Raise your hand if you’ve ever taken an online class. Millions of people have engaged in some type of virtual learning, whether it was offered by an educational institution, a private company, or an independent content creator. The online learning industry is growing fast — it’s expected to reach $350 million by 2025.
If you’re an educator, you’ll most likely need to live stream classes if you haven’t done so already. In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get started as a live streaming instructor, including a basic setup for live video and tips for making your virtual lessons more engaging.
Why live stream your classes?
Live streaming your lectures and lessons means you can continue to provide classes to your students when you can’t meet in person. It gives more flexibility to both teachers and students. The real-time nature of live video also means your virtual classroom can be just as interactive as your in-person one.
Educational live streaming doesn’t only cover classes. It also applies to a wide range of events, including:
- Lectures and discussion panels
- School assemblies
- Science fairs
- Laboratory exercises
- Tutorials and workshops
Virtual learning has emerged as one of the top ways for teachers and coaches to connect with students remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to adopt live stream classes, but distance learning was already on the rise. One-third of all college students took at least one course online before the pandemic. And as of 2019, there were 7.3 million students enrolled in remote learning courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S.
Both teachers and students have seen the value of using live video for education, as 68% of educators believe video content stimulates discussions, and 62% believe video helps teachers be more effective. With the growth of the online learning industry, students can learn about topics outside traditional school curriculums. Adults who are past school age can use online courses to learn new skills too.
What do you need to start live streaming teaching?
One of the best reasons to live stream your lessons is that it doesn’t cost much. Technically, all you need to broadcast your courses is a smartphone and a social media account. If you invest a little more, though, you can produce engaging live videos that are just as interactive as in-person classes.
To start educational live streaming, you’ll need basic streaming gear, a stable internet connection, platforms to stream to, and streaming software.
Basic streaming gear
If you plan to stream classes regularly, you should set up a decent live streaming home studio. The basic gear your studio needs includes a camera or two, microphone, computer, tripod, encoder, and lights.
For a higher-quality broadcast, avoid using your laptop’s built-in camera and get an external webcam instead. The Logitech C922 Pro is used by many live video content creators, and the Razer Kiyo comes with its own ring light. If you have a DSLR camera handy, you can use it to live stream your classes as well, but you’ll need either webcam software or a capture card.
You might consider using more than one camera for your live stream classes, as multiple camera angles add variety to your stream. If you’re doing a science experiment or a hands-on tutorial, having a second camera to film your workspace is a must. To pull off a multi-camera streaming setup, you’ll either need software that supports it or a switcher. A switcher lets you switch back and forth between video sources.
For live streaming, there are two types of external microphones available: USB and XLR. A USB mic plugs directly into your computer via a USB cable, while an XLR mic plugs into an audio interface that connects to your computer. If you don’t want to stay in one spot during your stream, you can also use a lavalier microphone, or lav mic, that clips onto your clothing.
If you choose a USB or XLR mic, you will need a mic stand or mic arm to prop it up. A mic arm could be a good investment, as you can adjust the microphone in whatever position you want, and it keeps one less item from cluttering your desk. Some good choices for streaming microphones are the Shure SM7B and the AudioTechnica AT2020USB+.
If you want to live stream your classes, it’s better to use a computer rather than a mobile phone because you’ll have more control over your stream. A computer lets you use broadcasting programs, such as OBS Studio and Restream Studio, which allow you to add custom graphics and captions, share your screen and present slideshows, or play local video files. It’s hard to do all of that from a mobile device.
Depending on your setup, you might require two computers instead of just one. Streaming live video uses up a lot of system resources, and if you’re running other programs at the same time or plan to record your lesson, you’ll need a very powerful computer or two separate computers to prevent lags in your stream. If you have two computers, you can use one to run your presentation or classroom activity and the other to live stream and record the class.
In a survey of parents about remote learning, 32% listed “struggling to focus during class” as a top learning pain point for their kids. If you want your students to pay attention during your virtual lesson, you need a high-quality stream. To achieve this, you’ll need adequate video lighting. Using the existing lights in your home or office likely won’t cut it, and you can’t rely on the weather enough to use natural lighting every day. Good lighting isn’t expensive, but the impact it has on your video quality is immense.
