To get started with online tutoring, you want to have the following basic equipment:
Writing Tablet Input for Computer
Microphone and Headphones
I’ll go into each of these categories, and also list out the equipment that I use. Note, I do receive a commission from Amazon if you use my referral link (which adds no cost to you), but I use all of these products with my own tutoring business.
For the computer, I use a desktop Windows PC. A laptop will work in a pinch, but I prefer a larger monitor, as well as a second monitor. In my setup, the primary monitor is the whiteboard that I use to interact with my student. The second monitor is used to pull up problems or images from the student so I can easily copy and paste from there to the whiteboard. While it’s definitely doable to do this all on a single monitor, I find having a second monitor makes the session run smoother.
Most of my suggestions are geared for a Windows computer, because that’s what I’m most familiar with. It’s likely that a many of the tools I use could be used in a Mac environment, but I am not as familiar with the Mac environment. However, don’t let that stop you as most of my recommendations and tips aren’t really dependent on Windows. I don’t have a recommendation for a specific computer as mine is custom built, but any desktop PC should be fine.
I have tried something simpler like a Chromebook with a stylus and pen. What I’ve found is that it’s really cumbersome to write on the screen with the screen is up like a laptop. The hand positioning doesn’t feel natural. I’m able to flip the screen so I can write on it like a tablet, but then the webcam doesn’t capture my face correctly. I would imagine the same issues would arise with any other type of touchscreen laptop. As nice as it sounds to have a portable laptop that I can write on the screen, I just haven’t found it that easy to use.
Writing Tablet Input
This is a must-have item. It’s extremely cumbersome to write with the mouse, so having something where you can write similar to a pen is the most useful. There are a lot of different writing tablets out there. The more expensive ones like Wacom tablets are targeted towards artists who need high levels of pressure sensitivity to get the right detail for their artwork. Unless you are actually teaching art, I don’t recommend spending money on one of those. Instead, I use a low-cost writing tablet that’s good enough for handwriting and math problems.
When looking for a good tablet, you’ll want to consider the following factors:
Size of the writing area
Pen requiring a battery
You want to consider how large the writing area is. I like it as big as possible, to make the writing more fluid so something around the size of a piece of paper is ideal.
Some tablets have pens that require a battery. I previously used a tablet that requires a battery, and I still keep it as a backup tablet. However, it can be an annoyance when the pen runs out of battery in the middle of a session, and you have to tell your student you need to go get a battery. If you do go this route, I suggest always having a second battery on hand near you computer just in case.
Some tablets have physical buttons added onto it. I didn’t really consider this useful at the time, but I now heavily rely on it. The tablet I use has 8 buttons that I can map to specific commands. I tend to map them to copy, paste, and undo, but you can set them to any command you want. And if you couple this with Autohotkey scripts, then you’ll find the buttons incredibly helpful.
My Tablet: XP-Pen Star03
Microphone and Headphones
It’s tempting to start out by using the microphone built into your webcam, laptop, or headset. However, I suggest a high quality microphone for this. Your voice will be the most important part of the interaction with the student, so you want to make sure your voice comes through clearly without any static. There are definitely high quality microphones out there that cost several hundred dollars geared for streamers and YouTubers, but I would not suggest going that extreme. I would consider the following factors in a good microphone:
Filters out noise
Easy to position and keep out of the way
I previously experimented with some cheap microphones and a swivel arm. I found that while they were adequate, they still had a relatively high amount of static. When you’re starting out, it’s OK to have whatever headset or microphone you have lying around, but once you’ve started doing some online sessions, I recommend making this your first upgrade priority. I use the Blue Snowball USB Microphone. It has very high quality, small footprint, a filter for only directional sound, and not too expensive. However, it does sound a little quiet, even at maximum volume, but it’s by far the best microphone I’ve found at this price point.
I would also consider some basic headphones (any headphones will do). While most video chat software will be good enough to cancel out noise, I have occasionally seen feedback when using speakers with my microphone, so I just always use headphones to prevent any issues.
The webcam is the area you can spend the least amount of money. With most online tutoring sites, your video is a small portion of the screen, so lower quality video doesn’t really show up. Instead, what I would invest in is better lighting. I bought a few desk lamps with some bright light bulbs, and that just illuminates my face much better.
My webcam is actually pretty good, but you can still see the difference with and without lighting. I found the cheapest table lamps I could find on Amazon and filled them with LED bulbs from Costco. It made a huge difference, and it will help a lot even with a cheaper webcam.
I use a fairly nice webcam because I’ve also been streaming and making YouTube videos. However, I started out with a $10 webcam. The one I use now is the Logitech C922x Stream Webcam, but I would not recommend spending that much on a webcam until you’re really invested in the online tutoring business and making videos. For cheaper webcams, I’d consider a webcam that’s at least 720p resolution, but any webcam will do for the start.