How To Look and Sound Your Best for Remote Learning (Without Buying Anything)

Anyone who’s been in a virtual classroom knows that audio and video quality can vary widely—and that they both have a major effect on the learning environment. Some of your classmates might be shrouded in shadow, making it impossible to read their expressions (or even tell if they’re awake), while others might have their webcam positioned so it’s looking right up their nose. Some of your peers might sound quiet or muffled, while others might come across loud and clear—along with every other noise in their house.

Being seen and heard clearly is vital to remote learning. Instructors need to be able to gauge their students’ expressions and body language, and students need to be able to communicate questions and thoughts. But your audio and video quality doesn’t just have an effect on the lesson, it also says a lot about you.

USB microphones and webcams can make a big improvement to your audio and video quality, but sometimes, you just have to work with what you’ve got—so this article will focus on how to look and sound your best without spending a penny. This article will assume you have at least a laptop with a built-in webcam and microphone, but many of these tips will be just as applicable with a smartphone-based setup, or if you already own an external webcam or microphone.

Identifying the specific problems you're facing will help you address them with targeted solutions.

Identify Your Problems

First, take stock of your current setup and identify anything that’s less than ideal. Start by turning on your webcam and seeing how you look to others. 

  • Can you see yourself clearly or do you appear blurry and out of focus? 
  • Are your face and background evenly lit, or are there a lot of shadows and contrast? 
  • Is there anything behind you that may be visually distracting, or that you don’t want others to see?

Next, test your sound quality. Since you can’t always hear your own voice on a video call, you may not be aware if your microphone quality is subpar. Fortunately, most apps feature a way to record a short test. Here’s how to do it on four major platforms:

  • Zoom: Settings > Audio > Test microphone
  • Skype: Make a call to “Echo/Sound Test Service”
  • Microsoft Teams: Settings > Devices > Make a test call
  • Google Meet: Settings > Audio > Microphone > Test

Now, listen back to your test recording. Can you hear every word clearly, or do you sound quiet or muffled? Is your room making you sound echoey, distant or harsh? 

Understanding what audio and video issues you’re facing will help you make targeted changes to fix specific issues, rather than blindly tweaking a bunch of settings and hoping for better results.

Easy Ways To Improve Your Video Quality

Video quality issues typically fall into one of two categories: software settings you can with a few clicks, or lighting and framing issues that require physical adjustments in the room. You can change video settings globally from your operating system’s control panel or within the settings menu of your app of choice, but it’s best to check both places just to be sure. Here’s how to quickly fix a few common issues:

  • If you constantly appear darker than your background, the camera may be auto-focusing on a source of light behind you, such as a window or lamp. Try turning around so that the light is in front of you (and behind your webcam) instead.
  • If your skin tone doesn’t look how you expect it to, this could be caused by the type of lighting you’re using or a software setting. If you’re using fluorescent lights, try switching to incandescent (or vice versa). If it still doesn’t look right, see if you can adjust the color temperature in your software for a warmer or cooler tone.
  • If you look blurry on camera, first try cleaning your webcam lens with a soft cloth. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you may have a setting enabled which intentionally blurs your face to soften blemishes (for example, in Zoom, this setting is called “touch up my appearance”).
  • If your laptop’s camera is situated at an unflattering angle, try propping the back end up on a book for a bit more height (but keep the front edge on the desk so you can still type). You may also need to adjust your chair height to get your face level with the camera.

Good audio quality is critical for effective remote learning.

Easy Ways To Improve Your Audio Quality

Just like with video, sound problems can be caused by improper software settings or real-world acoustical factors. Again, you can change audio settings from your operating system’s control panel or via the settings menu in your app of choice. Be sure to look in both places to find the root of the problem. When it comes to acoustical problems, you may have to try a few different setups before you find the right sound. Here’s how to correct some of the most common sound problems:

  • If your voice is too quiet, the most likely cause is your microphone volume being set too low. Adjust the microphone volume slider, then record a test and listen back until it sounds loud and clear but not so loud that it’s harsh. Many applications even have automatic volume control, which raises or lowers your volume to the appropriate level.
  • If your voice sounds echoey or distant, this is likely caused by natural reverberation in your room. For a clearer sound, move to a smaller room and add sound-absorbing items such as rugs or upholstered furniture to minimize reflections.
  • If your mic is constantly picking up background noise from your surroundings, try to position yourself away from windows and doors to other rooms. Shut off any fans or appliances you don’t need and orient the computer away from the source of noise. Some communication apps feature noise reduction, but it’s only effective at reducing constant, low-level noise like fans.
  • If people tell you that they can hear their own voice repeated from your end, this may be because you’re listening through your speakers. Anything coming out of your speakers will be picked up by your microphone, causing distracting and annoying feedback. To remedy this, all you have to do is listen with headphones or earbuds instead. Voila—no more feedback.

Next Steps

Hopefully, this guide has helped you improve your video and audio quality and achieve better communication in your virtual classroom. If you’re looking to upgrade to even higher quality, we recommend Blue Snowball and Yeti Nano USB microphones for pristine sound, as well as the Logitech StreamCam for high-res video.

For more on how to improve your remote learning experience, check out these articles: