VITAL Video Interactions in teaching and Learning

$2.3 Million Grant to Help TC Students Technologically Teach Early Math

in the Columbia Daily Spectator:
By Leora Falk
A $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation may make it easier for Columbia's teachers to teach simple math to pre-grade school minds.

The grant will help professors in Columbia University's Teacher's College and researchers in the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning to develop Video Interactions for Teaching and Learning. VITAL will allow teachers learning about early childhood education to access a body of digital video through the course Web site, which includes videos of interviews and classroom interactions with young children. These videos can then be annotated by the education students for assignments that ask them to reflect on what they have seen.

Unlike other observation-based assignments, however, students in this class, which was partly developed by and is taught by professor Herbert Ginsburg , can edit the films and add them to the papers they are writing. In reading the essay, the professor can click on a note at the end of the sentence and view the exact portion of the video to which the student was referring.

This technology "allows the [education student] to look very closely at the evidence and to tie the evidence with the readings and the lectures, so you try to integrate [real classroom] experience with book learning," Ginsburg said in a phone interview.

He further explained that each student in his class can use the technology to create his or her own video of an interaction with a young child and then can analyze that experience in a final paper. "They write a paper and snip those pieces [of video] into the paper, and then I watch what they really did," Ginsburg said. "I might comment, 'That's pretty good--and here's another interpretation.'"

Ginsburg added that without the VITAL technology, he would not be able to comment on his students' work as closely as he can when he can see what they actually did. Also, "it puts [students of early childhood education] really closely in touch with the kids," said Ginsburg.

Frank Moretti, principal investigator and executive director at CCNMTL, said that he hopes this technology changes the way teachers approach their students when teaching math. "The focus is on the one child. The goal is to have teachers become more aware that children already have [natural] creative ways of solving mathematical problems," he said. Through use of VITAL, which forces teachers to look at the individual child's learning process, teachers can create "a much more sensitive math learning environment," Moretti said.

The NSF grant will be used to expand upon the course and its technology as well as to test and evaluate it in universities across the country. Moretti expressed hope that the successful course on early childhood mathematics education will transfer into the classroom.

"We hope we can have a robust demonstration of increased [teaching] skill, which is, in principle, translated into a more humane, fertile [learning] environment for children," he said.

Teachers in large classrooms may find the focus on individual attention frustrating. Moretti emphasized that VITAL technology, and the corresponding grant and course, are not "the platform for complete school reform. It isn't technology in the interest of mass efficiency. It is technology for the humanistic purpose in math education." This, he said, is helpful for even the teacher who may find it difficult to cater a curriculum to the individual needs of the students. "A teacher with 30 children is still a better teacher with the sensitivity. The technology is just a way to facilitate that sensitivity," Moretti said.

Ginsburg added that he hopes that this project in improving early childhood education will have ramifications in the rest of math education. "But it won't change everything," he said. "We will be happy if it changes early childhood education."