Video recordings are replacing live teacher observations in many classrooms.

Thanks to the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, videotaping teachers has become a focal point of discussions on effective teaching. As part of its Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) program, the foundation is videotaping almost 3,000 teachers in six school districts. To date, it has amassed tens of thousands of classroom videos.

While the Gates Foundation is grabbing the headlines, it is only a part of the story. Many smaller initiatives hold the promise of transforming education as well.

Southern Boone County Middle School became one of the first schools in Missouri to try out the newest generation of observation cameras. The camera was on loan from the Assessment Resource Center (ARC), a part of the University of Missouri (MU) College of Education.

For more than 75 years, the ARC has provided practical assessment and evaluation tools not only for education clients, but also businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. The ARC obtained the camera as part of a new project called the Educator Professional Growth System, being piloted in 22 schools across the state. Using the cameras as an observation tool is one of the objectives of the pilot program, which is sponsored by the MU College of Education.

Southern Boone was using the thereNow system, using iris Connect software and the iris LiveView camera. The system allows remote users to pan and zoom over a network connection to the camera. Sound is captured by two microphones–one clipped to the teacher, the other placed strategically in the room.

The most obvious use of these 360-degree cameras is for teacher observation. In response to high-stakes test results, many states are mandating an increased number of teacher evaluations. Washington, D.C., for example, now requires five observations of teachers per year, up from the previous requirement of two.