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Video Gaining as Key Tool in Teacher-Learning Plans

By Michelle R. Davis — September 28, 2015 8 min read
In a video produced by the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, teacher Nina Morita demonstrates how educators can build community around writing practice and instruction. Experts say that, when used within a structured PD program, classroom-practice videos can help teachers improve their skills and negotiate instructional shifts.

Video is increasingly seen as a powerful tool for teachers to improve instructional methods, to allow a peek into the classrooms of others, and to learn new techniques at an individual pace, but many experts now believe that pairing video with additional supports is the best way to boost teachers’ skills.

Companies and schools are tagging and categorizing professional-development video libraries for easy searching; embedding assessments, questions, and opportunities for feedback into clips; and using technology to support small professional learning communities for coaching and mentoring opportunities with video.

Technology is taking “video from a passive experience to an active one,” said Candice Meyers, a consultant and a co-founder of Teaching Channel, a San Francisco-based nonprofit specializing in instructional videos.

And the number of organizations working to make video more useful to teachers and PD coordinators is growing. Teaching Channel, BetterLesson, and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom are all collecting thousands of teacher videos that show everything from best practices and lessons gone wrong to how-to clips on shifting to the Common Core State Standards.

Companies like Edthena and EdConnective provide opportunities for online observation and coaching through video, while eduCanon, Zaption, and HapYak offer tools to make professional-development videos more interactive. (Edthena, eduCanon, and EdConnective have written opinion blogs for Education Week.)

“Our videos make the teachers stop and answer questions,” said media and educational technology specialist Misty Mitchell, as she took a break from her first in-service training day at Texas’ Hudson Middle School in August. She used self-created videos made with eduCanon, an educational video platform, to train 73 middle school teachers to employ a variety of digital tools and techniques, including the Hudson district’s parent-notification app and how to enter lesson plans into Google Calendar.

Each video contained assessments, provided opportunities for teacher feedback, and let Mitchell look at data on the back end to make sure teachers understood the material as they watched. The videos were then incorporated into an online library, so teachers could review them throughout the year.

Before she began using video, Mitchell said, professional development “was way harder with a lot more confusion.”

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A Matter of Trust

Teachers are becoming more comfortable using video in a variety of ways, particularly when it comes to recording their own practice and casting an objective eye over their performance.

Using video to record examples of teaching is not new. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ certification program has long included a requirement that teachers videotape their practice and analyze it. But younger teachers seem to have fewer fears of being on camera. A recent study by Insight Education Group on video professional development found that 80 percent of teachers surveyed said they’d be willing to be videotaped in class and use that video for formal observation.

But in practice, that ease only comes with a high level of trust, and many teachers are still reluctant to be recorded, said Jim Knight, the author of Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High-Impact Instruction.

One of the biggest hurdles is that people often don’t like how they look on camera, he said. Another is that teachers worry about how the video will be used. The details of who owns the video, who will view it, and whether it will be used for formal evaluations is critical to make clear ahead of time, Knight said. “If they have the opportunity to use video in a way that is psychologically safe, they’ll use it because it’s helpful and it doesn’t waste time,” he said.

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To foster that openness, some programs, like the Academy for Urban School Leadership, have chosen to embed video into their professional-development culture. The academy manages 32 Chicago public schools and trains new teachers in 16 of them. As part of the program at these “training academies,” new teachers are videoed at least once a week, and their mentors use the 10- to 15-minute clips to provide feedback on various strategies, said Chris Bruggeman, the academy’s technology coordinator. “The expectation from the start of the program is that they’re going to use video,” he said.

Fostering Collaboration

Once such videos are viewed by teachers, they can be transformative, said Michelle Harris, an assistant principal at Five Oaks Middle School, in Beaverton, Ore., who participated in a three-year study, with Knight, of effective teacher-coaching techniques through the University of Kansas. Practice videos allowed teachers to see that they were talking too much or asking yes or no questions instead of open-ended ones, and to observe that some students were not engaged. “The video is that third eye that is completely unconditional,” Harris said. “You cannot argue with what you see there.”