The lighting you’ll need will depend on how you set up your studio, but a typical lighting scheme includes a fill light, a key light, and a back light, with the fill and key lights on either side of your camera and a back light behind you to eliminate shadows. If you can only afford one light for now, you can get a ring light, which casts you in an even light in front of the camera.
Having something to place your camera on is not only more convenient for you but also ensures better-quality video. You can keep your hands free to present your slides, draw on a whiteboard, or demonstrate an activity. If you stream lessons every day, you can also keep your camera positioned in exactly the right spot on the tripod without worrying about having to adjust it for each new lesson.
🔴 Encoder or streaming software
To send your live video to the platform of your choice, you will need an encoder. You can either purchase a hardware encoder or download a software or cloud-based encoder. An external hardware encoder will free up some of the resources on your computer, but it’s one more piece of gear on your desk.
Encoding software is more user-friendly and typically a good choice for new streamers. OBS Studio is a popular encoding software that’s free to use. Restream Studio is a cloud-based software that doesn’t require any downloads and lets you stream to multiple channels at once.
👍 Stable internet connection
In addition to the right streaming gear, you’ll also need to ensure you have a good internet connection. Specifically, you need adequate upload speeds to stream your content to the platform of your choice without interruptions or excessive buffering. A top remote learning pain point is bandwidth issues, according to 54% of parents who were asked about their children’s online learning environment.
To determine a good upload speed, you first must choose a streaming platform, as they all have different requirements. It also varies depending on the resolution and frame rate of your live video; higher resolutions and frame rates require faster upload speeds. Also, consider connecting your streaming computer to the internet via an Ethernet cable, rather than over Wi-Fi. The connection is more likely to drop over wireless internet.
🔗 Platforms to stream to
Before you start live streaming your lessons, you need to choose a platform to stream to. There are many options available, and most of them are free to use. You’ll have to decide what’s important for your virtual classroom so you can choose the platform that works best for the needs of you and your students.
What to look for in a live streaming platform for education
1. Live chat
One vital function your platform of choice needs is a live chat or Q&A function. If your classroom focuses on interactivity and student participation, students must be able to ask you questions and add comments in real time. Using the live chat feature on a streaming platform might prove more useful than having all your students hop on a videoconference call because you can more easily control student participation. A videoconferencing platform might work better for smaller classrooms, where a limited number of students poses a smaller risk of interruptions.
Another important feature of a live video platform is recording and storing broadcasts for later use. You’ll want to make the lessons available for students to watch again later. Some platforms, like YouTube, automatically create a recording and post it to your YouTube channel as soon as it’s over. Some encoding software also allows you to record your live video, which you can post online later. Using software to stream and record at the same time takes up more computer resources, but it does make it easier to edit the recording before you post it.
If privacy is important to you and your students, you should pick a platform that doesn’t make your lessons public by default. One solution is streaming to a closed Facebook group that only you and your students are members of. If you want to password protect your live stream, you may have to use a videoconferencing platform or third-party tool instead.
Finally, you should look for a streaming platform with analytics features. You’ll want to know how many of your students are tuning in, how long they watch for, and other important live video metrics to help you improve upon future lessons.
You may decide you want to stream your virtual classroom to multiple platforms instead of just one. That way, your students can tune in on whichever platform suits them best. To multistream, you’ll need a tool that lets you go live on your chosen platforms and integrates with your streaming software. If you use Restream Studio, you can broadcast your live video and send it to multiple platforms, without having to use any other tools.
Make your virtual classroom successful
Once you set up your streaming gear and select a streaming platform, stick to the following tips as you plan and present your online classes.
🤓 Prepare content in advance
There are key differences to teaching online versus in person. Your students will only have the screen in front of them to watch you and your lesson, so you need to ensure your presentation, slideshow, or notes are clear and easy to read.
