“Videos are very helpful in analyzing what happens in the classroom”

Teacher and Children. Image: Jacobs Foundation
Photo: Jacobs Foundation

Video recording of classroom instruction has become an essential tool for both educational research and teacher training. Kurt Reusser, an expert on learning and cognition, explains why.

Eveline von Arx: Why are video recordings of classroom interactions so important for researchers?

Kurt Reusser: Classroom instruction is a highly complex phenomenon. An observer sitting at the back of a classroom will quickly discover that it is impossible to capture all of the things that are going on simultaneously, between students as well as between the teacher and the students. With video technology, however, we can record a rich array of these interactions.

Classroom videos can be viewed over and over again, and can be analyzed in order to identify the factors that affect instructional quality and outcomes. Evidence has shown that successful teaching requires, among other things, assigning appropriate tasks, ensuring that students are truly learning and understanding, and engaging in productive communications and discussions. Thanks to video-based research, we now know a great deal more about these and other aspects of instruction.

EvA: Could you give us an example?

KR: In the Pythagoras Study, a German-Swiss video-based study that looked at instructional quality, student learning and mathematical understanding, we were able to show with the help of video recordings that the quality of the math-related communications between teachers and students, in conjunction with the teacher’s pedagogical skills, have a significant impact on children’s performance. Is the teacher promoting students’ metacognitive skills? Is the teacher providing specific guidance as students move from one step to another? How does the teacher deal with mistakes? Video technology makes it possible to observe and analyze such questions.

EvA: And I understand that the insights gained from this approach also benefit students who are training for a career in teaching.

KR: That’s right, teacher training programs are taking into account what video-based research has taught us about the factors that lead to effective instruction.

“The use of video can improve a teacher’s ability to support students in a way that takes into account their individual needs and is therefore beneficial to their learning outcomes.”

These programs are benefiting greatly from the video-based method. It has become standard for prospective teachers to be filmed at least once or twice as part of their practical training. The videos are then analyzed and discussed by groups of prospective teachers and/or with faculty members. This allows individuals to view themselves more objectively and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching. It helps them to recognize and reflect on their behavior in the classroom and gives them an opportunity to hone their perceptual and cognitive skills. As studies show, the quality of their teaching improves.

EvA: How does this process take place?

KR: To be confronted with your own behavior is an important tool for reflection and learning, especially for professional teachers and mentors interacting every day with students/learners of different age and ability groups. This requires overcoming certain emotional barriers. We all have mental images of ourselves and also of how we interact with others. Introspection alone is not sufficient; teachers need to view themselves “from outside” and also experience how their colleagues perceive them.

Being filmed allows people to recognize their own behaviors and improve their professional skills. Moreover, they need to be able to accept criticism and to criticize themselves. We all have certain weaknesses in communication, and looking at ourselves objectively – with the help of video – is one way of identifying them.

EvA: How does the use of video recordings in teacher training also benefit students in the classroom?

KR: Researchers have been studying this question for about a decade now. They have found that teachers are able to improve their skills by viewing and analyzing classroom videos, together with their colleagues and mentors. There are several studies showing that the use of video can improve a teacher’s ability to support students in a way that takes into account their individual needs and is therefore beneficial to their learning outcomes. Showing and discussing such videos has become an essential tool in teacher training.

Kurt Reusser is a professor of educational psychology and didactics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. In addition to video-based research on classroom instruction and teacher training, his interests include the psychology of teaching and learning, knowledge and skill acquisition, and educational and psychological testing.