Monday, November 25, 2013

You spin me 'round, 'round, baby ... Audio & Video Reflection

One of the things I stress when working with teachers is to have them record themselves in the classroom, either using audio or video.  It's eye-opening (and illusion-shattering) when you see yourself on the screen saying things and doing things.  It's made my practice more self-reflective in the moment -- what would I say or do if I replayed this later?

We've got a new little tool that alleviates two of the problems with just putting a videocamera at the back of the room:

  1. Audio... if the camera is at the back of the room, the audio often picks up way too much noise from the students.  I realize that students are our raison d'etre, but when you're focusing on improving you and your teaching, you want to hear what you are saying (reflecting on what your students are doing is a whole other issue!)
  2. Movement... if you're doing teaching right, you're not standing in one place.  A stationary camera, even with a wide angle lens, often doesn't capture you as you move around the classroom.  You could bring a camera operator in but then you add a whole new dynamic to the classroom -- we all know what happens to the students when there's someone new in their space!  Plus, imposing on someone else's time just to turn a camera isn't really efficient.
So technology to the rescue!  The Swivl camera base http://www.swivl.com/ will take your phone or tablet and connect it to a base that swivels automatically with you as you move around the classroom.  It does it by using a small clip-on (or lanyard-ed) microphone, so as it tracks you it is also wirelessly recording you.  The quality of the audio is amazing and, so long as you don't turn your back to the camera and walk away, the base tracks you around the room (of course, once you face the camera again, it swivels to find you).

It's a little expensive for individuals (200$) but for a department or school that's interested in improving teaching via reflection, I think it's invaluable.  Just not having to have a second person to run the camera is huge -- and since it's initially stored on their personal device means it begins the conversation under their control (teachers are often leery of others seeing them teach, even if it is to offer constructive suggestions).

We've also used it for student presentations, again to improve the audio and follow the student with out a camera operator, but more on that later.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Formative Assessment in OneNote

My own teaching practice, and my prioritization for teacher professional development, has been greatly influenced by Black & Wiliam's Inside the Black Box and, more recently, Hattie's work on changes in teaching and learning that have some demonstrable effectiveness across broad communities.
Increasing my use of formative assessment, or assessment as learning, was pretty much the first substantial change I deliberately made and would still be one of the first things I work on with teachers.

Technologically, we've facilitated that with the OneNote binder, as shown below.  We've got three spaces -- a dropbox for the students, a private & hidden marking space for teachers and then a read-only section where marked material is shared with students & parents.  Using it on a pen-based tablet means I can scribble ideas to the students quickly & easily and the synchronization means that student gets it as soon as I've completed it.

So it's been really beneficial that this process fits both the student and teacher schedule -- the students can add materials any time and the teacher, by moving it into the hidden _M section, can take their time to provide useful information to the student and then move it into the _R portfolio of each student's work.  This summer, when we ran an online French course, the teacher was able to continually provide rich and meaningful feedback throughout the day and students would automatically find her comments in the _R folder as soon as she moved it over.  In that situation, she not only used the pen to write comments but also used audio and video to supplement her feedback to the students.


And, of course, since the OneNote binder is available to parents, they too have access to all the students' work and teacher feedback.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Milestones (for a Mentor)

We received great news this week: we've been designated a Microsoft Mentor School for 2014; one of only three across Canada.
From the website: schools must demonstrate a commitment to innovation and the ability to overcome obstacles in preparing students to be 21st century learners. In addition, they must have developed programs that can serve as models for other schools.

It was interesting that Microsoft's announcement focused on the Global Forum to be held in Barcelona in March.  While it is a nice bonus that two of our faculty will be attending the Forum over March Break and connecting with educators from the 80 other Mentor Schools for a week (as well as all the newly appointed "Microsoft Expert Educators") I am glad that the this milestone allows us to continue the conversation about being a resource for others.

Friends from PCMI will recognize that phrase -- it's been one of the three guiding principles of the PCMI teacher program and is one of my own personal pillars (Appleby College has six pillars, of which one is Technologically Empowered).  I (and by assocation, Appleby) view our role as educators broadly -- it's not just our students in our classroom, or our faculty but it's all students and all faculty.  It's seeking out people who have questions, sharing our story and learning theirs.  And I hope that this gift from Microsoft will help us to do that more, more often and more deeply.