Harvard Center’s Best Foot Forward Project Shares Results on the Use of Video in Classroom Observations

October 5, 2015

Research Shows the Use of Video in Teacher Observations is an Effective Tool for Improving Evaluation Feedback. Majority of Teachers Found Process Fairer and More Useful Overall.

Cambridge, MA (October 5, 2015) – On October 5, researchers at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University will release findings from the Best Foot Forward project, an initiative testing whether video technology can help address the challenges faced by teachers and school leaders in implementing classroom observations that are part of teacher evaluation systems. In four states, the study team collected data on the experience and impacts of allowing teachers to receive feedback on self-taped lessons instead of the traditional drop-in observation.

In a randomized controlled experiment, half of participating teachers were asked to tape themselves regularly, select only the videos they felt represented their best instruction, and submit those for evaluation. The observer conducting the evaluation had the benefit of watching the lesson at more convenient times of day and as many times as needed in order to give useful, actionable feedback on the lesson.

Over three years, the Best Foot Forward project researchers, led by Professor Thomas Kane, surveyed hundreds of teachers and administrators and thousands of students on the use of video in the classroom. One concern was that teachers would resist being filmed, but in fact, teachers who selected to videotape themselves found the process fairer and more useful overall. By filming themselves and choosing which lessons to share, they became collaborators in their own professional development.

Teachers were also able to submit videos to external peer coaches for formative purposes. This method of training has been used heavily in athletics for decades. Research findings from the study demonstrate that the use of video increased teachers’ willingness to open up their instruction to peers and other instructional experts, compared to teachers who were not randomly assigned to use video.

“Although administrators often think teachers won’t want to be videotaped, we found that most teachers are very receptive to the idea, as long as they are in control of the footage,” said the study’s director Miriam Greenberg. “These findings open very exciting possibilities for more effective and targeted coaching and actionable feedback for educators.”

For their part, administrators found that the videos were just as authentic as drop-in observations for measuring teacher effectiveness. Though they spent more time observing instruction, administrators could also review the footage at any time. Across the study, more than half of video observation work took place at less busy times of day, such as before and after school, during the lunch hour, or on holidays.

Teachers who were randomly selected to participate in the video program were significantly more supportive of the process in lieu of or in conjunction with traditional evaluation methods. If teacher-controlled video observations help make evaluations more useful and convenient, there is great potential for evaluation to become less contentious overall.

The study team is also releasing a freely available toolkit with practical guidance for teachers and school leaders interested in piloting video observations. The kit 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. “Throughout the project, we learned as much about successful implementation as we did about impact.” Greenberg shared. “We wanted to share those lessons so that educators would have a head-start.”

Read the report at: http://cepr.harvard.edu/best-foot-forward-project
Access the Best Foot Forward Video Observation Toolkit at: http://cepr.harvard.edu/video-observation-toolkit

Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University
The rapid accumulation of student achievement data by states and school districts represents an untapped national resource that promises to break longstanding stalemates in the American education policy debate. By partnering with education and policy leaders to help address their most pressing challenges, the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University represents a new paradigm in education research and has become a focal point for education policy researchers across Harvard and around the United States.

In addition to the many education practitioners that participated in the study, the Best Foot Forward project team engages a number of industry experts in this field as partners in the process. They include: Insight Education Group, Swivl, Bloomboard, TNTP, and Teachstone.

CEPR Media Contact:
Ashley Dixon
Manager, Communications and Outreach
Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University