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Services of the CFT: The Value of Videotaping

This article was originally published in the Fall 1999 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

Among the services offered by the Center for Teaching to both faculty and graduate students is the videotaping of individual classes. Following are some of the questions asked most often about this practice:

Why should I consider having my class taped?

Many people videotape their classes to get a general picture of their teaching style and skills. Others focus on particular problems or aspects of their teaching. Some choose to be videotaped on recommendation of colleagues in or out of their department, or as part of an organized training program.

There are many benefits; you see your teaching in a new way when you are not involved in the immediacy of the classroom. Some are initially apprehensive about appearing before the camera but later find it to have been a valuable and rewarding experience. Most people find that certain things they were aware of but could not clearly articulate or respond to during the class stand out boldly on the tape, e.g., students who do not speak during class, students who dominate and engage in one-on-one dialogue with the instructor, poor use of the board, lecturing rather than promoting discussion, and time management. Most people gain fresh ideas and insights while observing themselves, and a copy of the tape may be a valuable addition to a teaching portfolio.

What happens after the class is taped?

To help teachers see themselves in a constructive way, the Center for Teaching invites them to view and discuss their tapes with a trained consultant. Though prepared to discuss any aspect of teaching that the instructor requests, consultants generally focus on mutual observations about the communication between teacher and students, as well as pedagogical style and technique. Teaching strengths, solutions to problems, and goals to pursue in the future typically emerge during the course of a video consultation. Subsequent tapings and viewings provide opportunities to talk about progress toward achieving these goals.

Who are these consultants?

The director, assistant directors, and master teaching fellows have different backgrounds and offer different insights about teaching. All are excellent teachers with extensive training and experience. The director and assistant directory generally consult with faculty, while the master teaching fellows work with TAs. If taped more than once, an instructor may wish to continue consultations with the same person or work with a different consultant who may offer a new insight or approach.

What about confidentiality?

The tape belongs to the teacher, and therefore it is neither discussed with others nor available to anyone apart from the instructor and consultant without written permission. The Center for Teaching expects that videotape consultation will occur first between the consultant and teacher; however, teachers may benefit further by subsequently sharing the videotape with their colleagues, and they may do so at their own discretion.

How do I set up a videotaping session?

First, contact the Center for Teaching (322-7290) and schedule a taping to coincide with the regularly scheduled class time. Tapings are usually done in the accustomed classroom. An appointment with a consultant to view the tape will normally be scheduled during the same call. It takes approximately twice as long to view the tape in consultation as it did to conduct the original class.

Instructors reflect on the experience of being videotaped :

Laura Moore , Assistant Professor of history
I’ve been videotaped teaching twice that I remember, once as a TA and once when I taught my own class. I really enjoyed it both times. Partly I just think it’s fun to see myself on video. I also think there’s some value in seeing tics that I have in my speech and mannerisms; I’m not sure that I’ve managed to get rid of them, but at least I know about them now. I also like being able to see myself from the students’ point of view, to notice when I talk too quickly — that sort of thing. Finally, seeing a class unfold on tape allows a level of reflection that we don’t usually get on our teaching. You can analyze the class dynamic in a more objective way, with more distance, than you can get while you’re actively participating in it. For example, I’ve spent a lot of time watching myself respond to students’ questions, checking out my stance: was I really understanding what they were asking? Do they seem satisfied with my response? But the best thing about videotaping teaching, I think, is that I’m usually pleasantly surprised. So many of us have such high expectations for our teaching and often leave class thinking of all the things we could have done better, and we forget to remind ourselves of what we did well. The videotape can help you figure out how to improve, but it’s also a nice reminder that you are doing your job well.

Rob Lawson , Master Teaching Fellow
I recently took advantage of this service, and I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to give it a try. The taping itself went off without a hitch; the students weren’t distracted by the camera in the classroom and its presence soon faded out of my mind as I concentrated on the material at hand. The consultation was equally painless. Going in, I was concerned that I relied too much on my notes and that my hand motions might have been distracting to students. I sat down with a graduate student Master Teaching Fellow and was trilled at what I saw. I was happy with my overall presentation (though it is quire weird to see yourself on TV if you’re not used to such a thing!) and found that my body language was not as detrimental as I had feared. I did sense that I spent too much time looking at my notes throughout the lecture, and the consultant and I shared different strategies and approaches for improving this. Most helpful of all, I realized that I tend to teach to one side of the classroom and ignore students on the other. Not only can you and the consultant work to improve your teaching presentation, but the videotaping affords you the opportunity to review the clarity and importance of the content of your lectures and discussions- a huge benefit of you present the same material more than once. Finally, the video is yours to keep and a valuable addition to a teaching portfolio.