Peeking into the classroom – PBL Movie Night at FASoS

By Vincent Bijman

In Dutch secondary education, one effective tool to facilitate reflection on pedagogical and didactical strategies is the use of classroom video footage to support discussions between teaching staff. Video footage is also a useful tool for PBL tutors, and should be used more often to reflect on tutorial practices. On 24 October 2018, Patrick Bijsmans and I used footage of two tutorial meetings to encourage teaching staff reflection at FASoS during the PBL Movie Night.

The PBL Movie Night is an informal get-together, organised to facilitate reflection by both junior and senior teaching staff on day-to-day teaching experiences in our faculty. Last year, the attendees discussed PBL practices by reflecting on the Leading in Learning instructional DVD. This year, we filmed tutor meetings of two colleagues, Lex de Jongh and Sven Schaepkens. Students and tutors were asked to fill out a questionnaire reflecting on their experiences.

There is a general consensus that video footage can be a valuable tool for teacher learning. Video conveys classroom teaching in all its complexity: both teaching activity and context are shown. This triggers reflection and extensive and critical feedback by peers. Peers can also get acquainted with the experience of another teacher without feeling pressure of having to interact. Video footage also has benefits compared to written descriptions and live observation: for example, teachers reflect more extensively with video footage compared to a situation in which only memory is used. In comparison to live observation, teachers can observe a wider range of specific teaching practices with a high attention to detail by selecting a single teaching activity and studying the footage – in some cases repeatedly.

The PBL Movie Night confirmed my assumption that there is no ‘ideal’ PBL tutor, but tutors make many different choices depending on the classroom situation. Sven and Lex respond very differently when students struggled during the discussion of the readings. Sven uses a ‘Socratic’ approach. By questioning student assumptions, pointing to an issue, summarising, referring back to the previous tutorial, he tries to uncover important links that students sometimes miss. Lex instead provides both guiding questions and short content explanations to facilitate the discussion in his tutorial.

Picture 1: PBL Movie Night introduction by Vincent (picture by Patrick Bijsmans)

These examples led to a broader discussion on what to do when students’ discussion stagnates. Some tutors resort to providing more extensive explanation, to make sure that the tutorial is a rewarding experience. Others are opposed to this solution, since it makes the students dependent on their tutor. Several tutors suggested to intervene in the discussion by organising an evaluation round: let the group discuss why there is insufficient progress and think of solutions.

I also started to reflect on my physical presence as a tutor after viewing the video footage and also other tutors planned to experiment with standing outside of the student group. Sven stands or walks behind the students in the classroom and jumps in when necessary by asking questions. A few attendees argued that standing leads to a perception of distance between the students and tutor. This could lead to a higher sense of ownership by the students, but could also overemphasise a hierarchical relation. The latter is potential drawback that Lex evades by sitting next to his students. Because both approaches have their benefits and limitations, I plan to adapt my physical presence to the needs of the specific tutorial group. By trying out different strategies during a course I hope to find out what works best.

Despite these valuable insights, filmed footage should be incorporated critically when used as a tool for teacher learning. Filming has clear limitations, some of which I experienced myself when filming the tutorial sessions. For instance, to what extent does the footage portray teacher interventions correctly? Does it provide sufficient information about the student perspective? Moreover, reflection should be facilitated correctly, by identifying key discussion topics, selecting and sequencing the video footage, structuring group reflection and facilitating a general discussion. In preparation of our Movie Night, we decided to provide the attendees with all student responses and selected excerpts of the raw video footage. During the evening, we guided the discussion by selecting preferred discussion topics with post-its (picture 2). Although one could think of ways to further structure the preparation and the discussion, I was also happy with our approach since it created the opportunity to have an informal discussion with the tutors.

Picture 2: FASoS teaching staff adding key topics on a poster (picture by Patrick Bijsmans)

Overall, this Movie Night clearly showed that video recordings provide relevant information that otherwise goes unnoticed: the sequence and type of questions by the tutor, the body language of the tutor, the individual participation of students and the dynamic between chair, whiteboard person, student group and tutor, to name a few. Video reflection is thus an essential addition to educational workshops and live observations – and we should definitely use it more often at FASoS.

About the author

Vincent Bijman is teaching assistant at FASoS. He teaches courses in the BA AC and the BA ES. Vincent obtained a MA and MEd in History, both at the University of Amsterdam. For his MEd thesis Vincent studied improving historical contextualisation of high school students in both the classroom and museums.