With many school districts conducing all-virtual learning at least for a portion of the school year, many parents are concerned about creating a positive learning environment for their children. When the students are in their normal classroom environments, they typically have their Chromebooks or laptops (in this sheet, we’re going to use “Chromebook” to describe both full-function laptops and Chromebooks that are in use by many school districts) open on their desks, and they can watch the teacher at the front of the room. Trying to re-create this environment at home using only the Chromebook’s single screen can be a challenge. Fortunately, Chromebooks support adding an additional monitors, allowing the student to work on one screen while watching the teacher in another screen. This allows the home environment to be similar to the school environment. Some parents have been asking how they can set up something similar in their homes, and this tip sheet provides some basic instructions.
What you’ll need:
- USB Hub*
We’ll walk you through selecting each of those in more detail, below. We’ve also added links to products as suggestions, but we don’t have any affiliation with any of the companies. As a reminder, sometimes you will find great deals at membership stores like BJ’s, Costco, etc., or at local stores including Target, Best Buy, etc., although if you wind up needing an adapter (we’ll discuss that in a bit), they may not have what you need.
Step 1 – Identify Chromebook Video Port
The first step is to figure out what video ports your Chromebook has. To do this, you’ll need to look along the sides of the Chromebook. In general, Chromebooks will have one of 4 types of connectors. The first, illustrated below on the right, is an HDMI port. If the Chromebook has this, things are a bit simpler, but some newer Chromebooks have done away with HDMI ports. The second is a USB-C port, which is illustrated below on the left. If your Chromebook has either of those, you can skip to Step 2.
If your Chromebook doesn’t have either of these, you will probably find one of these other ports:
So, to recap, you need to know what video port your Chromebook has, and it will likely be either HDMI or USB-C if you have a true Chromebook. Many other laptops also use these, although some have USB2.0, Mini-DisplayPort, or Micro-HDMI.
Step 2: Pick a Monitor
Some people are looking at buying new monitors for their students, and some are repurposing monitors they already own. We’ll discuss both options below.
Buying a Monitor
If you’re buying a new monitor, the easiest option is to buy one with an HDMI port. Below are a few examples:
You’ll need to pick a monitor size, and that will be influenced by the size of your students’ work area. Bigger monitors are generally easier on the eyes, but they take up a lot of space and are more expensive. This is where buying from a bricks-and-mortar store like Best Buy can be handy, because you can get a better sense for how much of the work area the monitor will take up before you make the purchase. If you’re going to buy a monitor, you can skip down to Step 3.
Repurposing a Monitor
Some of you may already have monitors that can be repurposed for your student, or you’ve decided to picking up a used monitor from Craigslist. We’ve even heard some parents mention hooking up their flat-screen TVs as monitors. All of these are viable options, too. We’re going to call them all “monitors” to make things easier.
Regardless of your monitor type, you’ll need to identify an open video port so you can plug in the Chromebook. That is the same basic process we described above for the Chromebooks, but instead of looking on the side of the Chromebook, you’ll be looking at the back of the monitor. You can typically find the video ports on the back of the monitor, and sometimes they can be easy to find.
However, some manufacturers set up the monitors so when a cable is connected to the port, the cable sits flush with the monitor. This can make it a little harder to find and identify the ports at first.
Some TVs also have extra ports along the sides.
Step 3: Decide how to Connect the Monitor to the Chromebook
At this point, you should know the monitor you’re using and the video port you’ll use (most likely HDMI if you’re buying a new one) and the video port on your Chromebook (most likely either HDMI or USB-C). Now you need to be able to connect them, and that’s where the cable comes in. Regardless of which cable you need, choose one that is between 3 and 6 feet long. This way you have more flexibility with where you position the monitor and Chromebook.
HDMI to HDMI
If your Chromebook and monitor both have HDMI ports, things are easy. You just need an HDMI to HDMI cable, and you can pick those up at most local stores including MicroCenter, Target, Best Buy, and (sometimes) Five Below, and warehouse stores like BJ’s and Costco. Or you can order them online from Amazon or Monoprice. If you’re in the “HDMI on both devices” camp, you can skip down to Step 4.
USB-C to HDMI
If your Chromebook has a USB-C port and your monitor has HDMI, you can buy a dedicated USB-C to HDMI cable, but those can be expensive to replace. Another option is to use an HDMI cable, like those mentioned above, and a USB-C to HDMI adapter. Using an adapter is generally less expensive, but it does create a potential failure point. If you’re in the USB-C and HDMI camp, you can skip down to Step 4.
If your Chromebook has something other than HDMI or USB-C video port, or if your monitor has something other than HDMI, you’ll need either a cable or adapter that fits the Chromebook’s video port and a cable to connect to the monitor’s video port. For example, if your Chromebook has USB-C and the monitor has only a DVI port, you’ll need a USB-C to DVI cable.
Step 4: Connect the Monitor and Chromebook
This is the easy part. If you wind up using an adapter, like a USB-C to HDMI adapter, start by plugging the adapter into the cable so you now have one “cable”. Once you have your cable, simply plug one end into the Chromebook, and the other end into the monitor.
Step 5: Pick a Mouse and Keyboard
We found it awkward to work on the Chromebook’s keyboard while using a second monitor, so we opted to connect an external USB keyboard and wireless mouse or bluetooth mouse (different mice for different kids), but there are some great wired and wireless keyboard and mouse combination packs out there, too. Depending on what you choose, the keyboard and mouse may take up all of the available USB ports on the Chromebook, so you might want a USB hub to allow your student to plug in a thumb drive if one is needed.
Step 6: Connect the Keyboard and Mouse
For the most part, the keyboard and mouse should work right out of the box. Just plug them in to the Chromebook’s USB port, wait a moment, and they should work. If you bought a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, you’ll need to open the Chromebook’s Bluetooth menu, put the keyboard and mouse in pairing mode, and then pair them with the Chromebook. If you need help with this process, please see this article from Google.
We hope this you find this information useful, and that it helps ease your students’ transition to the virtual learning environment!