Finding the best computer for teaching ESL online is going to be one of the first decisions you make if you are looking to teach online. I’m going to go through what you want to look for and give you some options for optimal performance when you are teaching a class.
What should I look for when buying a computer for teaching ESL online?
The first thing you want to do is look at the specific company you are looking to work at to see if they lay out any specifications for teaching online. Each company is going to have different specifications, however, the minimum that each company lists out is pretty similar. Let’s take a look at what some of the top companies list as the minimum requirements for teaching online.
Tech Requirements For Three Major Online ESL Companies
Windows 7 – 10
Mac OS 10.8x
Windows 8 – 10
Mac OS 10.8x
Windows 7 – 10
Mac OS 10.10x
Intel Core i3
Dual Core 1Ghz
Intel Core i3
As you can see, many of the online companies have similar requirements. Your computer should have a fast processor that will be able to handle running the companies courseware as well as consistent live streaming of video and audio during the class. Each company has a minimum RAM requirement to ensure your computer can handle each of the different tasks that will be performed simultaneously without crashing. The companies also have a minimum requirement for the operating system to ensure that your OS will work with their courseware and is up to date. Making sure from the beginning that you buy a computer that can not only handle these current requirements, but, also will be able to keep up to date for at least a few years with future courseware updates, operating system upgrades, and any other potential changes that could strain your computer will be a wise investment that will ensure you don’t have to buy a new computer a year after your current purchase.
Do I need a laptop or a desktop computer for teaching ESL online?
In an ideal world, you would be able to get a desktop computer for teaching when you are at home and then a laptop computer for the occasions which you travel and decide to teach classes. However, some people may decide only to get one computer. So, before you make the decision of whether to purchase a desktop or a laptop computer for teaching ESL online there are a few things you should take into consideration.
Will you be using your teaching computer as your primary computer?
While some people may be buying a computer with the primary purpose of teaching ESL online, most people will probably be teaching on their computer as a secondary activity and using their computer primarily for everyday activities. This means you are going to be surfing the net, writing and saving documents, saving music, etc. This is also just the average person. If you do anything such as music or video creation then your computer is going to be going through very intense strain outside of just teaching.
The problem with this is that those extra everyday activities can begin to quickly use up the resources that you will need your computer to have for teaching ESL online. In this case, it may be better to look for a desktop computer that you can update hardware wise as you begin to use up the resources. A desktop computer will allow you to easily switch out the insides such as adding a larger hard drive and more RAM as well as increasing the graphics card or sound card if you need it so that no matter how much strain you are putting on your computer you will easily be able to keep it in peak condition for teaching ESL online.
If you will primarily be using your computer for teaching ESL online or if you do not do much more outside of surfing the internet and occasionally writing a document, a laptop should be just fine.
Will you be traveling a lot while teaching ESL online?
This one is a given. If you are going to be on the road a lot of the time while also teaching then you are going to need a laptop computer. Even today desktop computers are bulky and hard to move around making it impossible for you to easily transport one. You will want to find a laptop computer with a screen size of 15″ or more in order to make it easy and comfortable to see your students while teaching.
Can I get a Mac or do I need a PC?
While this one is going to be largely dependent on your own personal preference, there is also going to be some practical factors that come into play when making this decision. Most of the online ESL companies allow their teachers to have Mac computers as well as PCs. However, what you have to take into consideration is that many of the courseware programs that are used by these companies and schools were originally built for the PC and can be glitchy on the Mac.
Take one of the main companies that I work for. They allow for users to operate on both Macs and PCs and there are many tutors that teach for this company using a Mac. However, on the companies Facebook group, there are countless posts from these Mac users about problems they have using the online courseware as well as the video streaming software. They complain much more of the courseware being glitchy than their PC using coworkers such as myself. This is because the majority of the tutors that work for this company, and indeed this is probably the case for many companies, use PCs so that when the tech people make updates and design new courseware they are doing it with a primary focus on the PC user.
