Video is seductive technology. It’s used as click bait on social media, to advertise on the sides of buildings in Times Square, and even to help pass the time in the back seat of a New York City taxi. In education, video has tremendous potential to instruct, to inspire, to raise awareness, and more. It is making its way into teacher education as a tool for analyzing teaching. Despite its potential, I am concerned about some trends I am noticing, and that I believe deserve careful scrutiny.
For example, at Relay, the website boasts that its instructors are not “sitting in ivory towers” but coaching and mentoring students who are learning to become teachers. “When they’re not right there in the classroom, they’re side by side with our students, watching and analyzing video of them…pausing, rewinding and replaying the video to give pinpoint feedback.” They even call these videos “game film” as in show that you’ve got game in the classroom. Video is also used to instruct, and Relay’s site explains “our students can watch and rewatch course modules as they complete our program.” One of the students featured in a Relay video even claims, “Film doesn’t lie.”
One of my concerns lies in the false sense of objectivity that is ascribed to videos of classroom life. Like it or not, the camera is a presence. You can’t be unaware of it, and it comes with its own interpretive lens even sitting on a tripod in the corner of the room. It is not reality, it is a representation of reality. What’s more, classroom events are often incredibly complex, and require deep contextual knowledge to fully understand and even interpret. I know from my own research in classrooms that when revisiting classroom events with participants using video there is a lot of unpacking to do about the teacher’s intentions and beliefs, the students’ understanding, and the shifts and gaps between what is captured in film and what is remembered by the people afterwards.
Another concern is that the temptation in observing teaching to satisfy a checklist of items you are looking for is exacerbated with video. We have been there, done that, and the behavioral checklist doesn’t work. It’s a bit like getting on a sightseeing bus, driving around a city, and saying you saw this and that. You caught a glimpse, grabbed a bad photo or two, but what did you really see? Not much. Using video to evaluate teaching is also problematic because the likelihood is that only a short clip will be analyzed, a tiny sliver of what classroom life is really like, and the evaluator will probably only watch once. It’s as if instead of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, lingering over favorite paintings and talking with a friend about what you notice, like, appreciate, wonder about, and so on, and reading the contextual information provided by the curator, you watch a quick slideshow online where each image lasts for 15 seconds and you get the name of the artist and the title of the work on the bottom of the screen. It’s not likely that you will have a memorable and long-lasting experience.
What much of the video use in teacher education is intending to replace is the bothersome and expensive problem of actually being in the classroom. It is an acknowledged problem that full time faculty don’t generally supervise student teachers, and that the work is more often than not relegated to adjuncts and in large universities, to doctoral students. Principals are also hard pressed to find enough time to evaluate all the teachers in their schools, and rely on help from assistant principals and instructional coaches. Now that companies like EdThena are developing software to make it easy and intuitive to provide feedback on teachers’ videos, we are likely to see more and more remote evaluation. No one will remember anymore the value of being in the room, because teaching won’t be seen as relational work, but as a series of techniques to be micro-managed by data analysis and video software.
How is this creeping up on us? In preservice education, we are seeing how Pearson’s scoring of edTPA portfolios is micromanaged by very specific rubrics looking for particular instructional moves in video clips totaling approximately 15 minutes. This leads to some very problematic oversimplification as in this Powerpoint slide widely used to explain the rubric progression of edTPA scoring from one to five: