Tech for Teachers
Video Cameras Offer a New Picture of Student Learning
ASCD Express's Tech for Teachers column, by guest columnist Jason Bedell, uses both text and a tutorial video to encourage teachers to bring web technology into their practice in simple but meaningful ways that can contribute to student engagement and learning.
A basic video camera should have a place in any teacher's tool kit. A teacher can use classroom video from her own camera in various ways—for performance, documentation, practice, assessment, and much more—to extend learning.
The video camera is the rare tool that I found works as well with 5- to 14-year-olds, who I teach now, as with 15- to 18-year-olds, who I taught last year. It can be integrated easily into classroom lessons to deepen learning and engage students.
In my teaching, I try to use a variety of assessment techniques to give students many opportunities to demonstrate their understanding. Writing or taking a multiple-choice test are only two ways to express understanding. A video camera can help students explain their understanding aloud and such evidence can easily be included in a digital portfolio. Furthermore, video offers a platform for creative expression at any age. Many students love to act and perform, and a camera gives them another avenue to demonstrate mastery.
To record video in the classroom, this year I mostly use my iPad, because I usually have it with me and can edit the videos right on it. A cell phone can also be a good choice, because they are nearly ubiquitous and most later models have a decent camera. However, my video camera of choice is the Flip camera.
I love the Flip camera because it is both teacher-proof and student-proof; there is no learning curve. Literally, just turn it on and press the big red button to start recording, then press it once more to stop. I've worked with many people who have had difficult relationships with technology, and never have any of them needed more than one minute to learn the basics of using the Flip camera.
The YouTube video "Using a Flip Camera for Teaching and Learning," made by teachers in London, shows the basics of how to use a Flip camera and provides numerous examples of how the teachers integrate it into their instruction.
In this TeacherBites video from Westminster Adult Education Services in London, Sandra Pires, an e-learning lecturer, and other teachers describe the many ways they use a video camera to enrich teaching and learning for their students.
The video's first 3:30 minutes are on the Flip camera itself, and the rest of the video is about integration tips suitable for any video camera. For example, one teacher suggested having the students create a commercial. This activity requires several skills, such as creative thinking, using persuasive techniques, and understanding your audience.
Probing Story Sequence with 2nd Graders
In my own classroom, I was working on the idea of ordering events, or sequencing, with my 2nd graders. After reading Mo Willems' engaging book Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, a story of a very young child who loses a favorite toy, students broke into small groups to create a basic storyboard with their own words and pictures.
Groups of five students discussed what they thought were the most important scenes. Then, each group member drew one scene and included a draft dialogue. The students then worked together on deciding the final dialogue for each scene. Interestingly, without a lot of instruction, the groups came up with different ways to express story sequence. Some students acted out the sequence with dialogue, some chose to use a narrator instead of having the characters speak, and some even used props in the library, such as bringing in a stuffed bunny to represent the Knuffle Bunny or adapting furniture to recreate the scenes in the book.
Instead of directing students to order the scenes of the book in a sequencing exercise, students used the storyboard process to come to understand the relative importance of the book's different scenes. The planning and creation of the videos was engaging for the students and helped them be thoughtful about the scenes' order and construction.
More than once, students observed that they did not get something right and asked to do another take. When students watched videos from all the groups, they discussed why different groups chose varied scenes or whether anything important was missing in their sequence.
Modernizing the Rue Morgue in Middle School
At the other end of the spectrum, one of the middle school language arts teachers at my school and her students creatively used a video camera while studying Edgar Allan Poe's short story Murders in the Rue Morgue. Students were given various options to demonstrate their understanding of the text.
One group chose to film a recreation of the short story, setting the story in the present and modernizing both locations and dialogue. The students' video demonstrated that they had understood many of the subtleties of the story, as shown through their choice of clothing, camera angles and special effects, background music and filming locations, as well as the modernization of the dialogue.
The video obviously took great amounts of forethought and editing, which allowed students to show a nuanced understanding of the Poe's work. For example, during a party scene, the camera angle seemed to be from the perspective of someone choosing victims. The background music for the scene, while appropriate for a party, nonetheless seemed to have a note of instability reflected from the character.
Another way to look at it is that the process of creating the video helped the students look thoughtfully at the text to see what would work best in a film. Although school policy prevents us from publishing student videos, their work deserves to reach a wider audience. We are currently rewriting the school policy so that we can publish pictures and videos of students, in combination with the imminent launch of our new website and social media profiles. We need to make sure that parents understand and consent to the policy changes before it applies to the students at the beginning of next year.
Opening Up Possibilities for Learning and Assessment
A simple video camera can offer so many tools to ensure that your students are learning. Tom Barrett, an educator and former school leader, has created many crowd-sourced presentations, called the Interesting Ways series, on different effective ways to use different technologies.
For more examples of how to use a video for learning, check out Barrett's slide presentation "45 Interesting Ways to Use a Pocket Video Camera in the Classroom." Many of his ideas offer interesting opportunities for formative assessment. For example, letting students record a how-to video about the science lab they are performing can show the extent of students' understanding of the topic, reinforces learning as they articulate their understanding, and potentially can benefit others through easy online publication.
Using video in the classroom is not only a fun way to engage students, but rather a means to discover what students know, allow them to explore, or let them express themselves in richer ways.
Jason T. Bedell is an instructional technology consultant and library media specialist at Belmar Elementary School in New Jersey. He explores how effective technology integration can deepen student learning and make the school environment more student-centered.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 20. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.