Hi! Tell us about who you are and what you do.
I’m Martin Jones, and I am a freelance technical instructor. During the pandemic, I have been teaching with a station that has helped me to apply technology not typically used in person and helped reduce the disconnect caused by being remote.
What is your hardware setup?
My setup is naturally very different to one for a developer. There’s not a lot in the way of fancy specs. For example, consider the keyboard. You might like a nice mechanical keyboard (I have an ErgoDox on my dev station, which isn’t shown). That’d be too big and noisy for the teaching station. A membrane keyboard is a better choice for the audience’s experience, and it needs to be small because the station is tight on the instructor.
The picture above shows the teaching station in the lowered position, and the following list provides the key:
- Homemade sit/stand desk.
- Video lighting
- Shock-mounted microphone (travels up with shelf)
- Teleprompter monitor
- Safe (never broadcast) monitor
- Output monitor
- Presentation monitors
- Physical diagram area
- Digital diagram tablet
- Stream deck
- World clocks
- Floating camera controls (I didn’t finish them)
- Standing chair
I had to make the sit/stand desk because I found none that supported the needed travel, weight, or transition speed.
The teleprompter monitor is also homemade. It allows me to look directly into the camera while seeing the material presented or the audience. This monitor, like some of the others, is on the smaller side. That’s because they’re more for monitoring rather than reading, and I can see more with less eye movement with a small monitor.
I don’t use the Wacom tablet much; I nearly always draw on paper seen by a downward facing camera. It’s easier for me, and it’s a favourite amongst the audience, especially when everything else is so digital.
Most of the station is controlled from the stream deck. This includes sound effects played through my microphone. I use them very infrequently, often teaching for a couple of days before using one. That way, they come as a pleasant surprise rather than a gimmick.
The standing chair is excellent. I can simply lean against it a little while when I am teaching and it is positioned to remind me where to best stand for the camera.
The graphics card was a bit of a challenge. I ultimately settled on an AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT Challenger. I needed multiple outputs and near silent operation. One of the DP outputs is split for two monitors.
I have a blog posting that goes into the details of the build for anyone interested.
And what are the favorite items in your workspace?
The teleprompter. It’s made from a 7" LCD screen, a two-way mirror, and a Logitech StreamCam.
It’s a bit rough and ready - the driving circuit has been left exposed (visible on the right in the picture above) but the audience doesn’t see that, though.
The monitor is at the bottom of the box, and the camera is at the back with the two-way mirror positioned between them at 45 degrees. The picture above shows the mirror raised so that both the monitor and the camera are visible. OBS has fullscreen projection to this monitor, but it needs to be flipped because of the mirror.
It’s a big deal because it allows me to come as close as possible to eye contact with people on the other side of zoom. It’s possible to half do that by looking into your camera, but you can’t see the other person’s body language as readily. Instructors get hired because we can help people to learn things far faster and deeper than they can on their own. The better we can read the learner, the more effective we can be.
If I’m allowed to pick another, it would be the world clocks. Ostensibly it’s so I can track time when working across regions (some training happens concurrently in four time zones). But you can probably guess it’s also a gentle nod to Back to the Future.
Any favorite programs/apps/tools?
The question probably doesn’t mean wood or metal work tools, but I needed them in construction. I’m lucky that I had the space and the tools to do the build.
OBS is probably the most critical piece of software. But to give a less well-known tool, I also use Presentation Pointer. It has various tools for highlighting parts of the screen.
What are your favourite programming or scripting languages?
Is there anything you are missing in your setup?
When the pandemic started, I had a very basic setup for remote teaching. My wife suggested it would be worth getting ready for the long haul, so I built a more capable station. After two further iterations, I ended up with the Mk III, seen above. The Mk III has been stable for the last two years, so I don’t think I’m missing anything.
There were two things I planned to add but abandoned. One was the ability to control the position of items in OBS from the controller attached to the shelf. I also had a silly idea of writing a plugin for OBS that would see the position of my arms and then draw lasers onto the slide.
What book comes to your mind that you would like others to read?
It’s a reread for me (about the sixth time probably), but I’m excited to be starting ‘Dragonlance Chronicles’ with one of my kids as their pre-bed reading.