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When teaching online, leverage the power of video observation to improve practice

By Laura Baecher

Observation and reflection are essential for improving teaching practice, even now that most teaching is occurring online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, with the increasing popularity of video observation and coaching, we already have a tool that can be used for this purpose during distance learning.

''When video-based observation is successfully implemented, it has powerful benefits for teacher learning.'' @LauraBaecher Click To Tweet

When video-based observation is successfully implemented, it has powerful benefits for teacher learning. It allows teachers to see their own practice; work towards self-improvement goals, typically with an instructional coach; and align their professional vision with school and district goals. Video observation may be particularly useful now, since many educators are on a steep learning curve figuring out new tools, technologies, and techniques for the distance learning context. Self-awareness, reflection, and guidance from coaches can help teachers gain insights that advance their students’ learning.

However, without thoughtful implementation, coaches and supervisors can inadvertently increase teachers’ anxiety about the observation and feedback process, and that is especially a risk right now, because we don’t have casual, in-person connections to complement those online interactions. It’s important to remember that we can feel exposed and vulnerable when we record a video of our teaching.

Here’s how to make the most of video observation and coaching, without causing more stress, while we’re navigating uncharted waters.

Recognize the unique benefits of video  

Research on teacher development has well documented the positive impact of video review on teachers’ abilities to notice, reflect on teaching, attend to student behavior, and deepen pedagogical skills (Baecher, Kung, Ward, & Kern, 2018; Gaudin & Chaliès, 2015).

Research on teacher development has well documented the positive impact of video review on teachers’ abilities to notice, reflect on teaching, attend to student behavior, and deepen pedagogical skills. Click To Tweet

In the arena of coaching, it is very clear that teachers respond with greater specificity and ownership when they can “see” what the coaches are seeing during feedback sessions (Sherin & van Es, 2005).  Rather than being passive recipients of feedback, teachers can notice, comment, dissect a lesson, and suggest new approaches with the coach acting as facilitator (Baecher & McCormack, 2015).

As seen in the chart below, video offers opportunities that live, on-site observation simply cannot.

 

Opportunities when observing via video vs. on-site 

Video-based observation of teaching On-site, live observation of teaching
The teaching can be reviewed again and again, and by multiple viewers, to challenge initial biases or perceptions.

The moment is frozen.

No opportunity to review the teaching to challenge initial biases or perceptions. The moment has passed.
Classroom talk can be transcribed and examined.

The observer gets the details.

Classroom talk is difficult to capture and examine.

The observer gets the gist.

The raw footage of the lesson provides a view on student learning.

Student learning is directly visible.

Observer notes provide a proxy view on visible student learning.

The observer interprets and records indicators of student learning.

The camera can capture everything in its view.

Information recorded does not depend on the observer.

Observer focuses on one or two areas and records details, meaning loss of attention in another areas.

Information recorded is limited.

Leverage the unique opportunities of online teaching 

It is possible that the affordances of video review can actually be easier to access when the lesson itself is taught in a distance-learning context. Here are three reasons why.

1. Synchronous lessons can be easily recorded within the functions of the tool itself.  When teachers use Google Meet, Zoom, or other video conferencing platforms, it is easy to hit the “record” button and access the session for review and reflection at a later time. Just like recording in classrooms, permissions must be obtained for recording. Unlike having to find, learn how to use, and set up a video camera in a physical classroom, the video recording and uploading process are baked into the very tool being used. (This feature has an added benefit: Since many students cannot participate in synchronous sessions, teachers can share the recording with them later.) Recording class sessions provides access for students with limited internet bandwidth.

2. Asynchronous lessons often contain video recordings made for students.

Teachers who create PowerPoint or Google slide presentations to provide to their students to review at their own pace often add a video of themselves to that material. Their “thumbnail” video appears alongside the slides and offer learners a chance to better understand the materials and the teacher’s video creates a sense of instructor presence in the distance learning environment. As with video recordings of synchronous lessons, these artifacts allow teachers and their coaches to observe and reflect on what went well and what could be improved next time.

