Professional Development Through Video

Media Library of Teaching Skills Web page

Media Library of Teaching Skills


Until recently, when adult educators talked about professional development, everyone understood they meant face-to-face groupings such as workshops, courses, study circles, and sharing groups. Now, thanks to the new technologies, educators no longer have to be in the same room to learn together. Exchanges are taking place through online courses, discussion groups or lists, “wikis” (web pages that visitors can add to as well as read), “webinars” (online meetings in real time, often with two-way video and audio), podcasts (audio files that can be downloaded to individual computers and mobile phones), “blogs” (Web logs), and video teleconferencing. California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have all developed their own programs using some of these formats. Other states have adopted joint initiatives, such as Project IDEAL and AE Pro Online.

Face-to-face interaction is hardly in danger of extinction, but online professional development has several advantages. The asynchronous online orientations offered in many states give new adult education teachers opportunities to learn the ropes quickly, instead of having to wait for scheduled face-to-face orientations. A broad menu of Internet offerings can greatly expand the professional development opportunities available to part-time teachers who must meet other part-time or full-time commitments. Adult educators who can only squeeze in a few hours of a face-to-face course could expand their participation to a full course by blending face-to-face and online learning. Online formats such as the National Institute for Literacy discussion lists give educators unprecedented access to eminent researchers and professional developers.

Like television or the telephone, the Internet is only as good as its content. In professional development, online formats require at least as much planning and skilled facilitation as their face-to-face analogs. Unless an “online page-turner” provides essential information available nowhere else, educators are apt to avoid it or drop it. On the other hand, online courses in which an engaging and skilled course leader combines stimulating materials, a good mix of educator-to-educator discussion and teacher projects, and regular email communication win high ratings from participants. In a 2007 study for the National Institute for Literacy, Noreen Lopez found that teachers who participated in an online course reported that it had more impact on what they did in the classroom than the face-to-face professional development courses they had attended. A video of her presentation at the Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers 2007 COABE pre-conference in Philadelphia can be found at

I found out how much effort and imagination successful online programming takes several years ago, when I became involved in developing Internet courses. We started with workshop materials, tried-and-true objectives, and handouts. All of them had been very effective in face-to-face sessions. Online, it was another story. We discovered that when teachers use the Internet for professional development, they had different expectations. They wanted dialog. Yes, they appreciated high quality print materials, but they also wanted digital videos, especially short videos showing excellent teachers in their classroom. This posed a problem: We found very few videos that were both high in quality and readily available. Our field, I realized, would have to start making more.

Some years ago, I had taken a different approach. When I was Director of the Adult Literacy Resource Institute (ALRI) in Boston in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I frequently asked adult education teachers what kind of professional development would be most meaningful to them. Almost invariably, they said they wanted to see what other teachers do in their classrooms. ALRI responded by assigning an experienced staff member to help teachers develop a plan for visiting other classrooms, conferencing with peers about lesson objectives and activities, and sharing post-lesson observations. To facilitate the observations, the ALRI staff member often served as a substitute when teachers visited a colleague’s classroom. This approach was certainly effective. It was also very expensive—a major issue in a field where financial resources are modest at best.

Micro-teaching, another professional development technique, has used video, but in a similarly labor-intensive manner: A teacher prepares and delivers a short lesson, which is then videotaped. Afterward, a master teacher, the students, and the teacher review the video together and offer feedback on what happened in the classroom, and how well the students understood the lesson’s objectives and main ideas.

My colleague, Owen Hartford, and I had both seen the virtues of micro-teaching early in our adult education careers. We thought that it could be adapted to meet the widely expressed need for video learning at far less cost per teacher. The cost of quality digital video recording equipment has dropped considerably in the past few years. Partly for this reason, amateur video-making and publishing has increased enormously, as evidenced by the growth of websites such as YouTube On another site, TeacherTube, educators – including some adult education teachers – are posting inexpensive videos showing their own classroom instruction techniques.

The missing piece, Owen and I thought, was an organization that encouraged direct teacher involvement in creating digital videos, and provided training, support, and professional editing to ensure professional or near-professional quality. Rather than send an expensive team of professionals around the country, the organization would assist teachers in producing short, digital videos of exemplary colleagues in the classroom, showing how they apply their skills and best practices to achieving specific state adult education content standards. Their work would be brought together in a searchable online library of digital videos of adult literacy teaching and learning on a broad range of topics, including English language lessons and classes on basic skills such as numeracy. We founded the Media Library of Teaching Skills (MLoTS) to fill this role.


Through the MLoTS Classroom Video Project a state, regional or urban literacy resource center selects teachers and matches them with partner teachers, as in a peer-mentoring model. We match groups of two (or three) teachers who can get to each others’ classroom easily, have particular skills related to adult literacy education best practices or content standards, and are motivated to work together. In two days of intensive training, teams learn how to design a lesson plan suitable for a video and how to use inexpensive, high quality digital video equipment to record the teacher and students engaged in the lesson in the classroom. After recording each lesson, the pair sends 15-30 minutes of raw video footage to MLoTS staff, which will work with both the team and the state education office or state or regional literacy resource center to create a clear video less than 10 minutes long that authentically reflects both the lesson and the standard or best practice that it illustrates.

Edited versions of the videos and links to background materials are posted on the MLoTS website, where teachers throughout the state have access to them, as well as to classroom videos from other states. The web site, already has several sample ABE and ESOL/ESL videos made by the MLoTS staff In Massachusetts and Vermont.

Adult Learner in math class at Notre Dame Education Center in South Boston

Our goal is to create hundreds of digital videos that professional developers can use in both face-to-face and online courses and workshops. Each will be designed to stimulate discussions on what the teacher and students do, what standards or research findings underlie the lesson, and what other ways a teacher might choose to achieve the same learning standards, objectives, or themes. Participants may also be able to email teachers featured in the videos to obtain answers to questions such as why they chose certain particular objectives or activities.

MLoTS is new. We invite you to visit our website, After you do, we would love to hear your response, and explore ways that we can work with your state’s adult education teachers.

David J. Rosen is President of Media Library of Teaching Skills.

He can be reached at

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