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MOVIE 1:   1 minute 41 seconds
Taping Your Own Class

Watching videos of other teachers at work can help you with your own professional development. Teachers often remark how regularly other educators intervene too quickly, ask too many questions, and so on. Making videos of your own teaching and then reviewing them can beat any pre-recorded sequences. The latter videos can be a very powerful tool for self-evaluation and assessment. Video affords you a different viewpoint of your work from that of being the teacher. It lets you in on how students see you, your work and interactions with them.

Watch Movie 1 or read the primer below in preparation for shooting your own classroom video. You will find information on equipment and hear tips that should make your learning curve a bit less steep. A REMINDER: Legally, you need consent forms from your students -- some letter signed by a parent that gives each student a choice not to be taped without penalty of grade.

1. Introduction to Equipment

Camera: Your most important piece of equipment to do this work is (obviously) a video camera. Given recent dips in prices, a good choice for shooting classroom video is a mini-DV camera. These can be hooked up to a computer for easy capture, and usually have built-in LCD screen that doubles as a monitor for playback. Mini-DV tapes are smaller than a credit card (though thicker), and provide superior sound and video quality, and greater ease-of-use than Hi-8 or VHS analog tapes.

Tripod: The tripod is an essential tool for novice videographers. Mounting a camera on one lessens the "shaky cam" problem beginners often encounter and can free you up to tend to other necessities -- like teaching.

Wide-Angle Lens: An inexpensive wide-angle lens can help you include an entire class in a classwide shot, or an entire team of students when they are seated around a work table.

Lighting: Typically, when shooting in a classroom, you can do a perfectly adequate job using a combination of the classroom's overhead fluorescent lights and outdoor light coming through nearby windows. Don't frame shots so that the window are behind your subject, however. Such "backlighting" problems make your subject look like a shadowy silhouette as the camera adjusts itself to the bright background. Employing external lighting is not recommended as it is expensive, and carries with it extra labor, costs, and safety concerns.

Microphones: Good sound is essential to shooting usable classroom video. Good sound can make up for bad camera work. The microphone built into your camera, however, is inadequate for the job. You'll need one or more external microphones to meet your shooting needs. Lavaliere mikes, which can be clipped on to a shirt or sweater, are excellent for capturing the teacher's voice when speaking in front of a classroom, or when attached to students working in teams. These mikes have a short-distance response range, which helps them pick up only nearby sounds. This improves overall sound quality, especially in noisy classrooms. A wireless version of the lavaliere mic is your best option, though it can be somewhat costly. Systems should include both a receiver and transmitter with clip-on mikes.

If you can only afford one microphone, choose a shotgun microphone that gets directly mountedonto your camera. Shotgun mikes are usually directional, which means that when you aim it at someone, you will hear what that person is saying and little of the surrounding area. Using headphones connected to your camera will let you know exactly what sound you are recording onto your tape.

Batteries: Having extra batteries available is VERY important, both for the camera and microphones. Test your batteries with a multimeter before you shoot: a tape without sound is a wasted effort.

Other helpful materials: Duct tape always comes in handy for taping cords to the ground or attaching things to your camera or tripod.

2. The Shoot

Set-up: The more time you spend setting up your equipment, the smoother your shooting will go. Before taping your class, check your equipment for power and tapes. A taping session will abruptly end if your camera battery runs to empty. Set up a camera battery recharging station so that when one battery runs out and a charged one is swapped into the camera, the depleted battery can be recharged.

When you first turn on your camera, adjust the white balance to the lighting in which you are shooting. Then check your sound and lighting by recording a minute of tape. When using a single camera set up, try placing the tripod and camera in the back of the room (showing the teacher's face-on and the students' backs) during directed teaching. Move the camera to the front of the room and point it at the students during class discussions.

Camera: Once you press the record button at the beginning of class, don't stop it until the end of class. The moment you turn off your camera, something interesting may well happen. Tape is cheap, while students' revelations cannot be replaced when missed. Generally, it is best to minimize camera movement. Too much panning (sweeping back and forth) or zooming (moving in closer or further from the subject) tends to confuse the viewer. Also, give your subject a little room to move within the frame -- don't zoom in too close to your subject.

3. Post-Production

What good is all this video if you don't watch it? Viewing your tapes is the best way to improve your taping technique, and your teaching. You can also learn more about how your students' make sense of things and glimpse your class from their own viewpoints.

Summary: You now have a valuable tool for improving your teaching and exploring the learning of your students. To recap, here are some of the important points to remember when shooting your own classroom video:
  • Adjust the white balance at the beginning of the shoot.
  • Record at least a minute of footage to test your set-up.
  • Keep in mind your shot composition and don't zoom in and out too often.
  • Listen through the headphones to insure good audio quality.
  • Check batteries and tapes often.
  • Label your tapes contentiously.
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