3. Both synchronous and asynchronous teaching can be easily “visited” by observers.

With the limitations of schedules and geography removed, it is easier than ever to “stop in” to another teacher’s lesson. Remote coaching can be achieved without bringing in any equipment or worrying about time zones and availability. A chemistry teacher in California can peer-observe, coach, or be coached by another chemistry teacher in New York, or even Vietnam or Brazil. The boundaries we are used to thinking about with viewing and participating in each other’s “spaces” disappear.

It is possible that the affordances of video review can actually be easier to access when the lesson itself is taught in a distance-learning context. Click To Tweet

Be aware of the pitfalls and how to avoid them 

There are some potential pitfalls of using video observation, especially for formal observations, right now. It is important to consider the stress and strain we are all currently experiencing, which could be exacerbated by formally observing teachers. And many of us are teaching online for the first time, so it is more useful and productive to focus on learning and growth than “ideals” or fidelity of particular models.

I recommend focusing on informal, non-evaluative observation during this emergency phase. Here are three ways to do that:

1. Invite teachers to review one of their class sessions using a self-reflection tool.

Once teachers complete this school year, summer may be a great time to review some recorded sessions and materials to consider how these might become part of their teaching repertoire in the fall or in future distance learning situations. Teachers can examine the accessibility of their materials for students with learning disabilities and English language learners, or review student work submitted to see where the instruction might need to be altered for better results. Clarity of instructions, student engagement, and discussions that foster critical thinking are all features that can be considered whether on-site or in a distance learning lesson.

2. Invite peers, coaches, and supervisors to participate and reflect.

Inviting coaches and supervisors to observe the asynchronous and synchronous aspects can help them better understand both the student and teacher’s experience. The mode should not be evaluation, but appreciation for what the challenges are and what strengths different teachers are finding they are tapping into in this new context for learning. After participating in a session, a peer teacher or coach can discuss what they noticed or questioned during the instruction, using the video as an artifact. These feedback conversations can facilitate reflection and learning and foster a sense of curiosity that can lead to teacher motivation to develop in new areas.

3. Invite teachers to share their classroom sites so others can observe their asynchronous materials.

This is a low-stakes way to move the teachers who are excited about distance learning towards seeing themselves as teacher leaders. Teachers don’t have to be at the same grade level or subject areas, as the tools and organization and systems they have set up to effectively manage their online classroom spaces can be readily applicable to other teachers. Teachers can provide video-tours of their classrooms using tools like Screencastify or host live sessions where they share their screen and talk other educators through their classroom sites. In many instances, teachers who are comfortable and skilled in digital tools are better “staff developers” than instructional technologists who may not be currently teaching in this stressful period.

In whatever way educators determine video records can fit into teacher learning, the video should serve as a helpful tool in building self-awareness, not as a punitive one. Click To Tweet

In whatever way educators determine video records can fit into teacher learning, the video should serve as a helpful tool in building self-awareness, not as a punitive one. The teacher’s learning objective should drive the choice of artifact (for example student work samples or video records) and the content (the specific aspect of teaching). It is also crucial to be clear and transparent about the purpose of the recording, who owns it, and who will have access to it. Video should not cause more anxiety. Instead, it should help the teacher feel empowered and excited about their own continuous learning.

Laura Baecher (lbaecher@hunter.cuny.edu) is a Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the School of Education at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the author of Video in Teacher Learning:  Through their Own Eyes, a joint publication of Corwin and Learning Forward.

 

 

References

Baecher, L., Kung, S.K., Ward, S., & Kern, K. (2018). Facilitating video analysis for teacher development: A systematic review of the research. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 26(2), 185-216.

Baecher, L. & McCormack, B. (2015). The impact of video review on supervisory conferencing. Language and Education29(2), 153-173.

Gaudin, C. & Chaliès, S. (2015). Video viewing in teacher education and professional development: A literature review. Educational Research Review16, 41-67.

Sherin, M. & van Es, E. (2005). Using video to support teachers’ ability to notice classroom interactions. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education13(3), 475-491.

 

 

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