My Dedicated Zoom Work Station

Making the most of Zoom teaching

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

We have all experienced how draining Zoom meetings can be and how hard it is to concentrate when a speaker has bad audio. Since I will be teaching via Zoom this semester, I wanted my video and audio to be better than I was getting using my laptop. In addition, I needed

  • A set up that would hold my teaching notes.
  • Something that allowed me to be positioned in a way that approximated how I teach.
  • A separate workstation so I did not have to use my laptop, which is running all sorts of programs and on which I always have dozens of windows open.
  • Something dedicated only for teaching that I could keep configured the way I wanted.
  • Something compact that could easily be wheeled out of the way, since I use this space for my home gym and to play the drums. (Yes, that is sheet music for my drums now on the workstation.)

I am very pleased with the setup I settled on.

Zoom workstation

 

 

It consists of the following equipment with Amazon pricing (in descending order of price). (Unfortunately, I just missed out on buying the HP monitor from Staples for $275 before it sold out).

The total price for this setup was $704. I am also using a set of wired earbuds to plug into the mic so I can hear myself and the students and a wireless keyboard/mouse, both of which I already owned. The monitor has fine speakers for conferencing but this way, I do not disturb others in the house. Zoom lets you easily switch between the monitor speakers and the Pyle mic earphone jack. I will experiment with what seems most natural. The mic sounds awesome BTW. I highly recommend it for $55.

The light ring includes brackets for an IPad and IPhone as well as a Bluetooth remote to take selfie pictures with the IPhone that also mounts inside the ring.

I used the free OBS Studio software with a free Reaper ReaGate VST plug-in to eliminate the hum of the heat pump that is nearby. I am also running the Brave Browser which has enhanced privacy settings as compared with Chrome

I bought this particular computer cart because it had the tilting shelf for my notes. When configured this way, you can use the mouse but cannot easily use the keyboard. Since I won't be using a keyboard with this setup, that is fine for me. But others might figure out how to play with the shelves to allow better access to the keyboard–or get a different cart. I also like this one  because, in addition to the tilting shelf, it is adjustable from seated to standing height (much higher than in the picture) and allows me to teach while sitting on a stool as I sometimes do in the classroom. When I am seated, the mic and light ring are both out of the picture. It is decently made for $99.99.

 

This is the mini stick PC:

Unfortunately, the Terryza PC Stick I bought, which has 8GB RAM and 120GB SSD is now out of stock. I bought this one to ensure it could handle video streaming. $175 for a full featured Windows 10 Pro PC was pretty good, I thought. The lesser priced ones still available might work.

[Link to standing desk now fixed]

Update: Omitted the boom mic holder

UPDATE: I discovered the CPU on this micro PC is not adequate to handle 49 participants on Zoom. That requires an Intel dual core i7 processor. I will be returning this PC and the HP monitor for a setup that includes dual 24″ monitors, and the Intel quad core i7 processor needed to run a dual monitor session. This should allow me to view the entire class of 75 at the same time. By buying refurbished equipment, this will actually be $75 cheaper. Will post information the new system after it arrives and is set up.

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  1. The link to the standing desk is the same as the one to the monitor.

    1. Amazon search finds this which looks a little different but is the same price.

      1. Dang, prof, I didn’t realize your power. Now “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when it will be back in stock.” Way to go!

        They ought to pay you for your endorsement 🙂

  2. A UPS? (Uninterruptible Power Supply — Belkin is a common brand)

    It does three things — (a) provides battery backup in event of power failure, (b) maintains proper voltage if your line power is over or under what it should be, and (c) surge protection (line spikes).

    The big question is if you (or your ISP) can power your internet connection — not just your modem but what’s beyond it. POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) did, and DSL (beyond your modem) usually works. As I understand it, FIOS will as well as long as you replace the battery in your basement annually (otherwise *everything*, including voice calls to 911, goes out with the power. Grrrrrr….) Wireless depends on both the cell towers having power *and* their routers having power — YMMV….

    But Cable TV Internet depends on those boxes bolted to random telephone poles having power, and while they may not be on the same transformer (or even same primary wire) as you, they almost certainly are on the same 3 phase circuit. And you can’t power that box.

    So it’s a judgement call — how reliable your power is or isn’t (particularly in California where they are learning that pixie dust and unicorn flatulence doesn’t firm up volatile “green” energy), how much you don’t want to go dark mid-lecture, and if you even can keep your internet connection active.

    1. A UPS will also deal with a brownout — low voltage.

      That used to be *very* bad for computers because while they have internal transformers that convert to low voltage DC, they would convert it to a lower voltage of DC that burnt out computers.

      Increasingly I’ve seen transformers rated for anything from 100-240 volts so it probably isn’t as crucial as in years past. Of course low voltage (particularly if it is in your house and not the utility doing it) is very bad because it means you are overloading your wiring. You not only are paying to heat the wires in your walls but you can cook the insulation off them and then have a rather nasty fire. But I digress.

  3. I have a whole house propane generator, but a UPS is still an excellent suggestion. I have one elsewhere I can use.

  4. Great tech set up, but the stool looks very uncomfortable!

  5. Very good. I’m surprised by the number of professionals, many in media, who don’t understand that you need a ring light if you are using Zoom.

    But definitely get a UPS. I have one for my work stuff, but also for my televisions because I don’t want to be bothered with turning everything on after a 1 second power outage.

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