Jon Lukacher | Staff Writer
Student teachers will learn how to teach in the classroom through new video equipment worth thousands of dollars this fall.
“We’re preparing our student teachers for what’s happening across the country in terms of the evaluation of teachers,” Dr. Daniel Hart, faculty director of the new Institute for Effective Education (IEE) said in a telephone interview.
The video system, known as the Lucy Panoramic Camera Kit, costs about $5,000. The kit is a dual camera system equipped with audio technology, according to Brian Fawkes, Director of Marketing at Teachscape. Teachscape is a San Francisco based company and designer of the system’s software.
Fawkes said one camera is positioned towards the teacher in the front, and the other camera scans the entire classroom. The two cameras are synchronized so that someone observing the video can see what the teacher and class are doing at the same time.
Teachers have access to the videos captured from their class. They are provided with their own username and password and control who sees their video.
The camera kit has many features available to users, according to teachscape.com. While watching the video, educators can zoom in and out while they listen to audio like their interaction with students.
“That person can watch that video, he or she can then comment on it, and when they comment on it, the video is tagged where that comment was made,” Fawkes said. “So, it [the comment] might say, ‘did you notice the student in the back of the room raising his hand,’ ‘why didn’t you call on that student,’ or ‘why didn’t you say that?’”
The license offered by Teachscape is purchased for about $110 per user. Unlike the one-time fee associated with the entire system, licenses need to be purchased annually. Fawkes noted if enough licenses are purchased, the school district may qualify for a discount.
The unit weighs about 6 to 7 lbs. and needs to be placed in the middle of the classroom, according to Fawkes. Some school systems place it on a cart so it can be transported to multiple classrooms.
Both Fawkes and Hart are quick to point out that the video is meant to be used as a tool for professional development, not to blame teachers.
Hart, a Psychology professor, says student teachers will be able to view themselves as well as other teachers. He says this practice has never been done before as learning about teaching methods used to come from a book.
The IEE is a new “education initiative” at Rutgers-Camden, which has been fused with the Teacher Preparation Program. The institute will help student teachers get ready for how their performance will be evaluated in the future.
How teachers are being evaluated is changing in New Jersey and throughout the country, according to Hart. Teachers used to have a subjective evaluation by the principal, and to some degree, their popularity among students. Now, teachers will face a two-part evaluation: classroom observation and student achievement data, according to NJ.com.
“Tenured teachers would get these observations made by principals and curriculum supervisors, and in the vast majority of cases, 90 – 95% of the time teachers would receive very high grades from their principals or curriculum supervisors,” Hart explained. “That (method) is changing for the first time. The New York State Educational Association representing New York teachers has agreed to have student achievement figure into teacher effectiveness ratings and to have structured observations of teachers. This is occurring across the country.”
The change in New Jersey is part of the Effective Educators for New Jersey (EE4NJ) pilot program and is being overseen by acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, according to NJ.com. Cerf hopes to have the new evaluation system in place for the 2013-14 school year. The pilot program is being carried out by ten school districts state wide through a partnership with Rutgers University and the state of New Jersey.
The shift in evaluating teachers makes their jobs more demanding, Hart said. Despite the changes, IEE enrollment is not down by much. As budget cuts have loomed over the head of school districts since Christie took office, Hart expects a “pretty good” job outlook for teachers, gazing into the future.
Bob Cochrane, a junior, recently enrolled in the IEE. He said the new evaluation methods will “penalize” teachers for “bad students,” not the ones who take their education seriously.
“I don’t like the new way to evaluate (teachers),” Cochrane said. “Some students don’t want to learn.”
Hart agrees with Cochrane. He believes teachers have a legitimate concern for how achievement gains will be evaluated in the classroom.
“These things are all so complex,” he said. “Maybe a student had a bad year, something went wrong at home.”
While Cochrane may not like the new changes, the evaluation standards have the backing of research, which has been funded by billionaire Bill Gates.
The observation component will use a science-based framework, according to Hart. The research, which has been funded by the Gates Foundation (Bill and Melinda Gates), characterized teacher attributes on a low (poor) to high (good) scale rating system. The research showed that students learned more if their teachers had high ratings. Conversely, students learned less when their teachers had lower ratings. A couple of attributes include, “the clarity of their (teacher) instruction,” and, “their interactions with the students.”
Understanding how students learn is inching its way into higher education, Hart said. He added that if students in his classes were not learning that, “maybe it is something I should be held responsible for.”
“We do want students to learn, and someone should be responsible for making sure that they’re learning something,” Hart said.
Full implementation of the EE4NJ is a little more than a year away, but Hart thinks students will be able to face the challenges ahead.
“I think they’ll be up for it,” he said.