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Video Recording Your Teaching: VHS vs. 21st Century Technologies

How can substantial resources and innovative technologies transform your professional learning?

As part of a teacher delegation with the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), I attended the recent Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching & Teachers Conference sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It's this question of resources and transformation that I'm thinking about as I watch a panel presentation about the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project.

The purpose of this $45 million dollar project is to better understand what effective teaching looks like. As part of just one component of the data collection, teachers are given tools to videotape classroom lessons and reflect on their teaching.

During the panel presentation, CTQ colleague Ryan Kinser from Hillsborough County Public Schools and Angela Staples from Memphis City Public Schools share how video recording and analyzing their teaching is making them more effective teachers and leaders.

But as these teachers talk about their filming, I get flashbacks to my own challenging experiences recording my teaching.

VHS Flashback

1996: Williamsburg, VA: As part of my graduate teacher preparation program, we are required to film ourselves in the classroom during our student teaching. I'm too nervous to show my tape in class. Fortunately, there is only one TV and VCR in the classroom to show videos for 20 students- time runs out before it's my turn to show my video.

1997: Fairfax, VA: As part of the district new teacher induction program, we film ourselves teaching one lesson. During our meeting, we are supposed to critique each other's video. Since our new teacher support meetings are after school, we are all very tired. We all tell each other we are doing a great job and we never have to look at the videos again.

2000: Fairfax, VA: As a candidate for National Board Certification, I have to film my classroom teaching under specific conditions, analyze, and reflect on my own teaching against high standards.

But there is only one VHS video camera in the entire school. My principal is very supportive and allows me to store the video camera in my classroom when it's not being used by other teachers. I film almost every day for several months, and I problem solve the numerous challenges of camera placement, audio issues, and learn just how many times a VHS tape can be re-recorded over before quality degrades to an unacceptable level.

2003-2008: Fairfax VA: I'm teaching the support courses for candidates pursuing National Board Certification and give tips on filming. We learn the challenges of noisy overhead air vents near the camera and large bright windows, and to avoid the shaky Blair Witch movie style camera action when filming movement in the classroom. The art of filming is a challenge for the candidacy process and must be planned carefully.

2010-2011: Fairfax, VA: I'm working with the instructional coach and some teachers who have Flip cams and mini-DV cameras to tape their classroom teaching. The technology is a little better than VHS, but not by much. Someone still has to film, choose which groups of students to record, and sound quality remains a challenge. Then, there are driver incompatibilities with the (now defunct) Flip cameras and some computers. Not all computers are equally powered in their video editing capabilities.

How do we access and share the videos? We come up with a server-based solution where teachers have to download the video on their desktop before watching. Lots of steps before analysis and collaboration can even begin. The instructional coach has to facilitate the conversations in person in face-to-face meetings.

FlashForward: Real 21st Century Technology & Collaboration

As teachers in the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, Ryan and Angela do not have these technical challenges.

Better Technologies for Filming

Ryan and Angela have the 360-degree cameras from Teachscape that automatically record their whiteboard and the entire classroom. Sensitive microphones can capture student conversations in any location. When reviewing the video, the teachers can zoom in and out to any group of students anywhere in the classroom to watch and listen to their conversations.

Better Technologies for Collaboration

More importantly, the teachers upload their videos to an online platform that supports a learning community where teachers can reflect on their classroom instruction, review lesson videos with colleagues, and share exemplars of best practices. The platform can keep track of who uses the system and even comes preloaded with Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching to facilitate online teacher observations. Most importantly, these videos are always available to the teacher; the access issues of the past have been virtually eliminated. An online community means that teachers can collaborate at their convenience.

But Similar Challenges & Benefits for Professional Learning

Seeing Ryan's and Angela's technologies make me feel ancient. Fortunately, as I watch their presentation, I realize that I'm not that ancient, just getting older....

Although their technology is far superior, the stages of professional growth and reflection that I experienced years ago watching VHS are still relevant today in the HD world.

For example, there are continuing problems with camera lenses- for some reason teachers report appearing a little heavier on video than perceived in real life. :-)

Ryan and Angela talk about their hesitation to watch their own videos, but soon they overcome their nervousness. All teachers, especially the ones who film their teaching as National Board candidates, overcome this fear of self-analysis and learn to dissect their teaching for continuous improvement.

Onwards to Transformative Professional Learning

There are benefits to filming, analysis, and reflection. During the presentation, Ryan shares about his professional growth and leadership- from watching his own videos alone, to now planning strategies to help groups of teachers watch and analyze videos to improve their analysis and practice. Angela discusses how she learned to more effectively structure dialogues and discussions with students.

It is inspiring to see how these teachers overcome the traditional teaching structures of working in isolation to open their classroom to others.

This transformation is similar to what all teachers experience when they record themselves teaching for self analysis, reflection, and collaboration.

At the same time, the power of the technology working seamlessly in the background facilitates this openness for teachers to "break open their classroom doors" to other teachers. Combined with an online community with collaborative and analytical features, these 21st Century teachers are learning at an accelerated rate not previously possible.

This evolution in technology has the potential to be revolutionary.

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project shows what is possible with substantial resources and support. In addition to providing technologies to facilitate analysis, collaboration, and reflection at the classroom level, researchers have also found evidence that teachers are challenged by higher order teaching skills such as promoting analysis and problem solving, which has important implications for teacher education and professional development.

If only more schools and teachers had these resources to guide their professional development, then all teachers could more efficiently lead their transformation.

Until we all have these tools, do the best with what you have to record your teaching, whether it be VHS, MiniDV, your cellphone, or some HD digital format.

Watch yourself teach. Think about what you can do better next time. Get together with other teachers and watch videos of their teaching. You'll be a better teacher because of this effort.


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