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   Inside Out - East: Monday February 21, 2005


It's the classroom-cam!

They say, 'those who can, teach', but what about those who can't - yet? How do you train a teacher and prepare them for the challenges of the classroom?

The answer is by using new technology - and it seems that big brother is always watching…

Welcome to Belfairs High School, Southend, where Inside Out's David Whiteley is finding out how teacher training is being brought bang up to date.

Until recently, the only way to assess how a new teacher was performing in the classroom was to have a supervisor in the room with them.

But this proved distracting, so a more interactive idea has been introduced.

The staff at Belfairs are using video conferencing to keep an eye on their new teachers, and give them a helping hand in the process.

Experienced teacher Sharon Williams shows Inside Out's David how it works. She says:

"We've got a camera in the room and we're picking up on everything from this end.

"We can zoom in on various aspects of the classroom."


Inside Out's David Whiteley and Sharon Williams
Inside Out's David Whiteley is on surveillance with Sharon Williams

Former banker and trainee teacher Tilly Prentice is one of the first to try out the new method.

She's been fitted with a voice link so Sharon can speak to her while she conducts the lesson.

Sharon explains, "The key point is that I can speak to Tilly through an earpiece".

While Tilly goes about conducting her class, Sharon's watching everything through a computer monitor in another room.

She can zoom in on pupils not paying attention and alert Tilly to any concerns.

And Sharon believes that video conferencing is a better way of monitoring new teachers than the previous method, as she explains:

"As soon as you have someone go in to observe the class it is going to behave differently so you get a false view.

"They will forget very soon that there is a camera in the corner, and this enables us to see the class for real."

According to Sharon, there are all sorts of observations to be made to help the new teacher control the class effectively.

She says, "If someone's got their hand up for too long and they're not acknowledged, that is when they lose concentration, they don't know how to do the work and what else can they do but chatter?"

Tilly Prentice in the classroom
Tilly's on candid camera!

By watching the class's every move on the monitor, Sharon can tell exactly who's paying attention - which means no more chattering or passing notes.

Bad news for the children, but great news for the teachers.

After a trial run, Tilly seems happy with the way the new system is working out. She says:

"It was actually easier than I thought it was going to be - I was able to hear Sharon speaking to me and still be able to address the class at the same time."

But there were a few problems to start off with, as she explains:

"A few times when I asked the class a question Sharon spoke to me at the same time and I couldn't hear their responses.

"Fortunately when they repeated it I could hear that they were correct but I think if that wasn't sorted out it could become a problem."

Wired up

Anton Jarvis
Trainee teacher Anton's always aware of being watched

Next up is Anton Jarvis's turn. He's a media teacher who combines teaching with his work as a radio producer for the BBC.

But he doesn't seem very confident, so Sharon has to step in with a few tips.

One of the first things she points out is that Anton should be aware of his movement - he's wandering all over the classroom and losing the attention of the pupils.

Sharon says, "In order to encourage them all to be part of the lesson he needs to not wander too much but to stay in one place."

After setting the class a group activity, Anton is alerted to one pupil who looks like he's being left out.

Thanks to the new observation system, he's able to step in and sort out the problem. Anton says:

"It pointed me towards things that I hadn't necessarily picked up on myself, in terms of what the students were doing.

"Without it I may not have reacted and got the relevant students involved. It was a real help."

The way of the future?

So the pilot run at Belfairs School seems to have gone well, and Sharon is confident that video conferencing in schools will really take off.

She says, "Video conferencing has so much potential - it is an additional way of supporting a teacher.

"The very fact that we're using video conferencing means that it doesn't matter where anybody is, you can be on the other side of the country and still share the best practice and advice with teachers."

See also ...

Also this week on East:

On the rest of Inside Out
Student cities

BBC Schools - Teachers homepage

On the rest of the web
The Teacher Training Agency
Video conferencing in the curriculum

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Walter H. Marlin (USA)
This system may be a step in the correct direction. Do teachers take an Acting course? Will struggling actors turn to teaching as an outlet for their craft? I am only half joking.

Monica Waters
The immediate problem for both trainee teachers is the classroom layout: secondary school students would concentrate far more, learn more, and be less of a nuisance if they all faced the teacher! The situation in teaching is always artificial ( i.e. one adult/many young peers). Therefore the old-style classroom organisation is the only credible way in which optimum learning can take place. In addition, children of any age must understand that they are there to watch the teacher, and to listen to him/her. to do this they must behave, and adopt manners, whether or not they do this at home.Sitting teenagers around plastic tables has never resulted in learning. The 'spy' camera should ideally be there as an adjunct to discipline, with the 'trainer' (who is paid a lot of money to watch a camera!) prepared to 'hoik' out of the classroom any badly-behaved child.

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