Using video in the language classroom: benefits for teacher education

What are the benefits of using video in language teacher education? How can we record classroom interaction, and for what ends? What are the problems we face in this kind of enterprise, and why is it worth persevering?

Background

I come to this topic from an applied linguistic background: a BA in Languages (translation & interpreting), MA in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, and PhD in Linguistics with a dissertation on second language acquisition and a minor in language education (IU Bloomington, 1994). My teacher training experience comes from some 20 years in the English department at the university of Nice. For ten years I was in charge of the department’s oral English programmes, supervising 8 or 9 temporary native-speaking language assistants (see a legacy version of our handknitted Oral English website, for students, and the Lecteurs, or teacher pages). Those were the early days of the internet and our use of technology involved language labs with cassette tapes; by the early 2000s we burned CDs with recordings from online radio. Some idea of the context can be gained from these slides (in French, but with lots of pictures and cognates).

In the past ten years, however, my teaching has involved pre-service primary and secondary school teacher preparation both in EFL and technology for language education. Technological advances have meant more use of video in this work.

My research into classroom interaction has involved collaborative action research. A number of projects have involved supporting teachers in the integration of technologies in language teaching, via open educational resources and practices. We have used video to

  • document classroom interaction to investigate L2 use and development;
  • support in-service teacher development
    • directly using video-stimulated recall with project teachers, and
    • indirectly, by creating open resources for teacher education (itilt.eu and www.itilt2.eu);
  • encourage reflective practice among novice teachers, especially in Masters in Teaching English programmes.

Video examples

I recently gave a research presentation (in French) at Grenoble university where I focus on four uses of video. The first two, on in-service teacher development, and the last, on pre-service training, are relevant to this post.

Pilot project on whole-class videoconferencing for primary EFL

This project was initiated by the local educational authorities in response to a national funding opportunity for videoconferencing in English at primary school level. I participated in a pre-intervention training period to help teachers develop teaching materials, then filmed each side of 3 class-to-class VC sessions. I segmented the recordings of each session into 4 or 5 clips lasting 5-10 minutes, corresponding to the different class activities. Then I uploaded the clips to a closed Google site for viewing by all the project teachers.

These clips, together with the follow-up interviews I conducted with each teacher, provided the data for a study of the integration of the new VC technology by this group.

One of the findings was that the teachers tended to select one of two configurations for learner production: either small teams of pupils “broadcast” rehearsed material to the remote class, or individual learners interacted in pairs, each with the support of the teacher.

The use of video in this project allowed the teachers to gain some perspective on their use of this new technology: to compare the recording of their own and the remote class with their own experience during the session, to reflect on their pedagogical choices and their learners’ participation, and in some cases to develop new goals for language teaching.

Whyte, S. (2011). Learning to teach with videoconferencing in primary foreign language classrooms. ReCALL 23(3): 271–293.

Open educational resources project on the IWB in language education

A second project used video in more structured manner: in the EU-funded project iTILT, we filmed language classes at the interactive whiteboard and shared extracts on an open website. Visitors can view short clips, read a description of the activity, see teacher and learner comments and access associated pedagogical materials (lesson plans, IWB files).

Our data collection protocol involved the teacher and researcher viewing class recordings separately, then meeting for a video-stimulated recall (VSR) interview to select video clips for the website. More information about the projects can be found in these publications:

  1. Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., van Hazebrouck, S., & Oberhofer, M. (2014). Open educational resources for CALL teacher education: the iTILT interactive whiteboard project. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27 (2), 122-148
    This paper describes how the videos were recorded, edited, and tagged, and how teacher interviews were conducted to provide data for the website and associated research.
  2. Whyte, S., Beauchamp, G., & Alexander, J. (2014). Researching interactive whiteboard use from primary school to university settings across Europe: an analytical framework for foreign language teaching. University of Wales Journal of Education, 17, 30-52.
    This paper presents a framework for analysing IWB use in the language classroom based on the tags selected for the 267 video clips collected during the project. It provides an overview of IWB use by the 44 project teachers in 6 countries in three areas: IWB use (teacher, one learner, several learners at the board), IWB tools and functions (e.g., drag-and-drop, spotlight), and language teaching objectives (e.g., listening, speaking, grammar).
  3. Whyte, S. (2015). Implementing and researching technological innovation in language teaching: The case of interactive whiteboards for EFL in French schools. Palgrave Macmillan.
    In the book I trace the development of the 9 French teachers in the project (4 primary teachers, 4 secondary, and 1 teacher educator) using a collaborative action research approach combined with a community of practice model. I show how different teachers gained skills and confidence in different technical and pedagogical dimensions of their teaching. I propose a framework for teacher integration of technology to try and account for variation across the group.

These publications show both the advantages and the drawbacks of video with respect to VSR protocols and open educational practices. As in the previous study, the teachers tended to appreciate the opportunity to gain perspective and reflect on their own practice through comparison and exchange with others. The project afforded opportunities for teachers to preview clips from other teachers’ classes both locally and in other project countries, and these teacher focus group sessions seemed to stimulate reflective practice and individual development, as well as offer a rich sources of data for language teacher education research.

