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Using 21st-century cameras to gather full-day/full-week streams of video in preschool classrooms with minimal disruption

Using 21st-century cameras to gather full-day/full-week streams of video in preschool classrooms with minimal disruption

As part of the Early Investments Initiative at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Pub-lic Affairs (IGPA), we piloted 21st-century video technology as an alternative to more traditional videotaping approaches. We collected full-day video streams by combining panoramic classroom recordings with close-up teacher focused recordings. This camera arrangement allowed us to approximate what classroom observ-ers would see when seated in a classroom or an observation booth. The setup also allowed us to gather video across entire days and weeks in a feasible manner, because the equipment did not require a staff person to remain present in the classroom. In conducting this study, we were interested in questions such as: • Was this process logistically and economically feasible relative to traditional methods, such as using a handheld camera? • Did the presence of camera equipment and microphones lead to only minor distractions and disruptions to students and teachers? • Did the technology work consistently, with few technical problems and recordings that were crisp and clear?If these questions could be answered convincingly, we anticipated that our approach could help answer important questions about classroom observations where the presence of a person is limiting, including about inter-rater reliability and about fluctuations within and across days. Background Regarding Live and Video ObservationsIn the past, live observation has been the standard mode of classroom observations. Yet, cost and logistical constraints often mean a single (or small number) of raters can observe a classroom, since sending many raters multiplies transportation and labor costs, quickly exceeds classroom space, and disrupts class-room practices (Casabianca, McCaffrey, Gitomer, Bell, Hamre, & Pianta, 2013; Cohen 2016; Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008; Weisburg et al., 2009). Although some university-based settings are equipped with observation labs, these are the exception rather than the rule. Alternatives to live observation are of increasing interest as the need for more numerous observations is prompted by accountability efforts and as technology has rapidly advanced. Current evidence does not strongly support one mode (live or video) over the other, yet compar-ative studies are relatively few in number and most video collection has relied upon single cameras, often handheld. Our project piloted a different approach that: (a) used multiple cameras to better approximate live observations and (b) did not require a staff person to remain present with the cameras.

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"Although we focused on activities inside the classroom, we found that for a sizable fraction of time the children were on the playground. Outdoor cameras would allow the coding of such activities, as in systems like the ECERS, and would more broadly facilitate research into this important setting for unstructured adult and peer interactions."

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