This week Aston University Engineering Academy (AUEA) became the first school in the world to install discreet, always-on 360-degree cameras in every one of its 28 classrooms.
AUEA sets itself out to be different from other schools, with a clear focus on educating the inventors, engineers, scientists and technicians of tomorrow. It has strong links with industry, an enviable record for sending students on to top universities and apprenticeship programs and is now heavily oversubscribed. To continue to be innovative the school knows that it needs to attract the best teachers and give them the opportunity to further develop. And this isn’t easy.
AUEA Principal Dan Lock-Wheaton points out that “staff didn’t always have the time to learn from each other” while Vice Principal David Chapman adds, “an observer in the room can influence the students and teacher, forcing a false outcome – known as the Hawthorne Effect.”
In response AUEU has installed cameras in labs, workshops and classrooms and given teachers time to use them. The discreet LessonVU system creates videos that are fully controlled by teachers who can rewind, zoom in to specific parts of the classroom and reflect on their regular lessons. They have time to ask for support from or celebrate great teaching experiences with each other and to share lessons with external experts for in-depth constructive coaching.
David Chapman is clear – “offering staff top level development is a key part of recruitment and retention – and our staff get 2 hours per week of professional development”. Dan Lock-Wheaton adds, “by giving the ownership and control [of video] to that member of staff and encouraging an open climate of sharing advice and performance, it becomes a really powerful tool and a fantastic positive investment in our staff.” David Chapman is also keen to point out that, “all our staff have bought into this. It’s not a threatening system.”
AUEA trialled the system this academic year before scaling up and the experience has been highly positive. Dan Lock-Wheaton reflects, “capturing the learning behaviour and when the students are mostly engaging or not with learning, that’s the absolute utopia of where lesson observation should be.”
Teachers who have used LessonVU are enthusiastic. Chioma Kpogha, a newly-qualified Physics teacher, was used to being watched as a student but aware of the limitations of traditional observation. “I’ve always wanted observations to be meaningful – and that’s where LessonVU comes in. We sit down and take time to review lessons – student and teacher behaviours”, she comments. She points out one specific benefit she quickly gained from her use of video – “I became aware of quiet students who were not being productive while I helped others and was able to try strategies to help them”.
Experienced teacher and Trainee Specialist Leader of Education for Mathematics Zara Sahota highlights the importance of having time to look back at her lessons – “when you are training you’re constantly reflecting, but when you’re teaching you have little time to reflect with other teachers – we can feel bogged down with deadlines but there are so many brilliant moments we need to share. We have brilliant mathematicians – we can now develop further.”
See below for great media coverage of the launch from Schools Week and Made in Birmingham.
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