Faculty Today

My love affair with the document camera

“Recently, I heard one of my students ask his friend, ‘If you were stranded on an island and could only take one item with you what would you bring?’ I started thinking about the question as it applied to my classroom. The thought came to my mind, ‘What is the one item in my classroom that I absolutely could not do without?’ […] My eyes landed on […] my document camera” (Borel, 2014). I didn’t write that. But I could have. It aptly captures my sentiments about the doc cam, as it’s often referred to.

I love using doc cams because they’re a simple and dynamic tool for engaging students in learning in class. Doc cams sit on classroom podia … long necks poised and ready for action with the touch of a button. One of my favourite strategies is to have students—individually, in pairs or small groups—hand-draw complex concepts on paper to illustrate their understanding. Volunteers then display their drawings on the doc cam for class discussion. During such discussions, students’ understanding of the concept is often deepened, and they tweak their drawing in real-time while their paper still rests on the doc cam. This strategy allows for immediate instructor and peer feedback, and it allows me to easily assess students’ understanding of concepts so that I can adjust my teaching, if needed.

Read about other doc cam strategies in this post by Bryn Lutes: Encouraging Critical Thinking with a Document Camera. In a short video entitled Active learning: Creative ways to use a document camera to engage students, see how one instructor at Iowa State University uses the doc cam in her chemistry class.


Many doc cams have a feature that allows for taking a snapshot of the material being displayed. These snapshots can be saved as jpegs, for example, and then posted to myCourses. Using this snapshot feature, I create a cumulative archive in each course site of exercises or problems worked on in class using the doc cam. Suggestion: Write dates and page numbers at the top of each page. Students can use this archive for review and study throughout the semester.

If the doc cam doesn’t have the snapshot feature, you can collect student work that was displayed on the doc cam and scan it. Simply feed the papers into a copy machine on campus to create one pdf. You don’t need to scan pages one by one.

The main reason I love doc cams is because they are a simple means for promoting interaction in the classroom. How have you used doc cams for engaging students in learning in class?

Doc cams are installed in many classrooms at McGill. If you teach at McGill, you can check online to see if classrooms you’ve been assigned to have a doc cam. If you’d like to learn more about using a doc cam, please complete the Educational Technologies Consultation Request Form and select “Classroom AV” from the selection of “which educational technology do you want to learn about.” We’ll show you not only which button to press, but also how you can use the doc cam to engage students in learning in your classes.


Borel, J. (2014). 15 Fabulous ways to utilize a document camera in the art room [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.theartofed.com/2014/09/01/15-fabulous-ways-to-utilize-a-document-camera-in-the-art-room/

Lutes, B. (2015, August 3). Encouraging critical thinking with a document camera [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/2015/08/encouraging-critical-thinking-with-a-document-camera/

Senior Academic Associate at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services.; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning; will work for chocolate (Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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