Essay (Short) – Adapting to teaching and learning without all the tools we need: Headsets


  • Edit: Don’t forget the easy stuff
  • Good headsets and headphones are an essential tool in teaching in hybrid classroom/virtual environments.
  • Underfunded classrooms are more likely to lack good equipment.
  • How do we fix this?

The Story (that’s a stretch…)

This morning I was trying to teach a student 1:1, 1000 miles away. It works surprisingly well, but was really affected by a number of seemingly small issues. The student was in a classroom with 20 other students. The biggest problem was all the noise. I could hear the people talking next to the student I was helping as well as the student. It’s a great way to learn how young people actually think, but not a great way to communicate with an individual. At the same time, the student had a tough time hearing me.

When I work virtually, I have headsets running from a Logitech game headset to a Plantronics Savi 8200, ranging from $75-$300. Noise cancellation is a necessity. Audio isolation, whether from over-ear headphones or noise cancellation is also necessary. When I worked in healthcare, doctors regularly used $800-$1200 microphones. These improve ASR significantly and one part of the puzzle of how many radiologists (yes, they’re medical doctors) get to 99%+ word error rate, when Siri, Google, and Amazon may be south of 90% or worse.

A good headset is a secondary, essential piece of equipment that we take for granted in the corporate world, from the ivory tower.

Ten years ago, when Skype was blowing up pre-acquisition, they brought out some reasonable $15 headsets and made them available to improve Skype audio quality.

  • Is there a good baseline headset out there that optimizes for cost, build quality, and noise cancellation? (It should probably be a stereo adapter, maybe with the option for a USB-A or USB-C dongle. [1]
  • If not, could an organization like Khan Academy,, or Microsoft leverage their capabilities or connections to get one made?


Edit: I had a similar, but much worse problem today. I assumed it was still the headset, however, the student couldn’t hear me at all. We fiddled with the audio input/output. Then, it turned out, the student had the wrong headset on! Wow. Relearning the lessons of tech support!

I still question the quality of the headsets… When I go look at you’re presented with an overwhelming number of headphones with almost no way to differentiate. Googling/DuckDuckGoing for educational headphones with various keywords from ‘elementary’ to ‘noise canceling’ microphone leads to a rabbit hole with all sorts of cheap junk. Who knows how schools choose their headsets?

[1] I’ll spare you the tirade about Apple dropping the mini-stereo/mic jack because they wanted to make billions off dongles and wireless in the name of “progress.” [2]

[2] Honestly, I would love to see Apple recognize their place at the top of the ivory tower, and create a headset for education and give them away. It would be a fantastic product!

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