Using video in pedagogy
Holly Myers’ experience with video in the classroom began with a deficit. Russian-language courses offered through Columbia’s Department of Slavic Languages didn’t use the type of multimedia course material frequently included in foreign-language classes—a series of often hokey videos featuring recurring characters that are designed to underscore grammatical concepts or vocabulary terms. For Myers, this absence presented an opportunity.
“In some foreign language programs, they have videos that they show the students throughout the entire year where you follow a cast of characters that are somehow connected to the textbook,” Myers said. “I was thinking about how we might be able to do it at Columbia, and how I would maybe do it better than the tapes I had seen used in other foreign-language classrooms where there’s no connection to the students today, they’re outdated, and they’re not relevant to the target culture because they were created as a second-language-acquisition tool.”
As a participant at the 2013 Teagle Summer Institute—now the Innovative Teaching Summer Institute—Myers developed an assignment that would allow her students to practice their listening comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar, while also exposing them to authentic Russian culture. She centered her assignment on the Russian sitcom Univer, which features six students living in a college dormitory and is “a little bit like Friends,” she notes.
“This is something that real Russians are actually watching, and there are situations and characters that college students may be able to relate to, and it’s something that, when they go to Russia, maybe they could talk to Russians about.”
After watching brief excerpts of Univer, students would have targeted exercises on grammar or vocabulary based on what they had seen; they would also be asked to work together in groups to create a 5-minute skit based on the Univer characters, as well as supplemental materials, such as blogs about the characters and a 1-minute trailer, all of which would reside in the media annotation tool Mediathread. Due to schedule constraints, Myers was unfortunately unable to implement her assignment, but her experience at the Institute led her to another use of video in the classroom, as a mechanism for obtaining feedback on her teaching.
Evaluating Teaching with Video
Following the Institute, Myers applied and was accepted into a CTL graduate cohort now known as the Teaching Observation Fellows —a selective program exclusively for Institute attendees that allows Fellows to develop their teaching by participating in peer observation. Paired with George Aumoithe, a Ph.D. student in the Department of History, Myers used video to facilitate his observation of her teaching.
“George didn’t speak Russian, so I needed to be able to guide him through what was happening in the classroom,” she says.
A camera operator from the Language Resource Center set up a camera in the corner of the classroom, and a microphone on the table in the middle of the room. Once class got going and Myers explained the parameters to her students—that the video would only be seen by her and Aumoithe, and that it would be used only to evaluate her teaching, not their performance—they quickly took the filming in stride.
“I forgot about the camera, and so did my students—they all forgot about the microphone even though they could see it,” she says.
Upon reviewing the video, Myers quickly realized that documenting her class in this way offered other benefits, in particular its assistance with quantitative assessment.
“The things that you’re looking for when you’re teaching a foreign language can be kind of mathematical,” she notes. “You can count up the number of minutes the teacher is speaking, vs. the number of minutes the student is speaking, because one of the goals, particularly in a foreign language classroom, is to make sure your students are speaking a lot more than the teacher. If you have a video, you can really be scientific in a way, adding up the number of minutes that we have a flow of conversation that’s student-to-student vs. teacher -to-student vs. student-to-teacher.
“Another thing you want to see is students experimenting with the language and deviating from the structures and vocabulary that you modeled for them at the beginning of that class, and you can kind of have a sense as you’re going through it how well the students are doing with the language and experimenting, but it’s hard to know exactly. If you have a video, you can watch it and even jot down notes for yourself about the different exciting things your students are doing.”
Video also has the potential to reveal new insight into the classroom experience—sometimes in direct contrast to what the teacher understood in the moment.
“This was the first time I had ever seen myself teaching, and it was really eye-opening for me to see what my particular quirks and mannerisms are, or to see how the way I move around the classroom really affects the energy of the class,” she says. “Everybody tells you that when you’re first learning how to teach, but to really see it on the screen is powerful, and made a big impression on me.
“For example, most of the time I’m on my feet, but occasionally I get tired, and so I’ll sit down for a few minutes, while I’m teaching or while the students are doing an activity. I had always thought of that as something to avoid. But what I noticed in the video was that that actually energized the students: they all sat straighter in their seats, and looked more engaged with the material.”
In another counterintuitive discovery, Myers found that an assignment that neither she nor the students particularly liked actually generated some of the class’ most effective and innovative use of the language.
“I felt like the lesson ended really weakly,” she says. “Students were tired, I didn’t think that they liked my last activity, I didn’t leave enough time for them to do it, and I felt that they could feel the frustration that I had with how things were going at the very end. But, when I watched the video, it was really impressive what they were doing in this last activity, in the things that they were saying and the way they were so spontaneous with the language, so that was surprising.
“The video was really critical, because 1) it didn’t really reflect my memory of how of the class had ended, but 2) based on the survey that I sent my students afterwards, it also didn’t reflect how the students felt about the final activity. I think almost everybody who responded to the survey said that that last activity was their least favorite activity of the entire class, but when you watch the video, you see that it was, in terms of language production, the most successful in the entire class.”
Becoming an Advocate
Myers has continued to work to support teaching observations at Columbia. This academic year she is a Teaching Consultant, having trained with CTL to offer teaching observations to graduate students across campus. In the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years, Myers worked with CTL in the Lead Teaching Fellow (LTF) program, representing the Department of Slavic Languages. As an LTF, she produced teaching-related events and serving as a point person for graduate-student teaching in her department. A highlight of her LTF work was founding a peer-teaching-observation program among graduate teaching fellows in her department.
In the program, Ph.D. students who will be teaching Russian in the future are paid by the department to film a class taught by their peers who are teaching presently, exposing future teachers to the classroom environment and providing current teachers with a means of evaluating their pedagogy.
“It’s a lot of support from the Slavic Department and the Language Resource Center,” she notes. “It’s been successful; I think a lot of people are happy to have this service.”
Currently, in an attempt not to overburden busy graduate student-teachers, the teachers review their videos individually. However, Myers envisions a joint review of the video by the teacher and a fellow graduate student—analogous to her experience as a Teagle Fellow—as the logical extension of the program.
“I think we’re ready to take the program to the next level, and ask that teachers do a little bit of prep work and/or follow up,” she says.
Considering how video clips, with appropriate permission, could potentially be used for archival purposes or in a teaching portfolio, Myers encourages student-teachers to take every opportunity to film themselves. “I wish that I had filmed myself more,” she says.
“I encourage my colleagues to film themselves as much as they possibly can. It’s really not so scary; it doesn’t interfere with your teaching, it doesn’t interfere with what the students do during class. It really is useful to see yourself teach and get feedback from other people.”
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