So, if you absolutely have to have a Mac then, by all means, you will be fine using one to teach ESL online. You may have a few irritating moments here and there but you will be fine. However, I strongly recommend you use a PC and you will notice that the computers on this list are all PCs for that reason.
What else should I consider when buying a computer for teaching ESL online?
While the primary factors you are looking at will be the performance specifications listed above there will also be a number of other things you are going to want to look at in order to find the perfect computer for you.
Laptop Battery Life
If you have settled on a laptop for teaching ESL online then a very important factor is going to be how long you will be able to teach on the battery alone. You may be thinking that you will only be teaching while your computer is plugged in. But, think about this scenario (which has happened to me on more than one occasion). You are about an hour away from teaching classes and your power goes out. Okay, no problem. You can use your phone as a hotspot for a backup internet source and it has plenty of battery to get you through the two or three classes you have that night. Now, what about your laptop? If you have selected a computer with a long operating battery life then you are going to be fine. If not, then you are going to be canceling some classes and losing some money and if you work for a company with an extremely strict cancellation policy maybe even looking for a new job.
You want a laptop that can operate for at least 10 hours which will ensure you can get through all of your classes with no problems despite the energy-intensive tasks of streaming video.
Optimal Screen Size
Screen size is going to be an important factor for both laptops as well as desktop monitors. The primary thing to think about is how your students are going to look on the picture-in-picture. If you get a screen that is too small your students are going to look like little blobs and it is going to be hard to see if they are paying attention or if they are having trouble which may require you to contact support.
I recommend not to get a laptop or desktop monitor with a screen smaller than 14″. This is a good size for not only viewing your students but also so that you don’t have problems viewing the courseware properly. Make sure you are being kind to your eyes. If you need a larger screen then don’t hesitate to get one. Especially if you are using a desktop computer there are plenty of options for monitor size ranging from small to extremely large.
Camera and Microphone Quality
The requirements for every company are the same. HD quality video and a high-quality microphone. What you are going to have to think about is whether you are going to be using your computers built-in microphone and webcam or if you will be buying an external camera and microphone.
If you will be buying an external camera and microphone then you can think about what to use later as there will be plenty of options to choose from. However, if you are going to be dependent on the built-in webcam then you will want a camera that is at least 2.1 megapixels. Most built-in microphones on newer laptops will be more than sufficient for teaching ESL online, though, if you are looking for an external microphone then you can look at getting a good headset with a microphone attached.
Extra USB Ports
Having enough USB ports will be important if you are using things like an external mouse, USB headset, external microphone separate from the headset, or an external webcam. Many newer laptops are being built with only one or two USB plugins if any at all in an attempt to make the computer smaller and lighter.
There is always an option of using a USB hub that will expand the number of available USB ports you can use but you must remember that these hubs might not function as efficiently as the USB ports directly on your computer. I would recommend a laptop or desktop computer with a minimum of three USB ports. This will allow for a USB headset with a microphone, an external webcam, and an external mouse if you prefer using one.
What are the best laptop computers for teaching ESL online?
ASUS VivoBook S
- The VivoBook S is extremely thin and lightweight. This makes it incredibly convenient to pack up in your computer bag and move around with. The computer comes in at just over 3lbs in weight and has a barely noticeable 0.7″ profile which makes it the thinnest computer on our list.
- The VivoBook S comes preloaded with Windows 10 and has the specs to allow you to keep up with any future versions of the Windows Operating System. This will ensure that you are able to use the courseware for any online ESL company.
- My personal favorite feature comes with the i7 model and that is the combination solid state drive and hard disk drive. The i7 version comes equipped with a 128GB SSD which works in conjunction with a 1TB HDD. This means you can store apps on the SSD for faster load times and use the HDD for all of your files such as movies, books, and documents. This will keep your computer running fast and keep your hard drive from getting bogged down which is a major plus with online teaching.
- Many users have complained about the location of the speakers on both the i5 and i7 models which are on the bottom of the laptop. Having had an ASUS 2-in-1 before which also had speakers on the bottom I can vouch that it severely diminishes the sound quality form the speakers. This won’t affect your teaching as you will be using a headset but can be a problem during other times when you want to use the speakers of the laptop. You may have to use the computer in conjunction with a Bluetooth speaker for things like watching movies and listening to music.
