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New consultant aids classroom taping program

A new on-campus videotaping consultant is available to meet with instructors who want to improve their teaching before, during and after their taped classes.

Free classroom videotaping has been available to faculty through MIT Video Productions for several years through a program underwritten by school deans and coordinated by Undergraduate Academic Affairs, but it wasn't until last year that someone outside the department was regularly available to view the tape with the teacher and offer advice and suggestions. That person, Daniel Goroff of Harvard's Derek Bok Teaching Center, was available for only a few hours a week and was not able to continue his work at MIT this year, explained Peggy Enders, associate dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs (UESA), which coordinates the program as part of MIT's teaching and faculty development initiative.

This year, the Classroom Videotape Consulting program will have the services of Lori Breslow, a lecturer in communication at the Sloan School of Management, who teaches both oral presentation and interpersonal communication skills. Dr. Breslow, who has taken master classes in teaching and who organized a two-day teaching workshop at Sloan during the last IAP, will view videotapes of classes with the teachers being taped and will discuss techniques and suggested improvements with them. If teachers wish, she can also meet with them beforehand and can attend the class itself. "The fact that she's on campus and can devote more time to it is an added service," Ms. Enders said.

Among the skills Dr. Breslow discusses with videotaped faculty members are handling questions, organization of material and interaction with students. Not being expert in the subjects being taught is actually an advantage, she explained, "because I can focus on the process of what's going on in the classroom.

The taping and consulting are confidential and separate from any departmental evaluations, Ms. Enders emphasized. In the past, faculty members of all different experience levels have used the service. The availability of an independent consultant made it especially successful last year. "Faculty members liked being able to talk to someone who wasn't a senior member of their department; they could really let their hair down and be honest," Ms. Enders said. Since funding for the program comes from UESA and departmental budgets there is no charge to the teachers, and videotapes become their property.

Last year, about 50 faculty members took advantage of the taping and consulting process. On an anonymous evaluation form, many commented on the help they received with such things as blackboard technique, eye contact and encouraging discussion. "It provides reality grounding about one's strong and weak points," one respondent wrote. "The taping was valuable. It should be required, especially for those who think it is unnecessary" wrote another.

A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 8).

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