Using video to improve teaching and learning

Iowa teachers can model or learn from exemplary lessons by posting or watching short videos online.

Knowing that good teaching leads to increased student achievement, the Great Prairie Area Education Agency (GPAEA) in Ottumwa, Iowa, already had legacy programs in place to coach and mentor new teachers and to highlight best practices of professional educators using video. To expand these practices and share them with others, GPAEA sought a cost-effective, easily accessible way to store and retrieve these educator-made videos to use for improved teaching and learning.

Research and common sense show that self- and shared reflection for beginning and established educators, often by viewing audio and visual recordings made in the classroom, is an important and common practice. GPAEA wanted to expand this reflective practice, and by having an online repository, the agency could integrate this program into a more cost-effective service offered to its school clients.

The GPAEA leadership team, led by then-Chief Administrator Joe Crozier and current Chief Administrator Jon Sheldahl, wanted a web-based place to store videos for ongoing professional development for and by local district educators. The catchment area of the GPAEA consists of 35 school districts, as well as a number of non-public schools, and it is one of nine in Iowa.

Because curriculum and technology staff already were in the habit of working together to ensure that the technology supports the teaching and learning and doesn’t become a hindrance or an obstacle, they were able to work together to seek a system to support their needs.

After exploring online storage and retrieval options, the GPAEA team decided not to use YouTube (the initial obvious choice) for the following reasons: They wanted a system built with educators in mind that offered a peer-reviewed system to select videos based on criteria they developed, content that was aligned to the Iowa Core Curriculum, and high-quality materials directed and focused on the resources available through the AEA. Also, many districts do not allow access to YouTube on school computers, so a safe, reliable, low-cost PD system was sought. The team decided to create a GPAEA-TV portal with the EduVision platform from JDL Horizons.

Improved teaching though reflection

Classroom teachers were given pointers on what to shoot, how to shoot, simple editing steps, and the ability to upload and tag their videos. Channel managers were given training on how to approve video, determine if the video is to be password-protected (or conversely, open to syndication), and set the basic parameters for the video. The goal of the GPAEA-TV internet television portal is to build capacity among users to continue to build the repository. GPAEA Communications Specialist Jennifer Woodley continues to provide consultation, assistance, and training of the system.

Within a short period of time, AEA consultants, coaches, and classroom teachers were able to use a simple Flip camera to film themselves teaching a lesson and interacting with students for their coaches to review. Posting the videos in a secure location, accessible only by a shared password, the mentor and mentee can discuss improvements either face-to-face or via a telephone call or even Skype. Teachers can seek immediate advice on curriculum and classroom management from an experienced teacher or AEA consultant showing a real and current situation. This type of self-reflection and opportunity for immediate improvement has been a great way for teachers to evaluate their own work—leading to increased student performance.

Likewise, professional teachers can record exemplary practices on core standards and post those videos on the GPAEA-TV portal for other teachers to review. Educators can view these videos in the various GPAEA-TV channels and model their own classroom practice based on selected criteria. By enhancing their own classroom practice, more teachers can then comfortably post video clips to increase the overall offerings. This online portal, with its various channels dedicated to different topics, becomes the repository for effective modeling of good teaching, leading to increased student learning. Other teachers watch the peer-reviewed videos done by their colleagues on topics such as differentiated instruction; math programs such as Every Student Counts, Meaningful Distributed Practice, and Problem-based Instructional Tasks; and reading programs such as Second Chance Reading. These programs are all related to the Iowa core curriculum standards.

Other uses for the GPAEA-TV portal

While originally set up as a way for educators to improve their teaching and classroom skills, and for exemplary practices to be modeled and shared with all teachers, GPAEA quickly realized other ways to use its online TV channels to reach out to the community—and especially parents, students, and officials at the state education agency and even the governor’s office.

For example, on the TV portal is a Parent Network channel. A series of videos were made for parents who have children with specific physical disabilities. Parents can access short videos to learn more about using specialty equipment, instructing them on exercises, and sharing other helpful information from the child’s physical therapists. Having a video site to go to, with helpful hints from the professionals they already interact with, has helped these parents to continue to work with their children outside of the school day. GPAEA has customized media release forms provided by EduVision for parents/guardians to sign before any taping of their children occurred, thus ensuring they were in compliance with all state and federal laws.

Likewise, the Student Channel offers a safe, secure online repository of short videos where teachers can film, edit, and upload videos for their students to view before coming to class. This “flipped learning” approach allows teachers to jump right into their lessons and problem solving, because the required lecture was viewed prior to class. On the GPAEA-TV portal, lectures such as anatomy, physiology, and biology are aligned to the Iowa core curriculum standards. Additionally, these videos may be used within teacher-designed online courses, such as Moodle.

The site allows for other education partners to post videos as well. Many training videos have been made by and for Iowa educators for their peers, demonstrating specific products, services, and equipment. Viewers will find training videos on using Promethean interactive whiteboards in the classroom, or a “Stander” used by parents and physical therapists for students with physical disabilities. Teachers can review how to use Google mail, such as the calendar and setup of a signature block, or see how students made a Tesla Turbine. Dr. Sally Lindgren, the GPAEA Coordinator for Technology Services, works with the school district technology coordinators to make GPAEA-TV available for projects that support district initiatives. More than 300 videos have been posted thus far on the GPAEA-TV channel; see

Expanding the reach

GPAEA worked to bring EduVision to the other eight AEAs, as well as the Iowa Department of Education, using the state’s educational technology funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) federal grant.

The advantage of having multiple channels within each AEA’s portal is that each region can design its own channel around the local services it offers to schools, while at the same time syndicating videos across the state to all the AEAs. This partnership will allow for the vast expansion of offerings made to all educators in the state, and possibility throughout the nation and conceivably the world. Because it’s not limited to public school educators, teachers at non-public schools also can participate in this venture. Because policies differ from school to school and district to district, the AEAs needed an online system that was flexible enough to adapt to each school’s needs, but also to ensure access depending on local acceptable-use policies.

The TV channel has been used at the state level, too. Business leaders, superintendents of districts and AEAs, teachers, students, the chief and staff from the state education agency, and the governor and his office were able to partner together to use this online TV channel to host four roundtable events in preparation for a state-wide summit. They filmed and archived the videos for further review.

Last summer, at Iowa Governor Branstad’s education summit, the Iowa Department of Education was able to stream the event live using its TV portal, At the summit, dignitaries such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others discussed what is needed to ensure that Iowa students will be ready for 21st-century jobs.

With technology that is simple to use, teachers work with mentors and coaches to improve instruction and management, while any teacher may model an exemplary lesson by posting a short video online. The needs of the teachers, wants of the students, and calls by parents and other community members will drive the future partnerships of this online TV platform.

For more information about GPAEA-TV, contact Dr. Sally Lindgren, coordinator for technology services, at

Kari M. Arfstrom, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher, Capitol Hill staffer, and senior-level executive at K-12 education administration associations such as the American Association of School Administrators and the Consortium for School Networking. She founded Arfstrom Consulting and Forecasting in 2011. She can be reached at

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