Community,  Demos,  In Your Store

Teach from Anywhere to Everywhere: Building a Virtual Classroom

In the age of social media and schooling from home, the novelty of online education may have worn off, but it’s also becoming normalized, accepted and even expected. These classes come in many forms: blog posts with images, pre-recorded videos hosted on YouTube or Vimeo, social media “Live” events, Zoom classes and more.

In the past, we have encouraged investing in education for your customer base and making space for classrooms. But with COVID, most of these classrooms remain empty. Retailers who have a dedicated group of teachers are at the mercy of the teacher’s technological skills and investments. And customers who want to support the stores are left looking for that opportunity. 

In the pursuit of finding a solution that would work for everyone with guidelines from the CDC, a limited budget and limited space, we created the Portable Digital Classroom (PDC). This PDC will fit in the backseat or trunk of a car, can be set up in 15 minutes, and will provide an elevated and unified look to your online education. 

Build Your Own: Portable Digital Classroom Shopping List

I gave myself a budget of $250 for my PDC which felt like a reasonable investment for potential engagement (and sales). These items also felt inexpensive enough to replace, if necessary, from damage or loss. 

How did I determine these items? YouTube. I looked up popular YouTube teachers and the tools they use in addition to a camera. I also reached out to some actor friends and asked what their self-tape set-up is, since in-person auditions aren’t happening right now. 

Assuming a teacher would join the video call by both phone and computer, here’s what I bought:

This set up allows for overhead and front views

The Why Behind the Tools

These items were purchased because together they make a very professional arrangement, and it’s not too much for a teacher to set up and tear-down independently. My goal here is that retailers might drop off the classroom on a teacher’s doorstep with instructions and then pick it up after the class so that other instructors can utilize the very same kit (with disinfectant wipes included, of course!).

The ring light is what makes this photo pop- I am in an unlit room here!
This backdrop is a little much, though.

If you take one piece of advice from this article and purchase one thing, it’s this: don’t skip the Ring Light! If you haven’t filmed people before this may seem frivolous, but the quality of the videos you produce greatly affects your image as a retailer. The more professional your videos look the more professional you look, and better lighting makes for better videos. And, as the kids say, everyone is doing it.

I chose this ring light because of the 18k reviews leaving it at just under 5 stars. It’s super easy to set up, comes with an attachment to hold your phone for a front-facing shot.  When you provide this to your teachers in their homes, help them by indicating where on the dial you’d like them to set the brightness: you’re looking for consistent videos and the content that looks great all together.

A sturdy work surface is very important, especially when demonstrating lettering. A spacious set up allows you to keep your laptop in front of you.

This folding camping table is short and sturdy. It is lightweight, folds neatly, and can be easily transported by one person. I didn’t go with the camping tables that had taller telescoping legs on purpose. I chose to save $40 by buying some bed-risers instead. These add a solid foundation to a sturdy table, rather than creating a wobbly surface by extending legs. And, depending on the height of your teacher, or if they want to stand or sit, you can adjust the height 3, 5, or 8 inches. I also bought this stretchy table cover that is easily washable, stretches completely down under the legs, and has no wrinkles. This keeps the table from getting marked up and provides a uniform look to your videos. If I were a retailer, I might go with a color that was in line with my store logo. 

Adjusting the overhead camera with no help from Jack

The backdrop stand and the backdrop are versatile. You can use them together, or you can use the fun hack of suspending your camera from the backdrop stand with your articulating phone clamp for an overhead view. And hanging the backdrop on the wall behind you with command hooks. There are hundreds of backdrops (or shower curtains!) available for $10-20. Choose a background that makes sense for your business, or if the instructor’s surroundings are suitable, that can be a great option for a more intimate feel.

Some other tools to keep in your PDC:

  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Lint Roller to keep the work surface pristine
  • Tape: gaff tape or masking tape will help your teachers deal with any cords in their home or tape up a backdrop if Command hooks don’t work. 
  • Signage or store swag: store signage or advertisements that your teachers can move into the frame during the class
  • Snacks: nothing beats breaking down your PDC and eating some chocolate after a successful lesson! 

Would you consider putting together a Portable Digital Classroom? We’d love to hear about it. For more about virtual classrooms, check out some tips from Scott Stevenson’s experience at Allard’s, and discover what makes Wet Paint’s virtual programming so successful.

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