If you determine that you need to purchase a webcam for your online course video assignments, you may want to consider the following factors in your purchase.

Cost: Just like computers, webcams come in all shapes, sizes and prices.  Unless you plan to become a master at digital video production or want to launch a webinar marketing business, a webcam purchase should not break your budget.  You can probably purchase a basic webcam that will meet the needs for creating video assignments for around the cost of a course textbook—under $50 USD (not including shipping and handling).

Mac or PC: Not all webcams are made to work on all computer platforms.  Be sure to check that the webcam you have selected is compatible with your computer, operating system and ports (USB, etc.).

Brand: Sometimes people get caught up in brand name technologies, which isn’t always necessary.  Some brands are able to charge more just for their name.  However, some low-end technology accessories come with confusing instructions or software that make it harder for the non-computer person to be able to use them.  Work with a tech-savvy friend to determine the best brand for you.

Support: If you do not consider yourself to be a tech-savvy person, it is a good idea to consider where you will go if you have a question about how to use your webcam.  SU Tech Support is not able to help students with their webcams, so you need another option.  Do you have a tech-savvy friend or family member who can help?  Can the store where you purchased the webcam show you how to set it up and make a recording?  Does the company have an easy-to-use website and/or a support line that you can call?  The answers to these questions may rule out some of your webcam options.

Online Reviews: If you don’t have a tech buddy to help you with your webcam purchase (or even if you do), check out some online reviews for the webcam that you are considering purchasing.  Amazon.com and other sales sites offer customer reviews of all sorts of products.  You may also want to check out a reputable technology website, such as CNet.com, ZDNet.com, MacWorld.com and PCWorld.com.  Keep in mind regardless of how great the product is, not everyone will have glowing reviews of it.  Don’t be scared off by one or two bad reviews.  Instead, look for the following in the reviews:

  1. Consistently good or bad reviews of the product (80%+ in either direction)
  2. Specific recurring problems (everyone has trouble with the same thing)
  3. No reviews at all (avoid these products)
  4. Reputable website reviews, articles and product comparisons
  5. Video reviews of products on YouTube (these can be very helpful, as you can often see someone work directly with the product on video)

Set-up time: Before you buy, learn about the set-up time for product that you have selected.  Can you just plug it into your computer and it will start working?  Do you need to download a driver from a website?  Find out how much time it will take to get yourself up and running (and allow for a little extra) so that you know when you need to purchase.  Make sure that you are ready to go and have tested your webcam before assignment week comes.

Additional software: Videos do not automatically make themselves.  There is always a piece of software that records and creates the video file, even if it runs in the background and you don’t directly interact with it.  Make sure that the webcam comes with the correct software that you need to create finished video files.

Can you borrow: Sometimes borrowing a webcam or smart phone from a friend is a better option than purchasing your own webcam and taking the time to learn how to use another piece of software.  Plus, you have the added advantage of someone who knows how to use their technology to help you record and submit your video assignment.  Since most SU online programs require you to submit less than five assignments during the course of the program, you may want to consider this option instead of purchasing your own webcam.