Recording in the Classroom: Some Tips

I’ve been busy @unitqp lately.  We recently just wrapped up participation week, which is when the majority of level three students (field experience typically before student teaching that requires 30 hours in the field) complete the field experience of their methods course.  Through the work of the grant we are trying something new where we record our students when they are out in the field and use that as a way to show/highlight areas the students are doing well and not so well.  One thing many of us can attest to is that it is easy to gloss over something that didn’t go so well when writing an essay or creating a portfolio.  This creates a system that promotes students without addressing some of the underlying developmental problems that could be preventing them from becoming excellent teachers.

With the use of video we are hoping to prevent more instances where students slip through the cracks.  Now that we have had our maiden voyage as it were, there are some things that I wanted to share some tips about recording yourself in the classroom.  If you want to learn more about the process the students went through, go here.

  • If someone is available to help record while you are teaching, have them help.  The video will only be as good as it is pointed in the direction of all the action in the classroom.  While this may not be a problem for the traditional teacher who lectures all period, this may be more problematic for the student centered teachers that move around a lot in the classroom.
  • If someone does help you record, have them use a tripod.  There is nothing worse than shaky video and it’s even worse when the audio is scratchy because they were touching the microphone without knowing it.
  • Reduce the ambient noise in the room if possible.  Turn fans, radios, and anything else that makes noise off.  Also close windows and doors.  This may seem simple, and it is, but the quality of the audio will improve dramatically.  Which is important because the video is as much about seeing your actions as it is hearing your words.
  • Move the camcorder as close as possible to the source of audio, while still capturing the video you need to see.  For example, if you have a camcorder setup in the very back of the room with 5 rows of desks, but students only sit in the first two rows, move the camcorder closer to the front of the room, while still behind the students.  This will result in louder and more clear audio.
  • If you can export the video from the device to a useable medium, then use that as your camcorder regardless if it is your phone, iPod, iPad, or a standard camcorder.  We used a variety of camcorders and had good results across each.  Some performed better than others, but the quality of video was still very nice.  You don’t need to have high end equipment to get high end results.
  • If sharing your video with someone else, cut the length down to a manageable amount.  No one really needs to see you teach for 50 plus minutes.  Instead, target the area you want to improve upon the most or that will help your friend improve the most.  The Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC) requires only 10 minutes of video for their teacher performance assessments at the pre-service level.  Whether or not this is enough for in-service teachers, I’m unsure.  Regardless, take ten minutes to cut out some of the material that isn’t going to add value to your practice and share everything else.
  • As with everything that includes minors, get parent permission if you plan to use the video for anything beyond your own reflection.
  • When you are done with the video, never to use it again, delete it.  No need to dwell on the past.

A busy month

Like most educators, May is a busy month and mine was no different. This month marked the launch of the TQP pilot project with the UNI Faculty Course Redesign Summit. The TQP grant I’m working on is looking at effective teaching and the creation of a teacher performance assessment and a large part of that is redesigning some of the UNI methods field experience courses to include what we have dubbed Transformative Teaching Qualities. Without going into much detail, the essential purpose of the summit was to look at the things we’ve always wanted to do but haven’t really been able to in the past.

One of the areas we talked about was increasing clinical experiences through video conference technology. This was one session I led and it was great hearing the faculty get excited about new possibilities with field experiences. I demoed a potential setup called a Polycom which could be rolled into a classroom in one of our partner school districts and then using a similar device on campus, the methods instructor could connect their UNI class with a classroom in a PK-12 school district. This connection could be done either in realtime or it can be recorded and shown at a later date. When I think of the potential uses of this technology, it goes beyond just observing classrooms at a distance, and jumps to a place where teacher prep programs likely haven’t been before. Pre-service teachers can interact with students and teachers in the districts that they will be placed in later that semester allowing the pre-service teacher to begin teaching in the classroom sooner since they will have already gained a background of both the teacher and the students. I’m excited to see how our 12 faculty members integrate this technology into their courses.

Another topic we talked about was blended learning. As we were planning for the summit we quickly discovered that the number of topics we were going to discuss could become a problem for the faculty if they didn’t have a way to integrate them meaningfully into their courses. There is only so much time we spend face-to-face with our students so our thought was to leverage blended learning as much as possible in these courses to aid in the redesign process. Not everything in a course needs to be done in person, so why not streamline a much of that content as possible via a blended learning environment and free up seat time to do some of the new ideas we introduced to the faculty, such as remote clinical observations like I described above. Blended learning certainly isn’t a new concept, but the point I tried to get across is what are the students doing in the online environment? Are they just doing readings or are they collaborating, working with authentic sources, etc.? Again I’m looking at what we’ve dubbed Transformative Teaching Qualities. Just because the environment is online doesn’t mean that the quality of the learning is any less or that the activities are drastically limited or different. The opposite is true. There are so many potential activities and experiences students can have in an online environment that we need to think about how we can capitalize on those situations to create more meaningful learning.

There was much more that took place during the summit, but I thought I would share at least those two areas as they were the two I was most passionate and consumed with over the last month, which has limited my ability to do other things I deeply care about, such as blogging. Now that the summit is over and I’m heading into a nice long vacation, I have some time to catch up with my PLN and blogging and really have some time to digest what has taken place in the last few months. It’s a time to unwind and relax and I plan on doing plenty of it over the next month!