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Videotaping yourself

Advice for teachers on capturing video in the classroom - by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education

Digital video can serve as a powerful tool to document and analyze teaching. It can capture the tone of the overall classroom environment as well as the nuances of particular instructional techniques. It can help the teacher to see and hear how his or her work is perceived by others, and enable faculty to provide targeted feedback based on close analysis. This article provides some ideas and tips that will help you take full advantage of digital video capture, storage, and analysis technologies to improve the preparation and continued professional development of teachers. It describes a process to plan, capture, edit, analyze, and store video clips of teachers at work.

Why?

Documenting the art and craft of teaching can serve several purposes:

  • It can assist student teachers to develop key teaching skills and competencies, by providing a method of documenting and analyzing their work in the classroom.
  • It can provide cooperating teachers and supervising faculty with a useful tool for observation and analysis of teaching skill and competence.
  • It can provide useful examples of teaching situations and techniques that can be archived, indexed, and employed for learning and research in education.

 

How?

The process of video documentation comprises these steps:

  1. Plan. Consider a lesson that you plan to teach during the next two weeks that might lend itself to video capture, on for which you are curious as to how your actions work in the classroom. Think about the aspects of the lesson that you want to be captured, with special attention to any particular techniques or activities that should be documented closely. What are they key competencies or skills you want to show? When will they happen in the lesson? What images, and what sounds, are essential to communicating these key ideas? Think through camera and microphone placement and shooting angles. Jot down an outline of the objectives and methods of the capture session: what do you want to capture, and why?

    If you have a co-conspirator for your video session -- a colleague, a student, a supervisor -- let them in on your planning. And ask them to serve as videographer. This can help to produce a more interesting, customized result.
  2. Practice. To de-sensitize students and their teacher to the presence of the camera and to test the process of video capture. it's a good idea to shoot some practice video. Choose a lesson that fits well with video capture, think through the camera placement, and explain to students what you are about to do and why. Shoot a few minutes of video, and then analyze it after school. How's the video? How's the sound? How would you capture it differently next time?
  3. Setup. Proper setup of the capture will result in higher-quality video. For example:
    • Camera placement is crucial. You can't just point and shoot and get useful results. Attention must be paid, especially to how you point the camera. And use a tripod, even if you have a friend shooting by hand.
    • No single physical setup will suffice for all situations. The setup must be tailored to the physical nature of each classroom and the type of teaching and learning situation that you want to document. For instance, to document yourself working around a table with a small group of students in a peer-editing situation, you need to set up for a close shot, get the camera as close as possible to the table, and know how you plan to carry out the session so you can capture the relevant sequences.
    • Think ahead. Before you begin shooting, you need to have in mind what you want the completed video to look like: do you want to capture the look in the students' faces? The text on the pages in front of them? The teacher's gestures? How long will the completed clip be?
    • Audio is more important than video. More teacher videos fail because you can't hear what's happening, than any other cause. For example, if you want to document and analyze your oral instructions, you should set the camera up a few feet away. If you want to capture student voices, put the camera very close to them or use an external microphone. Otherwise they will be inaudible.Keep the camera less than six feet away from the speaker. If the camera is farther awa than this, the voice will not come across clearly.
    • Learn about light. Shoot so that your subjects are lit from the front. Never, never shoot into the classroom windows. Shoot with the light behind the camera.
    • Close in. Most classroom videos are shot much too wide to be useful or interesting. If you have a friend operating the camera for you, tell them to pretend to be a cameraperson for 60 minutes, trying to capture the beads of sweat on your forehead.
    • Charge up. Charge the camera's batter fully the night before you shoot. Make sure you have the tripod and the memory card.
  4. Capture. Consider capturing part of the lesson from one angle, and other parts from other angles. This is easier if you have a helper to operate the camera. You may want to capture the entire classroom environment, or capture close-up certain parts of the lesson. Move the camera as necessary to capture the essentials of the session as it proceeds. Use a tripod whenever possible. Avoid quick zooms and pans. Avoid using the zoom feature of the camera -- instead, move the camera closer to the action. Here are the steps to follow:
    1. Mount the camcorder on a tripod.
    2. Open the display door and remove the lens cover from the camera.
    3. Set the Play/Record button to Record.
    4. Press the record button to start the recording.
    5. Move around and speak to test the capture.
    6. Press the record button again to stop the recording.
    7. Set the Play/Record button to the Play setting.
    8. Press the play button and review what you shot.
    9. If you are happy with the results, repeat steps 3, 4, and 5.
    10. While recording, keep the room quiet and don't touch the camera or tripod.
  5. Computerize. Transfer the video to your computer for vewing, editing, and uploading. Take the memory card out of the camera, put it into the card reader, and insert the card reader into your computer. The video will appear on the card as an .MP4 file. Copy this file to your computer by clicking and dragging it across. On your computer, you can view the file easily, stopping and starting and rewinding as necessary. From the computer you may also upload the video to the Hunter College video analysis server, which you can find at http://hunter.cuny.edu/education/technology/vat.
  6. Analyze. With your objectives in front of you, watch the captured video clip. You will see things you never considered. You may, if you haven't done this before, be surprised at how you look and sound on the small screen. Analyze your actions and the reactions of students in light of the objectives of your lesson. Examine closely those aspects of your teaching that you wanted to focus on.

 

If you are working with a supervisor, consider a joint review and analysis of the video. Independently review the session and prepare summaries of the video in light of the objectives of the lesson and of the principles of teaching under review. Then meet to watch the video together, share your analyses, and discuss how you might improve your teaching.

 

Archive

A simple review and analysis my suffice for you, but you may also want to develop an archive of your practice. It's easy to make copies of your clips onto DVD, onto your computer, or on web server for later retrieval. Many teachers combine selected clips from classroom videos into a DVD suitable for use as a portfolio.

 

Video can help you become more aware of your professional self, and lead to better teaching.
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