If you’ve ever found yourself immersed in watching cat videos on YouTube then you can attest to the power of video (or of cute felines) to captivate and engage. These qualities make video a potentially powerful tool for teacher professional development. (“Potentially?” Yes, but more on that later...)
Benefits of video
As a tool for teacher learning, video has much to offer. First, and obviously, videos are a visual medium, and as such highly compelling. Neuroscience research suggests that the human brain processes images (both moving and still) much faster than it does text.
In contrast to video, text is a limited medium. It appeals primarily to logic and is bounded by the meanings assigned to words, often limiting the impression one wishes to convey. Further, text can be inefficient: the recipient of text-based information must simultaneously receive and “translate” text into mental images in order to better comprehend and mentally “envision” the information being relayed (Burns, 2006). This is why we talk about images being “worth a thousand words.”
For certain learners (including teachers), this processing challenge can be a formidable one. It’s especially hard when we attempt to read from a screen where research has shown that, because of cognitive load and attention issues, most human beings fail to read for meaning (Wolf, 2018; Carr, 2011).
Second, and most important for professional development, the fact that video is visual has unparalleled advantages. Videos supply evidence, they provide models and implementation guidance for procedures and processes, they spark new ideas, they demonstrate an intended practice, and they can motivate teachers. Both discretely and cumulatively, these attributes are essential ingredients in attempting to change practices in the classroom.
Finally, video is archived professional learning. Teachers can stop, rewind and review video as many times as needed or desired.
Video to help teachers learn
There are many ways we can use video for teacher learning. Below are six examples of what I think are the most potentially useful uses of video as part of teacher professional development. I’m sure most readers are trying some or all of these, so it would be wonderful to hear your thoughts and experiences.
- Models of intended practice
- Teacher self-reflection/assessment
- Live coaching
- Sharing between teachers
- Peer observations
- Content knowledge
Teachers benefit when they see other teachers work in new ways or when they see an innovation successfully implemented with the same types of learners and the same context that they encounter. Seeing other teachers in action offers credibility, models of intended practice, and promote comparative and critical reflection where teachers examine characteristics of good practice and measure their own performance against this standard (Jay & Johnson, 2002). Video provides a window into these good practices.
There are potentially three ways to deepen and extend these models of intended practice. First is to study these video examples as part of a case study approach where teachers are presented with a problem or situation, via video (for example, how to differentiate learning in a large classroom), that uses supporting documentation, such as lesson plans and student work, and that is embedded in analytic discussions. As an example of potential “cases,” check out Success at the Core (also developed by EDC and now part of the Teaching Channel).
Next, by creating videos that show different levels of a particular teaching behavior and aligning those videos with performance-level rubrics that make explicit these behaviors, we can help teachers see stepwise differences in implementation of a particular practice.
Finally, for teachers who are dispersed across various locations but who have decent Internet access, tools like Voice Thread (fee-based), which allow for voice- and text-based synchronous and asynchronous discussions, and free web-based video annotation tools like VideoAnt and Rabb.it can potentially facilitate analysis and rich discussion of video-based classroom examples.
The costs and effort for shooting classroom videos can range from modest to very high. However, there are a number of sites that collect and curate videos of good teaching—YouTube in general, but also particular sites like the aforementioned Teaching Channel.
In addition to being a window on good practice, video can serve as a mirror through which teachers analyze and reflect on their own practice. In Indonesia, over the course of several years, EDC’s coaches filmed teachers as part of classroom observations. Teachers then reflected on their practice using a protocol and discussed their observations with a coach. Research suggests that when viewed with a clear purpose in mind, and focused on how to interpret and reflect on practice, such self-reflection can offer teachers new insights into their own teaching (Sherrin, 2004).
There are numerous video self-reflection protocols that teachers can use, such as evidential reasoning and decision making (ERDM). For those interested in using video for this purpose, there are also numerous online resources. One of the best (I think) is Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research Best Foot Forward project.
Two-way video, like Skype, used with a Bluetooth earpiece, can be used for live, in-class coaching. This virtual “bug in the ear” technology is not new and is an approach also employed by EDC in Indonesia, between 2008 and 2010. We provided teachers with a Bluetooth earpiece and set up two-way Skype communication for live coach-to-teacher communication.
