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How to: Equip yourself as a home-based IT trainer

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home officeAlthough a lot of technology needed by a professional trainer will be very similar to that for any other home-based business, there are quite a few areas that will require more specialist hardware, or hardware of a higher specification. Simon Hurst lists his favourites.







Computer

Let's start with the computer. The type of training is likely to determine several aspects of the computer specification. Firstly, and most obviously, if the training uses a computer for presentations or demonstrations, and these are carried out at client or external premises, then it will need to be portable. You will also probably need a big hard disk to hold lots of documentation, different presentations, graphics and maybe multiple applications. If you train on computer applications themselves then you may need a very big hard disk and lots of RAM so that you can easily use 'virtual' computers to run different operating systems or different and incompatible software versions and easily restore data or an application to its original state.

I currently use a Dell Inspiron 9200 portable although it probably won't be long before I need to replace it to get more RAM and a larger hard disk to set up some virtual machines. The Dell Inspiron 1720 looks good at about £749 including VAT and delivery, but to be honest the 17" screen is probably a bit of a luxury and I could easily save at least £200 by going for one of the 15.4" screen Inspiron 1525s.

Data projector

It's probably a good idea to have your own data projector. Most organisations will have one available or hotels can hire them in, but if you rely on someone else you may well end up at the mercy of older, less capable projectors with low resolutions and poor brightness. An XGA (1024*768) project that's bright enough for daylight presentations in fairly light rooms is likely to cost around £500 plus VAT. The extra predictability of using your own equipment which you know works together is a big benefit.

My current projector is a Dell 2300MP which I bought second hand on eBay as a replacement for a year old Dell 2300MP which had stopped working a couple of months the wrong side of its warranty period. Given the cost of the bulbs is about £235 each, and there was nothing wrong with the bulb on the failed unit, it seemed the most cost effective replacement. If I was buying a new one today, I'd be very tempted by one of the micro-portable projectors such as the Dell M209X at just under £650 including VAT and delivery.

Whiteboard

If you have a dedicated training facility then you might want to consider an interactive whiteboard. Prices range from about £600 plus VAT for the smaller ones to many thousands for larger versions. You can also buy monitor splitters specifically designed for training so you can allow the delegates to view either their own screen, or the image from the trainer's screen.

I've occasionally been lucky enough to use someone else's interactive whiteboard but if funds were unlimited and I had any need of one, I think I'd find one of the SMARTBoard In-Wall rear projection boards hard to resist.

Printer

You may need to produce your own training documentation and, properly used, colour is likely to improve not only the perceived quality but also the ability of your documentation to explain the points you are trying to make. You may also want to save money and the planet by printing on both sides of the paper (duplex) and, if you are producing several copies of lengthy notes, then speed and capacity will be issues. After quite a bit of research I ended up with a Lexmark C534dn duplex colour laser which cost about £400 plus VAT and seems happy to produce a few thousand sides a month. If space is limited you will need to consider the 'footprint' of a colour laser and also the amount of noise it makes – sharing a small room with a noisy printer can make phone conversations a bit of a challenge.

I've used a variety of colour lasers and have been very happy with the Lexmark for general business use.

CD/DVD duplicator

Increasingly output is not just paper based. You may be able to email electronic documents or files to clients but you might also want to create CDs or DVDs for course attendees or lecture delegates. If numbers are small, you could use your computer's built in CD or DVD drive. For large quantities, you can either have the disks professionally duplicated or for a few hundred pounds buy a duplicator. As an example a one to seven CD/DVD duplicator will cost in the region of £300 plus VAT.

Never used one myself, but the EdgeDupe series looks good at a reasonable price.

Labels for CDs/DVDs

If you are producing your own disks then you will probably want to label them in some way. Some recent drives include 'lightscribe' technology that lets the drive itself 'burn' monochrome images on special CDs and DVDs. Alternatively you can buy very modestly priced inkjet printers that will print in full colour directly onto CDs and DVDs with a printable surface. This tends to give a much more professional result and is quicker and easier than using self-adhesive printed labels.

I use a Canon Pixma ip 3000. The equivalent current model is the Pixma ip4500 and costs about £60 plus VAT. With CD and DVD printing, good quality text and photo printing and a built-in duplexer it would do everything I need.

Wireless keyboard, mouse and pointer

For presentations, a wireless keyboard and mouse will prove very useful as will some sort of pointing device. Relatively low-tech telescopic pointers are losing out in popularity to laser pointers, some of which come with built in presentation buttons and controls. Some wireless mice even come with the ability to respond to being waved around (like the WiiMote).

The Kensington Si600 looks to be an excellent presentation remote control with a built in laser pointer at under £30.

Emergency back up!

If you travel long distances, the last thing you need to happen is an equipment problem preventing you from delivering your lecture, presentation or training. Consider having two of everything. You'll probably find that it's worthwhile upgrading equipment reasonably regularly to take advantage of important technical advances. Keep the 'obsolete' equipment and stick an extra one of everything into the back of the car before you set off. If you travel by public transport then carrying capacity is likely to be more limited. Most organisations will have access to a projector or spare notebook if you can't bring your own.

I'm considering buying one of the new higher-powered Asus EEE PC 900 sub-notebooks to act as a very small and light emergency notebook backup.

Photo of Simon Hurst

Simon Hurst is proprietor of the IT consultancy The Knowledge Base. He lectures and trains on IT subjects to financial and other professionals.


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