I really believe in learning observations – both formal and informal; self-observation and peer-observation; in person and video. I think that all of these are important. But today I am going to focus on video observations of learning. I’m not going to cover coaching, mentoring, observation protocols, trust, feedback or conversations – and these are all a really important part of the process of learning observations and can’t be ignored, but in the interests of brevity I just won’t cover them in this article – I’ll save that for another article down the track.
I have worked with teachers for a number of years, and have noticed that when teachers go through a formal in person observation, some teachers (especially new teachers) put a lot of work into the lesson, and deliver a really good lesson. The problem is, that it is for only one lesson, which doesn’t always start a sequence of continuous improvement. With one intern I supervised, I tried a different approach. I gave her a webcam and asked her to film as many lessons as she needed to demonstrate her exemplar use of effective questioning. When she proudly showed me the video, it did indeed have some really good teaching and questioning, and in the conversation we had, it came to light that she had filmed herself over the course of eight lessons with two classes. After each class she watched the video, made changes and tried again, until she got to something she was really happy with.
This approach worked really well to start behaviour change and instigate continuous improvement. It was also really safe for the teacher, as she was in charge of the footage until she chose to share it. As a result, I would hypothesise that teachers are also more likely to be happy to share this exemplar practice.
Buoyed by this positive success I started looking at other options to record the class. It is not that the webcam wasn’t good, it just had a narrow field of view (a lot of time you missed the action elsewhere in the classroom) and it also tied up the teachers computer. In a conversation with a colleague, I was bemoaning the fact that someone should invent “a really small camera with a wide field of view that could record good quality picture and audio that downloads easily to a computer”.
“Like a Go Pro?”, he asked.
The next day I had in my hands a GoPro, LCD back, tripod adapter and “The frame” for mounting it without its protective (but sound muffling!) case. “The frame” is not in the photo, as it’s on my desk at work.
The GoPro turns out to be a really good tool for learning observation. The wide field of view allows 90% of the classroom to be seen and its small size and profile is very unobtrusive for the students, minimising the “observation effect” on the class. With the case on, it’s rugged and tough – great if you don’t need high quality sound. Take the case off and mount on a tripod with “The frame”, and the audio quality is improved – not brilliant, but most things are audible in the class. If you really need the audio, you can even attach an external microphone – something that is on my list for the coming year.
The LCD back is great for ensuring the shot is set up correctly, but is a serious battery drain – so make sure you mains power the camera through the USB socket with a USB power supply (but you can’t have the rugged case on if you do this), or turn the LCD off whilst actually recording.
You can even easily do time lapse footage from the camera using interval shooting – great if you want to watch behaviours over time, rather than hear what is occurring – and this allows for very efficient reviewing as a class can be compressed to a minute. I used a GoPro this way to show staff opportunities for different modalities of teaching and learning, utilising furniture and technology. It was edited and given annotations (you will be surprised!) using Techsmith Camtasia.
As an added bonus, I now have a Go Pro camera at my disposal – I plan to go storm chasing sometime this summer with it. For work – of course!