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January 9, 2018

New Findings: Video Can Truly Transform Professional Learning for Educators

2018 just may be the year to add video to your professional-development toolbox. Whether you’re an educator or administrator, it’s hard to ignore the studies now suggesting that video may be more powerful than initially thought for improving teacher practice. Recent findings from Visibly Better, a national working group launched by Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) (which I have the honor to be a part of), revealed that video has the potential to truly transform professional learning for educators – and we should all be exploring its potential.CEPR’s members are from organizations focused on technology solutions to make this work attainable for educators, as well as practitioners who are successfully using video in their districts and schools. At our first convening, CEPR’s Thomas Kane shared his eureka moment about video in the classroom: Video was a convenient way to collect data, but as his team continued the study, they discovered that video has real power for teachers.

Among the educators who Kane interviewed for Harvard’s Best Foot Forward project, which explored how using video for teacher feedback and coaching can impact practice:

  • Teachers felt like conversations were less adversarial with video as a common piece of evidence.
  • There were fewer disagreements and a greater feeling of fairness.
  • Observers were more supportive and empathetic.
  • More teachers identified changes in their practice.

After laying out the four elements of deliberate practice (motivation to actively improve; a practical task with clear, shared goals; immediate feedback; and a repeatable, similar task), Kane claimed: “Deliberate practice is not feasible in education without video!”

If we accept that audacious claim, the question then becomes: “If video is such a powerful tool for teachers, why isn’t every teacher in every school already using it?” Until relatively recently, I have seen significant barriers to adoption:

  1. The technology wasn’t as convenient. It wasn’t so long ago that video cameras used actual tapes, which required another machine for playback, and which could also get lost or broken.
  2. Teachers, students, and parents weren’t always comfortable with class time being captured on video.
  3. The coaching processes weren’t scalable.

Visibly Better revealed how educators are overcoming these barriers.

Convenient Technology

High-quality video capture is now two taps away on our mobile devices. That ease brings a much higher comfort level: people of all ages (especially today’s students) are accustomed to having their lives documented on video.

In addition to advancements for capturing video, we also have technology to easily manage the video feedback and coaching process.

Comfort With Video

Rebekah Ralph, an Instructor of Educational Technology at LaGrange College, observed that when video-based processes are built into a program from the beginning, they are easily implemented and well-accepted. Although she faced some challenges implementing video for self-reflection, video has since become integral and routine in her educators’ professional lives.

Video implementations are also more likely to succeed when available footage is centralized for teachers and administrators to access it any time for asynchronous coaching or evaluation. Kathryn Procope, head of school at Howard University Middle School reflected on her experience using ENGAGE Feedback for evaluation, concluding that video has made evaluation fairer and has inspired more observation and self-reflection. She also found that coaching and evaluation can flow into one another.

By contrast, some voiced concerns about how the perception of evaluation’s high stakes makes it hard for teachers to let their guard down and reap the benefits of coaching. And while I can see both sides of this issue, I think that we should challenge ourselves to pursue a lofty goal of more productively connecting accountability and support. While evaluation can be a high-stakes endeavor, I believe that assessment of practice should be about really understanding – and supporting – opportunities for improvement.

Like Kathryn Procope, I believe that coaching should flow into evaluation. If educators spend so much time setting up evaluation systems, why not use that data to more effectively support teachers? Evidence is now suggesting that video makes evaluation less of a confrontation and more of a conversation about practice.

Scalable Video Observation and Feedback

We know from almost any initiative in schools that scalability can be a challenge. Cayanna Good, Executive Director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, spoke at Visibly Better about how she uses ENGAGE Feedback to manage instructional coaches across the state. Her coaches used to drive for hours to support literacy teachers throughout Georgia; now they do half of their work in person and half via video, allowing them greater efficiency while supporting many teachers. It also improves evaluation by empowering teachers to use videos as a basis for self-reflection and peer-to-peer coaching. Additionally, technology allows for managing and supporting instructional coaches more effectively. We can watch feedback conversations and provide feedback to the coach, calibrate those who support teachers, or provide visible examples of practice for educators.

I left Visibly Better more confident in my belief that video has the potential to truly transform professional learning for educators. While schools and districts may not yet be leveraging video in ways that significantly impact professional learning, compelling evidence suggests that we all should be exploring its potential. We see every day how well-implemented professional learning that leverages video is both highly regarded and highly effective. I’m excited to continue engaging in this work, both as part of the Visibly Better working group and through my own work in the field.


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