Reality TV: Coming to Your Classroom

The public school system in Washington, D.C. has hired a reality TV company to produce videos intended to improve the skills of its teachers.  So far, 80 videos of 5 to 15 minutes each, have been produced.  The videos are “peppered with quick jump cuts, slick screen labels and a jaunty soundtrack.”

The videos, financed through a Gates Foundation grant, were developed to complement IMPACT, D.C.’s teacher evaluation system. IMPACT has been controversial from the start, with many teachers complaining that they needed examples of what excellent teaching looks like.  To meet teachers’ needs, and to improve overall performance of the District’s school system, DC decided to push ahead with their new reality-TV-style PD strategy.

Many districts and independent charter schools have begun to create video libraries of best practices to assist teachers, who often are “egg crated” in their classrooms with few chances of observing colleagues.  Teaching Channel, a nonprofit organization, has a collection of more than 500 professionally produced videos of teachers; and the University of Michigan is in the process of indexing about 16,000 videos shot by researchers (also financed by the Gates Foundation).

Experts warn that the videos cannot be used independently—they must be part of broader professional development.  For example, athletes often watch competitor videos to figure out the best strategies for outperforming them.  However, they don’t leave it at that; after viewing video clips they go practice the strategies they just observed.

Amid skepticism from some quarters, it appears that video resources are here to stay.  However, given the growing “mountain” of resrouces, “as much effort needs to be put into how to use this stuff as collecting tons of it,” observes Deborah Loewenberg Ball of the University of Michigan’s School of Education.

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