Teaching from Behind the Couch

Milan Stürmer

Following a recent discussion on the new distribution of teaching spaces, we were asked to document the partial localization of the distributed seminar-rooms. Here is my workspace/multi-camera broadcast setup:

Sharing a one-bedroom flat, it is not just desk-space that is at a premium, but – to maintain at least a veneer of privacy – the most reasonable camera angle demands that I should be lodged between the desk and the wall. As neither the windows (constant overexposure) nor the kitchen (constant mess) are particularly appealing as a background, a simple process of elimination leaves a single corner of the room. While I have to climb over the couch to enter the space, once I manage to get myself into the chair, it feels like a somewhat separate (or at least ‘dedicated’) space.

The centrepiece is a little video switcher, allowing me to switch between cameras, key in graphics, mute the microphone at the touch of a physical button, and have still images (“Be right back”, “Starting Soon”) queued up to replace the camera feed. (And, my personal favourite, the large “FTB” – Fade To Black – button to hit at the end of a session. Pressing it always gives me the gratifying feeling of clocking off, even if it’s the first seminar of the day.) The tablet on the lower right has a selection of overlays with images, texts, and figures that I want to show during the seminar to be keyed at the touch of button (basically, using powerpoint as a chroma key – ‘green screen’ – overlay.) Together with a pen, I can also use it as a whiteboard, or, using a green background, draw “straight on the lens”. The primary, frontal camera is placed on a tripod behind the desk to give me more of a medium shot instead of the zoom-closeup. As I like to gesture wildly and move around in the chair, this felt less restrictive. (Pro tip for those gesturing: exposure of 1/100. Really.) The microphone is attached to the bookshelf and hovers just out of shot between the camera and the switcher.

A second camera (an old action camera I hadn’t used in years) for a more wide shot is extremely helpful – especially for longer seminars. It does not only introduce some visual variety, but it is also quite relaxing to have a more “passive” angle when listening for longer periods of time (i.e. presentations) as your every facial expression is no longer magnified on everyone’s screen. (Bonus: If you really have to snack during a particular long day, you’re not treating everyone to a frontal view of your tonsil.)

Cable management verdict: 2/10


  1. Wow, wonderful sketch of academic life in these strange times .. and thank you for the tech tips! (disappears behind another couch)


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