Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wagner and the Flip Camera

One technology coordinator jokingly grumbled with me: "Darn that Tony Wagner. My superintendent goes and sees him last Wednesday, and now I've got to buy all these Flip cameras!"

Which was very near the first words out of my mouth when Tony Wagner told the audience on Sept 16 that his favorite professional development technology was the easy-to-use camera. I'm down on record as saying "there will be 200 different purchase orders for those cameras across the state tomorrow".

First off, the camera. It is very popular, even among camera enthusiasts (our Final Cut Pro trainer, a professional photographer, said that for video quality, the camera rivals many of the more expensive models). I'm not a video camera expert at all, but visiting with a couple of individuals at Heartland who are, they mentioned their Flip cam has better video quality than their 3-chip camcorders that were about 3 years old.

Of course, they also mentioned that while Flip was the rage, there are several viable alternatives out there that might be even better. One of which is the Creative Vado, that has gotten some press recently. Here's a list of some others.

The central point is, Flip or competitor, these cameras are point-and-shoot easy to use, yet still have a much improved picture quality. They are lightweight, which means an administrator could carry one in their pocket and be ready for any instructional moment. And, they are easy to load, as video is recorded in a FLV file (it doesn't have to be "imported", just copied). In other words, the workflow to go from video opp to video-watching opp is infinitely better.

This is why Tony Wagner is a fan. He made several strong statements about why our schools haven't been able to improve. For example, "Teachers working alone, with little or no feedback on the quality of their lessons, will not be able to improve significantly, no matter how much professional development they receive".

This is a profound insight that I agree with completely. First, much off professional development stays in levels of abstraction, with words like "rigor", "rubric", "authentic assessment", "quality instruction", and "educational outcomes" bantered around. What PD is often short on is specific definitions of each with examples. A "high rigor lesson is... and is not..." with examples of each.

Because of that, teachers walk away from professional development re-inforcing their own understanding of what quality teaching is. We all agree "rigor" is important, and yet, we all have different classroom instruction. There needs to be the opportunity for calibrating.

Enter video. Have teachers watch video clips so they can calibrate their understanding of all professional development terms. What is this teacher doing well for classroom management? Is this teacher using effective formative assessment and feedback in this lesson?

But don't stop there. Allow the recording of teachers' lessons, and ensure the oppotunity for teachers to work with each other in PLC's. You can provide as much PD as you want, but unless you get to this level of analysis, where it comes back to the actual teaching in the classroom, you have no assurances of improvement.

This is all great, and I am a firm advocate for this practice. However, as I pushed back on the conversation at my table during the conference, there are huge pitfalls to doing this that need to be overcome. I'll look at those tomorrow.

No comments: