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Bruno: Do Educators Want Cameras In Their Classrooms?

5225996344_b156b88dc9Bill Gates used his most recent TED talk to make the case for putting video cameras in every classroom. Teachers, he says, don't get enough feedback about their practice and performance; recording and submitting lessons for review would have a "phenomenal" impact on teacher quality for a modest price.

To be clear, Gates badly underestimates how much feedback teachers currently receive. I've certainly never had a single evaluation in which I "just got one word of feedback", so I have no idea why he thinks "98% of teachers" get so little. New teachers in particular are often assigned dedicated coaches, and formal observation and coaching is not the only way to get feedback.

Still, it's not unreasonable to think that frequent videotaping and coaching could help teachers improve.  Sarah Brown Wessling agrees, and Cassandra Tognoni is so excited by the prospect of a camera in every classroom that she thinks Gates should just put up the $5 billion required to buy them himself.

But if cameras offer so much promise for improving education, it's worth asking why they're not already more heavily used. An adequate camera can be purchased for about $100: not nothing, but not so much that an enthusiastic teacher, administrator, or coach couldn't invest in one.

My suspicion is that most teachers and administrators think cameras might be more trouble than they're worth.

I actually once had an administrator observe me using a Flip camera and use the recording in our debrief. It was nice to have the footage to look at together, but post-observation meetings are typically held soon enough after the observation that my own memory probably didn't need much of a technological assist.

Even if the idea is to have teachers use the recordings themselves or show them to others for non-evaluative feedback, it's notable that teachers typically do not do that already. My guess is that's because it would be a time-consuming and nerve-wracking process, or because many teachers are skeptical they'd learn much of value.

And any use of cameras in schools is of course going to be problematic for privacy-related reasons. Using cameras regularly could be very difficult if even a tiny fraction of students or their families object.

In other words, it's unlikely that what's preventing cameras from being used for teacher feedback is access to the cameras themselves. That suggests that simply supplying additional cameras won't do much to increase their utilization. The fact is that there doesn't seem to be much demand for cameras in classrooms to begin with. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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