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Pairing those videos with feedback from a coach or mentor can enhance the impact. The objective nature of video can change the teacher-mentor dynamic, said Adam Geller, a former teacher and the co-founder of Edthena, an online platform that allows teachers to upload videos of themselves teaching and have a coach or colleague provide feedback. “With video, the evidence shifts those coaching conversations from, ‘My coach doesn’t like me or my coach is picking on me,’ … to, ‘Let’s look at the evidence together,’ ” Geller said. “That’s a powerful way to shift thinking about teacher practice.”

Traditionally, teaching has been an isolating experience: The teacher shuts his or her door to do the job. But video has helped to change that, allowing teachers to see what others are doing in their classrooms—what lessons they’re using, how they make transitions, what techniques work and don’t work. And with online access, anyone can participate—not just teachers whose districts have stellar PD programs or can afford to send them to conferences, Meyers said. “It’s a way to democratize the goodies that some teachers get and others don’t,” she said.

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Because of that, video is also being used to calibrate and share techniques, said Meyers. For example, teachers can all look at the same video to develop “a common vision of what ‘good’ looks like,” she said.

Merging classroom-practice videos with the teachers’ own reflections can make them even more powerful as PD sources, experts say. For example, the national board’s Accomplished Teaching, Learning and Schools, or ATLAS, program pairs videos submitted by board-certified teachers with their planning notes and analysis, said Caitlin Wilson, the manager of the program. “You can see the moves the teacher made and the decisionmaking process that went into it,” she said.

The ATLAS videos are organized into a searchable database by instructional strategies and student characteristics, and some are indexed to the national board’s own teaching standards and the common core.

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Being able to see the planning and analysis of a teacher’s practice, along with a video, is particularly important when it comes to adoption of the common core, said Pat Wasley, the CEO of Teaching Channel, which provides an open-source library of more than 1,000 teacher videos, including 400 focused on the common standards. (Teaching Channel also provides weekly videos to Education Week Teacher as part of a content-sharing partnership.)

“The standards require new forms of teaching, new ways of checking for understanding, and require that students provide much higher-quality evidence,” she said. “A good visual example makes it all much more explicit for teachers.”

In addition to its free video library, Teaching Channel offers a premium platform that helps teacher groups share and analyze videos in a secure environment.

That technique is being tested in the 48,000-student Oakland, Calif., district, which is using videos from the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, an Emeryville, Calif.-based nonprofit, to improve social-emotional learning through a pilot program involving 16 elementary teachers. The district has set up a library of teacher videos on that topic, with the majority coming from in-district teachers.

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Teachers upload their own videos, using a Teaching Channel app, and share them with an in-district professional learning group that discusses and provides feedback, said Mary M. Hurley, the coordinator for social and emotional learning and leadership. “This kind of close-to-the-bone video is extremely powerful in showing teachers what it really looks like in a classroom trying new practices,” she said.

But the process of using videos for teacher professional development can still be improved upon, said Masa Uzicanin, a program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She is overseeing the foundation’s Redesign Challenge, which uses a crowdsourcing model to tap into educators’ and stakeholders’ ideas for improving education. (The Gates Foundation has provided support for Education Week‘s coverage of college- and career-ready standards.) The first challenge the project tackled is how to improve video for professional learning.

More than 100 ideas were submitted to the site, and judges chose 18, bringing their authors to a brainstorming session in early August. The ideas included “small bite” videos that pop up on a screen during online professional development and allow teachers to rate the video; video professional-development sessions where users can choose their own pathways with various options; and the use of students to help create some PD videos for teachers. The goal of the challenge is to develop the ideas and report on how they work—both the pitfalls and successes—in real schools, Uzicanin said.

“We thought video professional development was the best idea to start with,” she said. “It’s something that matters to everyone.”

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A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2015 edition of Education Week as Video Gaining as Key Tool In Teacher-Learning Plans

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