Rather than having a chalkboard or dry-erase board behind you as you would in a traditional classroom, draw or write your notes on paper and point your second camera at it. It will be much easier for your students to see. Screen sharing is also a powerful tool for virtual teaching — just be sure not to share any private details on your screen during your lessons.
As you plan the content for your class, remember to block off time for questions. You’ll also have to keep an eye on the live chat throughout your stream for questions from your students. In addition, make the materials you use available for students to download before the stream starts, so they can follow along.
🏠 Set up a live streaming home studio
It might not be possible for you to broadcast your lessons from your office or regular classroom, so you’ll need to set up a live streaming studio at home. Keep these tips in mind when designing your home studio:
- Choose a private space with natural light. Ideally, you can broadcast your lessons from a private room with a door, so you’ll have no interruptions. Ensure it’s big enough for all your live streaming equipment, and try to choose a space with plenty of natural lighting if possible.
- Create a neutral background. You don’t want your students to get distracted by what’s behind you, so clear away any clutter and aim for a neutral backdrop. Bookshelves work well if you have them, but if not, you can always use a virtual background with chroma key and a green screen.
- Set up your equipment. Position your computer, camera, mic, lights, and other streaming equipment on your desk or work surface. Run some tests to ensure you and your teaching materials are in-frame. Once you have the perfect setup, don’t move anything!
- Soundproof the studio. If you live with other people, you don’t want to bother them with your noise. You also don’t want their noises to come through on your stream. You can soundproof your studio by adding soundproof foam panels on your wall, hanging fleece blankets, or using a lot of pillows, rugs, and soft materials to help absorb sound.
🙌 Test everything
You don’t want to experience any technical glitches or mistakes on camera when you’re in front of your students, so do test runs before going live. Test your internet connection to ensure it’s stable, make sure you’ve connected your video and audio equipment properly, and adjust your lighting for the best possible quality. You can either do a recording without going live anywhere using a service like Restream Studio, or you can create a “test” stream on your preferred platforms to ensure everything is working.
🤩 Be engaging
Keeping your students’ attention during a lecture, lesson, or presentation can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching. It’s not always easy to engage students during in-person classes, but holding their attention during a live stream is even more difficult.
To make your virtual lesson more engaging, try these tips:
- Assign homework. Before the stream starts, give students an activity or worksheet to complete so you can go over it together on-stream.
- Plan activities. Break up the monotony of a 40-minute class by allowing blocks of time for questions or activities. Choose activities that allow the students to speak to you and each other so they feel more involved in the class.
- Prepare appealing visuals. One boring slide after another will have your students tuning out quickly. If you use slides during your online class, make them pop by adding some graphs or simple illustrations.
💪 Have confidence on camera
Even if you’re used to presenting lessons in front of a large class of students in person, you may not find it so easy to do the same in front of a camera. Speaking into a lens rather than to real people makes some live streamers feel uneasy, but you can build confidence so you’re more comfortable on camera.
To make yourself feel less nervous, ensure everything is prepared before you go live. Set up your studio, test your equipment, and prepare your content. Make a backup plan in case something goes wrong, like if your internet connection gets interrupted or your power goes out. Remember to prepare yourself in addition to your virtual lesson. Get plenty of sleep the night before class, stay hydrated, and try to look nice before flipping your camera on.
Another way to appear more confident on camera is to control your body language. Sit up straight, relax your shoulders, and try not to fidget.
Good posture will help you fill your lungs with more air, which makes your voice sound clearer and stronger as well.
💬 Ask students for feedback
One surefire way to make your live stream classes more engaging for your students is to ask for their opinions. At the end of each week or month, send out a short survey asking your students what their favorite and least favorite lesson was. You could also set aside some class time each week to ask students for feedback. Having a group discussion about what works and what doesn’t can be extremely helpful to you as an online educator.
Let’s wrap up
When you start to live stream your classes, you’ll need the right gear and resources to be successful. You don’t have to overhaul your course content from your in-person classes, just adapt it for online viewing. If you prepare well, it’s easy to host an engaging virtual lesson for your students.