Should Big Brother Always Be Watching?

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by ell brown:
Obviously I am just too nice, because Derrick rang back on Friday. I brushed him off last week, telling him I was too busy, but clearly he wasn’t going to accept the same excuse twice. So today I decided to listen. Basically, he was trying to sell me an audio visual set-up where two cameras and a microphone would be installed in a classroom. The premise behind this was that it would take out the requirement for another teacher to sit in and interrupt the learning experience by physically recording the lesson. This would also transfer the ownership of the experience to the teacher, rather than the responsibility of a coach, to support the improvement of teaching and instruction. We all have ideals, but in my opinion they are always something different in reality.
My first concern is with the notion that installing cameras gives some sort of objectivity. Here I am reminded of Clifford Geertz’ work in regards to anthropology and the notion of ‘thick description‘. His premise was that no matter how hard you try to remove yourself from the situation you are trying to observe, you are always a part of it. Therefore, all that we can ever hope for is a thick description, which tries to account for as many  variables and differences as possible, where there is never the promise of completeness. Coming back to Derrick’s AV equipment, not only would you always be conscious of its presence, but it is only ever one part of the puzzle associated with reflection and improvement.
To me, there is little point recording and reviewing a lesson if a culture of reflection does not already exist. I was really taken by a recent post from +Dean Shareski where he states, “Being a connected educator is important but I think being a reflective educator trumps that.” More so than purchasing permanant AV equipment, we need to foster reflection as a habit, both in and outside the classroom. Instead of wondering where people get the time to go back over a lesson or write a reflective blogpost, these habits need to become a part of our practise. For as Seth Godin suggests, “I didn’t have time, actually means, it wasn’t important enough.” We therefore need to make reflection important. Just as it is unfair to expect the introduction of 1:1 devices into the classroom to magically make students collaborative, the same thing can be said about videoing lessons. It all needs to start with reflection.
A part of the problem with creating a reflective mindset though is how success is often measured in schools. With the Global Educational Reform Movement influencing many policies and decisions in education at the moment the focus of processes such as the annual Performance and Development review become about supporting a fixed mindset, where there is a supposed magic bullet for success and all else is failure. Although the intention of the AV equipment maybe to improve the standards of all teachers and create a repository of best practise, placed in the wrong hands I can imagine it becoming a vehicle for pushing an agenda of pay performance. In this environment, all that ever gets celebrated is the status quo, but is it the status quo that brings about change and improvement?
One reason I could see a benefit in such a setup is where, instead of being focused on reflection, the purpose is to share the learning on. That is, make instruction available for all to access at a later date. A great exponent of this is +Eddie Woo. Unlike the idea of the flipped classroom, where students gain access to information before the lesson, Woo records his instruction as he teaches and posts them on Youtube. He describes this practise as the ‘not quite flipped classroom‘. In addition to posting later, there are also many smaller rural schools who stream lessons to provide students with a wider variety of subjects to choose from, particularly in the senior years. Although most schools seem to use Polycom devices for this.

At the end of the day, my biggest concern is the belief that the best form of reflection can occur in isolation. That is, one teacher sitting at a computer watching their own learning. The best form of reflection, in my view, occurs where there is a dialogue. Two examples of such a practise are Jason Borton’s learning walk or +Amy Burvall‘s PD Walkabouts. Another great tool for reflection is the Modern Learning Canvas. What is interesting about the Canvas is that it provides a platform for teachers to collaboratively reflect upon their learning and together identify possible areas for innovation.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is a benefit to installing AV equipment. Maybe it could act as a repository of best practise. However, maybe it could be used as a way of monitoring teachers, making sure that they are sticking to the script. I can imagine both possibilities, what about you?

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Should Big Brother Always Be Watching? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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