Bonus Pro Tip: If you use photography in your research, chances are you are in possession of a DSLR camera. DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflect and describes a category of higher-quality, modular lens cameras (think Nikon, Canon, Lumix). If you have such a camera at home, you can either directly or indirectly connect it to your computer. If it is a Canon camera, all you need is a USB cable (mini-USB to regular USB) and a free Canon webcam tool from their website.

If your camera has an HDMI output and you have some research money to make a small gear investment, an HDMI capture device such as the Elgato Cam Link will allow you to repurpose your camera as a webcam. However, keep in mind that 4k HDMI capture is far too advanced for the internal picture resolution Zoom can handle. As such, this is not a must-have device.

Idea 2: Zoom Like a YouTube Vlogger

Ever wanted to have a proper Schulich logo overlay, an on-screen countdown, or a split screen for guest speakers?

Three relatively cheap and easy ways to accomplish these and other cool things are Ecamm Live (for Mac only), OBS (for Mac and PC) and Streamyard (for Mac and PC). By giving you an easy-to-operate streaming dashboard that works in conjunction with Zoom, they can help transform your Zoom delivery into a more interactive experience. Ecamm Live (which requires a $12 per month subscription) has been my go-to solution for webinars for a while now. And this semester, I’m premiering it in my MBA classroom. Students love it!

How do streaming platforms work? Streaming platforms allow you to assemble layered screens (so-called scenes) that are then fed to Zoom via a virtual webcam. Typical scenes can be a split screen (e.g., you and your guest speaker coming in via Skype), an exercise countdown, an embedded YouTube video, a doc cam, a news ticker, and many other things.

Setup and learning take about an hour or two plus some additional practice. Arguably, streaming software adds an additional layer of complexity to your Zoom, and so this path will and should not necessarily be for everyone. In fact, you can conduct a perfectly fine Zoom lecture or meeting without them. However, if trying out new stuff during this COVID time is your thing, streaming apps may be one way to enrich your Zoom delivery.

Idea 3: Buying Tech is Not the Answer

Among university profs, there is currently a bit of an arms race in progress around buying new tech such as ring lights, professional cameras, diffuser boxes, and green screens. In addition, many of us have begun McGuyvering our homes in an effort to create a more palatable Zoom stage, often at the cost of our family’s privacy, living quality, and social time.

Keep in mind that gear can make a difference but it never is the final answer. Especially in the current climate, our humanity and our insights are. For instance, a $500 condenser microphone can never make up for our need to carefully listen to our students. A $200 ring light can bring light to your face but it cannot enlighten our students’ understanding around the complex social, medical, and economic phenomena that we are currently witnessing and that require our critical attention.

Therefore, before you buy anything, ask yourself what unintended consequences the technology in question might have on yourself, your family, and your students.