • Reflections on the whiteboard from windows are never handled well by a camera.
  • Most of the time I’m going to be in between the camera and the whiteboard, concealing it. 
  • The whole teaching situation has changed and I don’t change the way I teach… when has that worked in education??
  • The students at home will have the feeling that they are just mere observers of a lesson given to the ones in the classroom. 

So dismissed then, I kept thinking. 

Solution 2: Use of digital paper

Ok, let’s change my teaching style then. I’ll use a handwriting notes taking app like Goodnotes with a stylus to handwrite digitally on my iPad. I will mirror the iPad to my computer to send a live image of what I’m writing on my iPad to the projector of the classroom while streaming the same live image to the students at home. 

This is a neat solution as it solves all the problems of the first method. Personally I love this method and I use it a lot on my lessons because I feel comfortable around technology. However, not every teacher might like this solution and as I’m looking for a solution that works for any teacher, not just me, there are some clear disadvantages:

  • If you don’t have an iPad, buying one is expensive.
  • Handwriting requires also a stylus (if you want your handwriting to be readable) and often a paid app, so more money.
  • The teacher needs practice to get used to digital handwriting with a stylus.
  • Teachers who are not IT friendly may find this method difficult and stressful and give up.

So dismissed then too. Then it hit me: a document camera. Of course, how couldn’t I think about it first?

Solution 3: Your phone as a document camera and a webcam

What I’m trying to do here is nothing new, it’s called a “document camera” and they record what you are writing on a paper sheet. Search them online, they all look like desktop lamps, but instead of a light they have a camera. Hey, some have both and can be used under dark conditions.

As they are often very expensive, I don’t think all schools can afford buying one of these for each classroom. To avoid the spending you can use your phone/tablet as a document camera.

If you are interested on this method and want to learn more about it, I have written a page explaining the steps about how to apply it. Basically you can turn your phone into a document camera and inject the video signal as a webcam just by plugging your phone to the computer and a free smartphone app.

Whether you decide to purchase a professional document camera, or go for the cheap version using your phone as one, the advantages of this method are:

  • I’m always really close to the microphone because it’s the one on the phone.
  • The image is clear as the document camera is very close to the sheet of paper. 
  • I’m not turning my back to the students in the classroom.
  • I’m in front of my computer to answer any questions that the students attending from home might have (through chat for example).
  • What I see on my laptop is exactly what every student is seeing. 
  • I can photocopy the lesson and hand it out to the students or scan it and send it online to all for them to review. 
  • I can also use the built in camera of my laptop at the same time so the ones at home can see me “looking at them too”. They are not mere observers anymore. 
  • I’m using the same writing spaces as the students.
  • It works like a charm to teach how to use a calculator (hey, I’m a maths teacher).
  • Teachers don’t need to learn any complex IT software or hardware setup.