Why Video Observation Technology Leads the Way

More and more schools are snubbing the perfunctory and ceremonial ‘in-person’ lesson observations in favour of using video observation technology where classroom action is recorded and observations are conducted remotely. Recording lessons is truly transforming classroom practice and traditional drop-in ‘live’ lesson observations, where someone visits a classroom ‘formally’, are fast becoming ‘old school.

Many schools are now adopting a coaching model of professional development using Lessonbox video technology as a powerful tool for growth and professional learning.

In the November 2016 Teaching Schools Council (TSC) report ‘Effective Primary Teaching Practice’ Headteacher of Parkfield Community School Hazel Pulley states,

We have totally moved away from formal lesson observations. Instead, coaching partnerships have been developed using video technology, regular pop-in opportunities in classrooms and focused work scrutiny to provide bespoke professional development. Evaluation is a key aspect of all our CPD; checking for impact is seen as an imperative.”


Using video technology is a very powerful CPD and reflection tool for teachers and it removes the enormous pressures live observations can produce. Video observations take away ‘reactivity’ and the observer effect so with video ‘what you see is what you get’ and we obtain far more credible observational information.

Recording lessons using game-changing video technology provided by Lessonbox is, in essence, intelligent data collection and a jet engine for professional learning. It offers tremendous potential for being used as a vehicle for spreading good practice within a school and between schools.

The Research

Marsh and Mitchell (2014) in their study ‘The role of video in teacher professional development’ researched video observation technology in classrooms for a number of years and point out a number of benefits including:

  • Capturing data which mirrors and preserves the intricacy of observed activities
  • Accessing complete descriptions of classroom subtleties that are hard or impossible to access or describe in other ways
  • Allowing viewers to follow the unfolding of multifaceted social events over time, such as watching how teachers employ specific strategies to deal with varied classroom situations.

(Source: ‘The role of video in teacher professional development’ in Teacher Development 18 (3): 403-417)

In a 2016 Harvard study, researchers found that digital video can improve classroom observations and their key findings include:

  1. The opportunity to watch their own lessons resulted in teachers being more self-critical.
  2. The use of video changed conversations between teachers and supervisors. Post-observation discussions were less defensive and adversarial and teachers perceived their supervisors to be more supportive and their observations to be fairer.
  3. Senior leaders reported spending more time observing and less time on paperwork.

The ‘Best Foot Forward’ Project at the Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard has been examining the use of digital video to make classroom observations more supportive and objective to teachers and less onerous for line managers.

In a randomized field trial involving 347 teachers and 108 administrators in four US states, the project found digital video can improve classroom observations along a number of dimensions:

“…it boosted teachers’ perception of fairness of classroom observations, reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences, led to greater self- perception of the need for behaviour change and allowed administrators to time-shift observation duties to quieter times of the day or week.”

Watching their own lessons proved enormously insightful and informative to all teachers. One teacher realised she gave her students too little time to answer the questions, another teacher could see her pacing was too slow and a third teacher used the footage to seek support for managing the behaviour of a disruptive student.

The study found that a key element of successful and effective use of video technology was when teachers were given ‘control of the camera’ and allowed to choose which lessons to submit for review.

In fact, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2009-12 ‘Measures of Effective Teaching’ study found that classroom videos were reliable indicators of teacher quality, even when teachers chose which clips to show their managers, and excluding other clips.

(Source: http://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/l4a_best_foot_forward_research_brief1.pdf)

The Best Foot Forward study confirms Rosaen et al. (2008) findings that video is an effective medium for learning from teaching. They found teachers make more specific observations, discussed instructional elements more, and focused on children more than themselves when they reflected on video of their teaching practice as compared to when they reflected without the use of video directly after the teaching episode. They summarized that

“the use of video to reflect on teaching slows performance down and thus facilitates specific and detailed noticing” (p. 357).

This research also found that teachers who videoed their practice can capture key moments in their instruction and replay them multiple times to further enquire into the effects of their decisions on student learning and more deeply investigate particular concepts.

(Source: Rosaen, C. L., Lundeberg, M., Cooper, M., Fritzen, A., & Terpstra, M. (2008). Noticing noticing: How does investigation of video records change how teachers reflect on their experiences? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(4), 347–360).

The research evidence is overwhelmingly positive. Video observation has been found to be is highly beneficial in developing teachers because it allows for:

  • real reflection, deep reflection and critical mediated viewing
  • it enhances powers of reflection and analysis
  • it opens up the language of pedagogy
  • conversations are transformed and focused on improvement
  • it is highly flexible and convenient
  • it facilitates collaborative learning

Furthermore, video technology professionalises observation, it is regarded as far more reliable, it enriches conversations and helps move teachers forward.  Author of Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov says he relies on video in his development work.

“Teaching happens fast and having a video means you can watch a moment, roll it back, watch it again, think about it, roll it back, watch it again and study it in a way that respects the rigour of the decisions that teachers make in the classroom.”

‘Rolling it back’ a few times is extremely important. Professor John Hattie, refers to teachers reflecting on their practices using video as ‘micro-teaching’ and they are more likely to see what actually happened but only after watching themselves at least 3 times. Repeated viewings allowed teachers to really get at the learning that took place in the classroom as well as the learning they need to do to help their student engagement level improve.

As the research shows, video technology holds unlimited promise for improving classroom observations and professional development. It can deepen collaboration and reflection, seize specifics that otherwise go undetected in a live lesson observation, and make sharing good practice  with colleagues more convenient.

For further practical guidance on using video observations to help teachers accelerate their development then access the ‘Best Foot Forward: A Toolkit For Fast-Forwarding Classroom Observations Using Video’at http://www.torsh.co/resources/best-foot-forward-video-observation-toolkit. This is a freely available toolkit to help teachers who are interested in piloting video observations and includes “advice and a suite of resources for leveraging video technology for teacher development, choosing the right technology for the classroom, and protecting the privacy of students and teachers.”

Video is a powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning. Staff, students, leaders and parents can now engage with video in ways that were unattainable several years ago.

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