Teachers reported finding the live coaching beneficial. However, despite giving schools extra bandwidth, the demands of two-way video proved too much for the Internet. In addition to being bandwidth-greedy, online coaching, more than in-classroom live coaching, suffers from “blind spots,” so virtual coaches weren’t ways able to see everything that was going on in the classroom. However, even these with these challenges, virtual coaching is better than no coaching at all.
Webinars allow teachers to “meet” face-to-face to share ideas, collaborate or just get to know one another (a necessary ingredient in the formation of learning communities). Such video-based “face-based” interaction is particularly important in online learning where learners may never meet one another in person. Powerful webinar platforms, like the commercial Adobe Captivate, or the free and open-source Big Blue Button, allow learners to work together in smaller groups in breakout rooms, hold chats, participate in polls, share screens, etc.
Webinars (or more accurately “webcasts”) also allow teachers to participate synchronously or asynchronously in online forums, meetings or presentations with colleagues or experts with whom they might never come into contact on topics of interest (for example, successful teaching).
Video is also a powerful tool for peer observation to promote feedback and build communities of practice. At one EDC project in Southeast Asia, in order to supplement instructor face-to-face meetings, we’ve established online learning teams so that small groups of instructors meet online every few months to share a classroom example  of techniques they’ve implemented and provide one another with structured feedback (via an analytic rubric and a feedback protocol) on these techniques.
Many teachers across the globe find themselves teaching outside their content area. Many others may teach in an area they’ve studied but need support. In terms of helping teachers with content knowledge, video is often a godsend.
Khan Academy- style videos, talking-head videos, commercially-produced videos, and animations (like this one developed by EDC to help Pakistani teachers learn collaboration techniques  and this one by IREX to help instructors learn to teach online  can help teachers learn content and procedures that might be otherwise difficult to conceptualize and implement via text alone.
Having teachers access video-based content before they attend a face-to-face workshop frees up time during the formal face-to-face sessions. This flipped professional development approach thus permits teachers to engage in deeper, inquiry- and design-based learning with colleagues as they create, practice and revise classroom activities or tools based on this information.
Despite its advantages, it is easy to get carried away with the benefits of video. First, like many technologies, there appears to be little rigorous research supporting the superiority of video over other technologies for learning. Next, video, like any technology-based learning experience, must be carefully conceptualized, designed, filmed and used.
Third, video alone is not a silver bullet for teacher professional development. Teachers still need to learn concepts, ideas and abstract data, and video is not great for that. Teachers need to see models of intended practice (both live and video-based) but more important, they need time and support to analyze, design and implement these same types of environments. Video can help with some of this. But skilled professionals, sufficient time, and in-class supports will help even more.
Finally, a word about video in general. Because it can be so compelling and evocative, it is an effective tool for discourse and persuasion. And because it is so often used to influence and persuade, it is critical that we help teachers and students understand how to critically examine the many videos to which they are exposed.
By studying the structure of videos (elements such as symbols, colors, music, texture, sound) and the syntax of video—how these elements are arranged, the emotions they evoke and the messages they convey), teachers can learn how to decode, comprehend, interpret, and critically evaluate visual images as they would a piece of text—so they can teach these same critical thinking skills to students (Burns, 2006).
Whether it’s text or video, an important goal is to help teachers teach students to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. Videos alone won’t do that, but using video with effective teaching practices can.
This post is adapted from a World Bank presentation given by the author on October 10, 2018.Notes
 Thanks to Paritta Prayoonyong, formerly of Mahidol University (Thailand) for permission to use her video example.
 This animation was developed for the Pakistan’s Pre-STEP program, funded by USAID
 This video was developed by the Republic of Georgia's National Center for Teacher Professional Development (TPDC) under the Training Educators for Excellence Project, funded by the Millennium Challenge Account – Georgia.References
Burns, M. (2006, February). A thousand words: Improving teachers’ visual literacy skills. Multimedia Schools, 13 (1), 16-20.
Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Jay, J. K., & Johnson, K. L. (2002). Capturing complexity: A typology of reflective practice for teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(1), 73-85.
Sherin, M. G. (2004). New perspectives on the role of video in teacher education. In J. Brophy (Ed.), Advances in research on teaching: Vol. 10: Using video in teacher education (pp. 1–27). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
Wolf, M. (2018, August 25). Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2BMd3Bb