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Movement to videotape teaching has outlasted its first camera

The movement to revolutionize teacher training by showing teachers video clips of themselves in action is losing its original tool: the Flip video camera.

As the dean of Hunter College’s education school, former State Education Commissioner David Steiner pioneered the use of Flip cameras as a teaching tool. Instructors coaching teachers-in-training could offer documentary evidence of what they did right and wrong.

Now, each student at Relay, a new education graduate school that grew out of Hunter’s program, receives a Flip camera to document their lessons, according to a long article about the movement to revamp teacher education in this Sunday’s New York Times Education Life supplement. The article’s main featured a Flip video camera atop a miniature tripod.

But production stopped this spring on the low-cost, one-button, no-cord digital video camera. The company that had recently acquired Flip, Cisco, said new products had made the camera obsolete. But critics of the move have suggested that Cisco never meant to maintain the brand, instead buying it for its underlying technology.

The change came as disappointing news to school leaders who had grown to love the user-proof camera.

At the Kurt Hahn School for Expeditionary Learning in Brooklyn, teachers and students use Flip cameras to capture the most exciting things that happen, and many of those videos are edited and posted to the school’s Vimeo channel About 90 percent of the videos there were filmed on Flip cameras, Principal Matt Brown told me in April.

“We definitely will be buying up what Flips we can at the end of the year to keep on hand for the future,” Brown said at the time. “They are such a great and easy way to record student work and initiatives at our school.”

A State Education Department associate commissioner, Kenneth Slentz, recently told me that sufficient alternatives exist to keep the innovation in action, even if the hardware changes.

Indeed, principals are increasingly talking about using iPads to tape teachers at work.

But that doesn’t mean they plan to abandon the imexpensive plastic cameras that launched a movement.

“We’ll keep using them as long as they last as they are just so easy to use and edit,” Brown said.

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