- The RAM on this computer cannot be expanded. Because of this, should you ever need more RAM in the future, you will need to purchase a new computer. This won’t be a problem for the vast majority of people. However, if you plan on performing resource-intensive tasks such as video or audio editing you may need to look at a more resource heavy laptop or, even better, a desktop computer.
- Many users have complained that the internal webcam is quite lacking in quality. This is an issue with a large number of laptops and one which can be easily remedied by using an external HD webcam.
Acer Swift 3
- The 14″ display is large enough for a comfortable teaching experience. The added benefit of having an HD screen which will display images in a clear and crisp fashion means you will easily and clearly be able to see your students while they are in picture-in-picture during the class.
- The Acer Swift 3 comes preloaded with Windows 10 which is what most online ESL companies require for their teachers to have. The memory and size will also allow you to comfortably upgrade to any future versions of windows without having any problems.
- The Acer Swift 3 is low-cost when compared to many other laptops with similar specifications. This will allow you to save a bit on your budget but still purchase a laptop with high-level performance.
- The Acer Swift 3 only has 10 hours of standalone battery life and potentially less depending on the tasks you are performing. This just meets the 10-hour minimum recommendation and because of this may not be the best computer if you live in a place that has sometimes unstable electricity such as major cities where rolling blackouts can occur or in areas with frequent severe weather which can result in blackouts.
- There is little difference in the specs between the i5 and i7 models despite the i7 model costing more. Because of this, it isn’t recommended purchasing the i7 model as you are not getting much more in the way of performance. (The memory on this laptop can be upgraded, however).
- Coming in at almost 4lbs, the Acer Swift 3 may be a little heavy for frequent travelers who will be looking to maximize their carry on bag in order to avoid checked bag fees.
Dell XPS 15
- The Killer 1535 Wireless-AC adapter prioritizes all network traffic coming through so that the most important data arrives first. This can potentially help ensure a smooth and seamless connection when teaching classes and can be a significant advantage for teachers who use a WiFi connection when teaching.
- The 16GB of RAM that the 512GB SSD version comes equipped with ensures that you will be able to keep up with updates in the courseware of any online ESL company as well as newer versions of Windows OS without having any slow down in performance.
- The Dell XPS 15 comes preloaded with Windows 10 Home edition ensuring that you can use the online courseware from any of the online ESL companies. The specs of this computer also ensure you can easily upgrade to any future versions of Windows OS.
- The Dell XPS 15 weighs 4.41lbs making it the heaviest laptop on this list. As mentioned above if you travel a lot and are looking to utilize your carry on without having any checked in luggage this laptop will consume a large amount of your weight limit.
- The battery life on the Dell XPS 15 has up to 5 hours of total standalone battery life making it the poorest performing computer on our list in terms of battery life and well below the 10-hour minimum recommendation. This may not be the best laptop if you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages and may have to teach on the battery alone.
- This is a higher end laptop and therefore runs at a premium price. The Dell XPS 15 is the most expensive laptop on this list and may not be for budget-strapped teachers.
What are the best desktop computers for teaching ESL online?
Acer Aspire AZ3
- The Acer Aspire AZ3 is an all in one desktop computer. What this means is that the monitor, CPU, and all the other features are bundled into one machine. This is as opposed to a standalone CPU tower and separate monitor. This can be extremely handy for people who are looking to maximize their space and keep their home office from getting too cluttered.
- The built-in NVIDIA GeForce 940M graphics card allows users to experience seamless graphics output ensuring high-quality display. This means you will be able to clearly see your students during the class and have no problems easily viewing your companies courseware.
- The screen is a solid 23.8″ which means you will have no trouble clearly seeing what’s going on with your students and the courseware. This is a distinct advantage over laptop computers which come equipped with screens close to close to half this size.
- The Acer Aspire AZ3 is still extremely new compared to other Acer computer lines and therefore does not have as long of a track record. This means there could be some potential issues that are as yet still unknown.
