Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Iris Connect - getting going

After several months now of exploring using Iris Connect, this post is to share my thoughts so far.   Iris Connect is a platform for filming, and subsequently reviewing, teaching and learning in the classroom.  The hardware element consists of either one or two iPads, and either one or two iPod Touches.  The iPad (or iPads) record video; if two iPads are used then the video is synchronised, giving the viewer multiple views of the classroom.  The iPod Touches are used to record audio, the audio being synchronised with the video.  One iPod touch can be used for recording sound from the presenter, the other can be placed on a table to record pupil voices.  The iPads come with tripods to allow flexible positioning.  Also available is a ‘live view’ 360 degree hardware device that I haven’t tried just yet.
The hardware is complemented by a website and iPad apps; the iPad apps are used to process and upload the recorded video and audio to the web platform.  Users/teachers/members of staff require a user name and password to record using the hardware and to access the website.  Sharing of any recorded video is optional once uploaded, with users choosing which part of the clip is shared and who it is shared to.  Additional resources such as PowerPoint presentations can also be uploaded. The permission of different user accounts is an important aspect of Iris Connect, with privacy valued highly – even users with administrator accounts are unable to view other users’ videos unless a user has specifically shared it.

Having now recorded a number of training clips, including a Makaton signing training session, I can report that the kit is remarkably straight forward to use to record; the trickiest part is ensuring the iPod touches are synced via Bluetooth, which is nothing like as tricky as it sounds.  It is also important the all i-devices are using the most up to date version of the app.  

Uploading to the website is equally straightforward, although editing video took me quite a while to get used to. On engaging the whole school community with Iris Connect, staff reticence is naturally an issue, with some people understandably reluctant to see themselves on film, or possible cynical as to why leadership teams would like lessons to be filmed.  To overcome this, schools using Iris Connect are encouraged to initially setup Pathfinder groups – a set of ‘champions’ who perhaps are more confident in using the equipment to lead and reduce the fear.  Pathfinders have the bonus of completing part of their own performance management/appraisal observations if sections of teaching and learning are recorded and shared, and Iris Connect forms part of the appraisal process.  

Another key feature of Iris Connect that can be comforting for staff is that the videos can be deleted if the presenter isn’t happy. On filming lessons, others issues include how to film pupils who don’t have permission to be filmed and have their images uploaded to a web platform.  It is important that teachers have a clear understanding of which pupils have permission to feature.  To help overcome the problem, video clips can have a ‘cartoon’ filter added to provide some anonymity.  

Partners in School Innovation (2014) (adapted from Joyce and Showers (2002)) suggest that  traditional CPD doesn’t perhaps have the impact it should, with peer coaching and collegial support transferring much more successfully to the classroom; proponents of Iris Connect assert that the video recording and review features of Iris Connect facilitate peer coaching and support, overcoming the need for careful timetabling or releasing staff, as the class teacher can record and share later.  Teachers can watch parts or all of their own recorded lesson and reflect, looking at aspects for improvement that the new perspective of the cameras may highlight.

To help implement Iris Connect, the team behind it have developed ‘The Three C’s’ – culture, community and capacity.  School leaders are encouraged to consider the culture relating to Iris Connect, including who uses the kit and how it is used.  Community involves thinking about all stakeholders, including parents – the Iris Connect team recommended that parents are informed that video technology is being used with pupils.  Finally, capacity – is the IT infrastructure in place to ensure Iris Connect will function correctly?  Where will users go for support? Have schools considered succession planning?

Many schools are already using Iris Connect as part of an appraisal system, with advocates describing how the appraisal system has changed from ‘top down’, to ‘bottom up’, with teachers choosing when and what is shared with senior leaders.  Observations have in schools successfully using Iris Connect, apparently, changed from being timetabled to being at the chosen time of the teacher, with teachers setting up the camera system themselves.

On an Iris Connect training session, trainers describing how there is often an initial buy in to Iris Connect from staff, followed by a dip.  To help maintain use, Iris Connect have launched something called ‘Film Club’.  One of the key elements is to have popcorn available for all attendees! Film Club is an online ‘group’; many groups are available for Iris Connect users, most of which are free (some are subscription).  The Film Club group can be ‘joined’ by Iris Connect Users.  The first episode is entitled ‘The Empire Talks Back’;  teachers have a small amount of pre-reading to do before a session, moving on to then watch a video clip of around 20 minutes in length featuring a large chunk of a lesson.   During the Film Club session itself, the film is watched for a second time, with different groups of people focussing on different aspects of the teaching sequence being watched.  The idea is that teachers benefit from critiquing the teaching and learning observed in the video clip.  Film Club has a clear set of guidelines, including ‘what’s said in Film Club stays in Film Club’.  Iris Connect will be providing six episodes for schools to explore.  Schools could use Film Club to eventually transition into critiquing/celebrating in-house video clips. Other suggestions from Iris Connect trainers include regularly using Iris Connect as part of regular INSET training, with short clips being used to demonstrate or exemplify particular elements of teaching.  

Delegates on the course I was on shared how Iris Connect is used in their schools to record inset training for future reference and review. From a leadership perspective, Iris Connect can provide anonymous statistics of how frequently the school community is using the web platform.  Specific details of exactly how much access or recording an individual has completed are not shared with school leaders. In our school, we are hoping that Iris Connect is going to complement and strengthen our ‘Lesson Study’ and, ultimately, the provision for our pupils.  With the strength, reliability and ease of use of the hardware and software platform, we now have to ensure we get the very best from it as a staff.

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