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Video cameras in the hands of learners

Asian woman using video cameraJamie Keddie, author of Bringing Online Video into the Classroom, looks at the benefits of handing over control of the video camera to students. Jamie will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 15th and 16 April.

Filmed presentations

Anyone who is involved in rail transport will know that stopping trains at stations wastes time, energy and money. Unfortunately, it is also necessary to let passengers on and off! Today, your students are highly-creative problem solvers. Their task is to work in small groups to design a high-speed train which doesn’t have to stop at stations, but which still allows passengers to alight and disembark.

After sharing ideas and reaching a consensus, each group prepares to present their solution to the rest of the class. This involves creating diagrams to reinforce ideas. When they give their presentations, you sit at the back of the classroom and film their performances.

Later, you show students the following video which illustrates an idea for a train which doesn’t have to stop at stations:

From teacher’s to students’ hands

Filming presentations and other performances can be a great way to motivate students and document their work. However, in the activity described above, the technology stayed firmly in the teacher’s hands. The result of this could be missed opportunities for student creativity, interaction, and learning.

By giving control of the video cameras to students, the activity could have been completely different. Rather than the traditional speaking-at-the-front-of-the-class format, groups of students could find their own quiet corners (either in or out of the classroom) and work together to create a video in which individuals communicate their group’s idea to the camera. The resulting videos can then be delivered to the teacher and later played on the classroom projector for everyone to see and comment on.

Group of adults watching class presentation

Here are some thoughts about why this second option may be favourable:

1. Students’ own devices

In many situations, students will come to class with video cameras already in their hands! Smartphones and tablet computers both have video-recording functions which are perfectly adequate for the classroom.

2. An open learning space

If students make use of their own video devices, the filming process can extend to outside the classroom. Assignments in which students create videos for homework become possible.

3. Less stress for students

Speaking English in class can be stressful enough for many students. When the teacher points a video camera at such learners, the experience can be even more intimidating. The camera may be less daunting in the hands of a classmate.

4. Technological control means creative control

If students control the technology, they can get creative. For example, they may want to think carefully about the filming location or props to include in the frame. They may also want to edit their work, include close-ups of visuals, decide what to leave in, decide what to take out, add credits, etc. In addition, with control of the technology, students can go at their own pace. They can film as and when they are ready. They can also do more than one ‘take’ in order to get the result that they are looking for.

5. Content ownership

Digital content is notoriously ‘slippery’. It does not deteriorate with time and can easily fall into unintended hands. Understandably, students may be concerned about what happens to videos that you create in the classroom. When students make use of their own video devices, they automatically become owners of the content. This can make the process less intimidating. In addition, if you would like students to share their videos online, they can choose to do so on their preferred video-sharing site.

6. Parental permission

Permission to film younger learners and teens can be easier to obtain if we can demonstrate to parents that we want them to make use of their own video-recording devices in and out of the classroom. As well as the ownership issue mentioned above, we can ask parents to take an active role in the video production process. For example, if we want students to upload their work, parents could monitor video content first before giving the go-ahead.

7. Reduced workload for the teacher

Perhaps the most important point to make! Tablets and smartphones can be regarded as all-in-one devices. Students can use them to create, edit and share video. There is no need to transfer video files from one machine to another (camera to computer, for example), a potentially time-consuming step that many teachers will be familiar with.

8. Engaged viewing

For some inexplicable reason, most teenagers that I have worked with engage better with video presentations than with live classroom presentations (see image above). With students’ attention, we can make use of the pause and rewind buttons for language feedback. This can include drawing attention to good language and communication, and error correction.

To find out more about using video in the classroom, register for Jamie’s webinar on 15th and 16th April.


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Scared to teach?

Jamie Keddie, author of Images, part of the Resource Books for Teachers series, discusses the role of images and texts in classroom activities and whether they are used as a substitute for actual contact teaching. Jamie will be hosting a Global Webinar on this topic on 14th and 30th November 2011. You can find out more information and register to attend here.

Recently, I heard a story about an English language teacher who went on to teach mathematics at secondary level in the United Kingdom. Having spent 6 years in Spain, looking for ways to get his learners to speak English, it seems that he was able to put the fruits of this period to good use in his new job.

One communicative activity for geometry that he devised was to give each student in the class a piece of paper with a different shape on it. Their task was to mingle and describe their shapes to each other without showing each other the images.

“Well, this shape has three sides and two of them are of equal lengths,” student A would say. “Is it an isosceles triangle?” was the expected response from student B.

My friend who told me the story was making the point that many of the techniques that make up a language teacher’s classroom repertoire may lend themselves to other teachers in completely different contexts.

This is, of course, hardly a revolutionary observation. But what about the other way around? In other words, how much do language teachers borrow from the techniques of non-language teachers?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. And to do so, I want to recall a moment from earlier this year.

It was a Sunday evening and I was desperately trying to find a short text on the Normans. I needed classroom material to use with a group of visiting students from China who were in the UK for an intensive English language and culture course.

Now, I happen to enjoy history. If you want to know about the Normans and how they changed the course of the British history, you could do a lot worse than ask me to tell you what I know.

At school, I was lucky enough to be taught by a number of inspirational teachers, none of whom were afraid to share their subject knowledge. In other words, they used to teach us.

So the question is this: Why did it not occur to me to stand up and enlighten these students using my own voice and teaching skills? Why was I so intent on finding a text – a piece of paper to do the job for me?

If teachers of other subjects can borrow from us, why did the idea of borrowing from them not cross my mind? Am I alone in realising that for years, I have been afraid to teach?

In my webinar next week, I shall be exploring this topic and more. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you will join us, tell us of your own experiences, and put forward your own views.

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