Fort Mill Times

Robocam gives new perspective

INDIAN LAND A new camera at Indian Land Middle School helps teachers get a full picture of what goes on in their classroom.

Lucy, a dual-camera system that offers a 360-degree view of the classroom, was provided to the school as part of a partnership with Winthrop University’s NetSCOPE program. Funded by a grant awarded to the University in 2009, NetSCOPE focuses on both Winthrop students and students in partnership schools, aiming to improve the quality of education by focusing on a teacher’s professional development, as well as improving the teacher training program at Winthrop.

The camera at Indian Land Middle is one of six Winthrop has loaned to its partner schools. It is one of two in the Lancaster County School District.

Each school with a camera is linked to an online network that allows educators to collaborate, including sharing videos and experiences with Winthrop professors and students preparing to become teachers.

At Indian Land Middle, each teacher will be filmed by Lucy at least twice during the school year, Principal David McDonald said. Because of its unique panoramic capabilities, Lucy will capture not only the teacher, but also the students. This helps gauge students’ interaction and attention during a lesson, said Cindy Bush, Indian Land Middle School’s instructional coach and the liaison between the school and Winthrop University.

“Teachers can look at the students and see, ‘Are they engaged? Are they on task? Am I teaching too much to one side of the room?’” Bush said.

Before Lucy arrived at the school, videos of teachers were taken using a small portable camera set up on a tripod. Someone, usually Bush, had to operate the camera and the teacher was always the focus of filming. Students’ backs were usually caught on screen but expressions, and whether they were attentive to the lesson, couldn’t be determined.

Lucy doesn’t require anyone to man the camera.

“Our hope is that [teachers] will look at themselves and the students and think about what they can do different,” McDonald said.

Bush plans to review the videos with the teachers, to help them determine ways they can improve their teaching style and lesson plans.

“Our teachers are very open to improving,” McDonald said.

“It will help me guide the teachers a lot,” Bush said. “I think it’s going to revolutionize things.”

The videos taken by Lucy at Indian Land Middle School also will be used by Winthrop students preparing for careers as teachers, to show them real-life examples of effective teaching.

“Our students can see and learn from what is going on in our partner schools,” said Lisa Johnson, senior associate to the dean at Winthrop University and NetSCOPE project director.

Johnson notes that freshmen and sophomores at Winthrop often have busy schedules and may not have transportation.

“It’s difficult sometimes for [students] to get out and see the classrooms so if we can bring that here, they get more diversity in their classroom experience,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes to purchase nine more cameras like Lucy and eventually have one placed in the Fort Mill School District. The cameras cost $4,800 each, not counting licensing fees for software.

Winthrop is the first university to use the cameras as part of a partnership between public schools and a university.

On the first day of school, several Indian Land teachers were filmed by Lucy. Those videos were uploaded to the NetSCOPE website and will be used in Winthrop classes to give students a sort of “virtual field experience.”

Without the videos, most Winthrop teacher-education students would never see the first day of school in action, because Winthrop students don’t begin classes until weeks after public school districts open.

“We have great teachers in these partner schools,” Johnson said. “To highlight them and show the students what is going on in the schools is great. We don’t have to purchase videos from California. We can show them classrooms right here.”