Peer filming in pre-service teaching practice

In a third, smaller-scale project with pre-service secondary EFL teachers, I asked trainees to develop teaching activities for the classes they worked with in 2-week school placements, and to record each other delivering their lessons on their smartphones. We used a design brief developed by Samuda (2005) to define the type of teaching activity we wanted to record. Then students used Breen et al’s notion of critical incident as a way to approach the videos they made. They presented their insights to the group and wrote reflective papers on their experience. More information about this initiative (and references) are in this post and on these slides:

Many of these novice teachers selected critical incidents related to classroom management or to learner errors. Two, however, focused on the actual tasks they implemented, one on the task-as-plan, reflecting on flaws in the plan (slide 39), and one on task-as-process, reflecting on an error in the implementation phase (slide 40).

The use of video in this project was intended both for individual reflection and group sharing and feedback. The fact that students made their own recordings gave them control over what was shared. It is entirely possible that students experienced other critical incidents which they preferred not to share with the group.

Most schools gave permission to film, though some restricted us to audio only; in the event the quality of many clips was so poor as to need no blurring were any wider sharing planned. The goal was, of course, to allow better feedback and discussion with these novice teachers, since it is always easier to understand any teaching moment with some audio-visual record.

Feedback on this trainee experience was obtained from students’ reflective papers analysing their critical incidents. In our Masters programme, our novice teachers spend a first year preparing for national competitive teaching exams, and their second year teaching part-time as they complete their training. They often report difficulty in finding time to address all aspects of the programme: preparing for exams, adapting to practical classroom conditions, and accommodating often conflicting perspectives from school tutors, inspectors, and university instructors. The strong pedagogical focus of a task like the one reported above is often not yet a priority for these pre-service teachers.

Whyte, S. (2015). Taking to task(s): Exploring task design by novice language teachers in technology-mediated and non-technological activities. XVII International CALL research conference proceedings, 30-36.

The technical side

When I do my own filming, I use a Sony HDV1080i/miniDV with an additional mic and a tripod, and Mac software (iMovie). I bought it with funding for a previous project at a time when the mini-cassette provided the best compromise between cost and quality, and I have not updated. I sometimes use an iPhone or iPad for a second view. In the iTILT project we also used a professional AV team (2 cameras, one fixed, one mobile, mics for teacher and by board, additional lighting; Final Cut for editing).

In the iTILT project, an issue arose regarding the trade-off between minimising the impact of filming on the classroom context, on one hand, and producing video clips of sufficient quality for online viewing on the project website on the other. We found using a single static camera at the back of the room and no extra microphones meant recordings which were too indistinct for easy comprehension. More intrusive methods using professional audio-visual teams with teacher microphones, both fixed and mobile cameras, and even extra lighting resulted in better quality films. In addition, professional editing of clips using footage from both cameras produced a more polished final product. I learned that the unedited record of a pristine class environment from a tripod in the back corner is no more faithful to what happened in class than a more disruptive recording arrangement which captures the expressions, gestures, and details which are also essential to our interpretation of events.

And in an ideal world

Some of the problems I see with this work, in additional to those mentioned already, relate to the novelty of using video in these ways for teacher education. Experienced teachers are often distracted on first viewing their class films by their own physical appearance and presence in class, or by disruptive learner behaviour which had passed unnoticed during the lesson. Novice teachers may have trouble identifying key elements of effective teacher behaviour from video recordings, as they are often sidetracked by problems which appear superficial and inconsequential to more experienced teachers. Trainees are also often prone to criticism, and try to judge overall effectiveness in ways that are impossible to substantiate from short extracts.

What would make the use of video in language teacher education easier for me are

  • better access to a range of classes through institutional policy which normalises the use of video recording for all types of language teacher education;
  • better recognition of the value of second language teaching research in teacher preparation programmes (for students as both consumers and producers of classroom research)

Improving these two aspects would contribute to the normalisation of analysing video of teaching practice in teacher education, and I believe improve the quality of the training we provide.

Thanks to Tilly Harrison for posing the questions I have addressed here as part of a current British Council project at Warwick University led by Steve Mann.

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2 thoughts on “Using video in the language classroom: benefits for teacher education

  1. I think the most useful thing that happened to me in grad school was being videotaped for 5 minutes (literally) while doing a practice lecture in a training course for Linguistics 101 TAs. Among other things, that video taught me that I was a balding guy with a pony tail–fixed THAT as soon as I could!

  2. Yep. When I was doing EFL with young learners in a French primary school, the regular teachers watched a video of my class one time and said “did you see how Lucie raised her hand and when you didn’t call on her she switched off for the rest of the lesson?” Of course I hadn’t. But video also throws up good things – sometimes you remember a classroom incident as an epic fail, but the actual video record is more nuanced.

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