Off campus teacher professional development (PD) is not always effective. Schools must spend a considerable amount of money and time for teachers to train with external experts. Unfortunately this model may not account for a teacher's personal needs and growth. To elaborate, schools often fund PD related to their school-wide initiative rather than individuals' needs. One example is that novice teachers may require PD on classroom management before embarking on a new reading program. A factor to ineffective off campus PD is the diversity in teachers' backgrounds and learning styles. A single workshop cannot accommodate every teacher in a school. Finally a school has its distinctive characteristics, and an external expert would not be able to understand how to apply theory into a particular school context. Instead only the teachers within their schools can make the best decisions for their students.
Rationale for Peer Observation as a Solution
There is untapped PD potential for teachers to learn through peer observations. Visiting other classrooms helps teachers see theory translate to classroom practice in their school setting. Classroom observation are flexible to visiting teachers' interest. They may focus their observation on one or a multiple lesson components, such as classroom management, teacher talk, student engagement, ... etc. Another advantage to peer observation is that the host teacher may receive feedback from their visitor. Thus peer observation is cost-effective way for differentiated learning and feedback. Nevertheless the main hindrance to effective peer observations is scheduling the time.
In this past week, my school prototyped a workflow to foster scheduling classroom visits. Nine teachers have participated in this sprint of using Google Calendar and QR to schedule peer observations. The QR codes were chosen for its simplicity and accessibility through teachers' smartphones. These codes directed the host teacher to a Google Form which asked for details about the lesson (time, place, and content). The Google Forms was scripted to automatically schedule into Google Calendar. Finally before the lesson started, the host teacher also posted a sign on their door to encourage teachers to visit. Thus, during the teachers' prep time, they may check Google Calendar to see if someone was hosting a lesson for observation.
Generally we found the test teachers welcomed this experience with some challenges. We were encouraged to see visiting teachers engage the host teacher with questions. We also saw visiting teachers follow up with emails to the host teachers. Nevertheless some teachers missed the lesson observation because they forgot to check their calendar. Because our campus was wide spread, it was inconvenient to visit faraway classrooms.
The Solution--Google Hangout
Given our initial testing, I would like to propose Google Hangout as an alternative to peer observation. My solution would be to have the host teacher run a Google Hangout for visiting teachers to view a lesson virtually. Using a mobile device or laptop, the teacher sends out a Google Hangout link invite to interested teachers. The lesson would be broadcast live with the device mounted on a camera tripod. Conversely devices, such as the Swivl, can hold and turn a mobile device to the direction of the linked bluetooth mic. This would allow better access to viewing the room. Teachers no longer need to travel in order to visit" a classroom live-streamed. Another benefit might be that Google Hangouts can be recorded for later viewing.
Potential future questions I would like to explore with Google Hangout PD
How might we make the process of arranging for a Google Hangout easier for the teacher?
- Could we integrate Google classroom?
- Can we develop a smartphone app which would make the workflow easier?
How might we design the Google Hangout PDs so that re-watching the entire lesson is not necessary?
- Can we use feedback tools, such as the applaud meter in Google Hangout, to identify clips worth viewing?
- Can viewers tag important written or audio feedback during live viewing?
- Can the most clips from the lesson with feedback be compiled automatically into an attractive format for the host teacher to view. I'm thinking something like Facebook's Year in Review
Aside from teachers who might we extend Google Hangout PD to?
- Can students audit another teacher's class?
- Can administrators, such as principals and superintendents, benefit from viewing Google Hangout PD?
- Can people outside the K-12 system provide feedback to host teachers? I'm thinking professors from teacher colleges.