- Because this is an all in one desktop computer it is slightly less customizable when compared to standalone CPU towers. If you want a larger monitor, for example, you are going to have to connect it separately.
- This is the most expensive option for desktop computers on our list and therefore may not be the best option for budget-minded teachers.
HP Pavilion Wave
- The HP Pavilion Wave comes preloaded with Windows 10 so you will have the latest operating system to work with. This paired with the computers specs will ensure that you are able to use the courseware of any online ESL company and will also be able to keep up with any updates or future OS releases.
- The 8GB of RAM means you are going to be able to handle a large number of tasks simultaneously such as running courseware and video streaming along with any other background tasks you like to run while teaching without worrying about your computer lagging or your performance suffering in the process.
- The computer tower comes in at 6lbs making it the lightest computer on our list. If you are a teacher that tends to move locations a lot or know that you will be moving your computer from one room to another quite frequently then this may be the best option for you.
- This computer isn’t as customizable as some other machines that are on the market. This isn’t a major problem as the current specifications are more than enough for teaching ESL online. However, this can be a problem if you want to upgrade your hardware in order to keep up with new OS releases.
- Some users have complained about the way that Amazon Alexa has been integrated into the machine so that if the computer goes to sleep mode you have to first wake it up again before being able to use Amazon Alexa.
- A few users have complained that the boot time is longer than expected or desired which was a downside. While this isn’t a major downside and what makes a long boot time can be different depending on what your expectations are, it may be a problem if you need to quickly restart and boot the computer between classes due to updates or an error.
Dell Inspiron 5680
- This is the most customizable of all of the computers on this list. The major benefit of this is that you can add and upgrade your hardware in order to keep up with up new versions of Windows OS as well as updates to your companies courseware and other updates that will demand more resources from your machine.
- Windows 10 Home edition comes preloaded into this machine so you will be current with what most online ESL companies are making their courseware for.
- The Dell Inspiron 5680 comes equipped with a 128GB SSD which works in conjunction with a 2TB HDD. This means you can store apps on the SSD for faster load times and use the HDD for all of your files such as movies, books, and documents. This will keep your computer running fast and keep your hard drive from getting bogged down which is a major plus with online teaching.
- The biggest drawback of this computer is going to be the size. Along with the fact that it weighs over 30 lbs, it is 17.2″ x 18.1″ diameter. This makes it officially the heaviest and largest desktop computer on our list meaning this isn’t going to be easily portable if you wish to move rooms or if you will need to move apartments.
- This is also the second most expensive desktop computer on this list. This is primarily because this machine is packed with features but also because of the level of customization that is available with this machine. Even though you are spending more money you will be able to easily update this computer and avoid having to buy a new machine in a few years.
- Some users have reported issues with updates. This isn’t a problem that would be specific to this machine but one you should be aware of if you decide to purchase this computer. While this is a problem that will be dependent on the update it is important to have confidence that your computer is going to operate consistently ensuring there are no interruptions in your classes.
Which is the best?
As you can probably figure out from above selecting the best computer for teaching ESL online can be an intensive process. You have to make sure you are not only getting a computer that is good for today and has all of the right hardware and software specifications but also one that you will be able to use in the future as new versions of the company’s software and new OS updates and versions are released. You need to decide whether you will want a laptop for the portability or a desktop for the power. You also need to decide the performance level you want based on other things besides teaching that you may be using your computer for. After that, you then need to actually select the computer. To make it a bit easier for you I’ll list my personal recommendation. For laptops, I believe that the ASUS VivoBook S is the best computer for the price. The high performance coupled with the weight and screen size and battery life makes this the best overall laptop computer for teaching ESL online. For desktop computers, I recommend the Dell Inspiron 5680 due to the high level of customization that can be done ensuring you can easily upgrade your hardware to keep up with the times and allowing you to save money instead of having to buy a new computer when your current hardware goes out of date. Remember that your computer is going to be your primary source of income so it should be treated as a business investment. You want something that is going to do the job but you don’t want to overdo it on the price and have it take longer to see a return on your investment.