WebCams in the Classroom

Copyright 1999 by James P. Riser


My latest area of technology related exploration for classroom use is the WebCam. I feel that it has tremendous potential as a
teaching/learning tool. I shall go over a few related ideas below.


A WebCam, as it is going to be discussed on this page, is a camera set up to deliver images (captured at a predetermined interval) to a web site - so that they might be observed by others.


Perhaps the best reasons for creating a WebCam are to share something and because "it can be done". To me WebCams are an interesting way to observe what is happening in the world. Also, WebCams are an inexpensive way to travel around the world.


Who creates a WebCam site? These sites are created by just about anyone with a desire to share with others, a suitable camera, a computer, and an internet connection. All WebCam sites seem to have something that somebody wants to share with others. This could vary from their personal lives to views of their environment. There are lots of neat things to be seen through WebCams.

Note: There are many sites that you will not want students to visit!

When: Depending upon the type of internet connection people have, the times available for viewing their WebCam images might vary from only when they are on-line to 24 hours a day.

Where: WebCams are found absolutely everywhere - from large cities to the wilds of Africa to outer space.

Some Possible Educational uses for WebCams

The educational uses for WebCams are many and varied. I do suggest that with any classroom WebCam activity that you run a highly structured classroom with little opportunity for students to deviate from the assignment. To accomplish this, you will need to carefully craft your student activities and preview the sites. The reason for this unusually rigid structuring is to avoid students stumbling upon inappropriate sites. They can explore at home under parent supervision.

Some potential activities:

(Social Studies - climates,geography) - Students go to a selected series of WebCam sites and describe what they infer the climate at these sites to be. Next they place these sites on a map (digital or hardcopy). Using texts, CDs, or the internet, they
determine the actual climate for these regions. Finally, they draw conclusions between their inferences and the actual data.

(Social Studies - climates, economics, geology, architecture) - Students go to various "city shot" WebCam sites and compare types of buildings seen. Questions students are to answer include such things as: Are these structures related to climate? Are these structures evidence of geologic formations? Are these structures a reflection on economic conditions? What are the similarities between all buildings seen and what are specific differences?

(Weather) - Students visit 10 sites around the world and record what the current weather looks like at each location. They then get a local weather report for each location (from the internet) and check for satellite images. Students determine if weather reports, satellite images, and real time ground level images all agree. If not, they need to try to explain the discrepancies.

Platform/Software Issues:

I use the PC platform for the WebCam that I am currently setting up to help promote my businesses. I felt that this platform's software would show what I wanted to be able to show my customers. I am able to upload fresh images every 30 seconds (interval is limited by the time needed to ftp images over the phone connection - a faster connection = faster image updating). If I do not want live images sent, I can have a preselected set of images uploaded to my site. Or I can mix live images with a preselected image every few frames. On the PC platform there seems to be two software programs used by most WebCam sites. These two are Webcam32 ($25 shareware) and ISpy (free). Both are easy to use and set up. On the Mac platform a program called SiteCam should do the job for you. The documentation for these programs is excellent.

Hardware Issues:

All that is needed to set up a WebCam is a camera which connects directly to the computer such as the Connectix QuickCam - color or grayscale. On occasion when I want a better quality image, I will use my camcorder with a Dazzle DVC unit. Other brands of cameras and digitizers will also work.

I hope this will give you a start on thinking about, setting up, and using a WebCam.