Video Feedback in Interpersonal Skills Training

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serious caveats about video feedback

potential to undermine self-directed reflection

Video recordings are used quite widely in interpersonal skills training. They provide an objective record of some of the interpersonal behaviour of the students being recorded. (They cannot pick up the gaze and eye contact, and therefore any of the information to which each person was responding. In addition, since normally only one recorder would be in use, it would usually show a side view, missing or distorting many vital non-verbal signals.) They are probably overused, potentially pushing participants into video feedback which is often confronting in its nature and to feedback from peers and teacher. This would tend to subvert any personal reflections and self-directed learning available from a prior self-assessment from memory, complemented by immediate informative feedback from the role partner of the exercise being recorded. This would tend to dis-empower students, by unwittingly inducting them into an other-directed learning milieu. There needs to be a balance between students being in control and events necessarily, wisely and sensitively taking control away from students. In addition, they are costly of time and effort so should be carefully balanced against other activities on a cost-benefit basis.

relentless feedback stimulates feelings

More importantly, since non-verbal (and also vocal and verbal) behaviour is uniquely expressive of each individual, feedback from video recordings involves unfiltered direct feedback (albeit delayed) into the whole mind of the trainee, conscious and unconscious, known and unknown, public and private. In seeing such a relentless mirror of themselves, trainees may be reminded of carefully hidden and defended aspects of their personality and personal history: more simply, blind spots are very visible and often highly confronting. This is where the great potential of the approach lies together with the great challenge. On the one hand, the student can learn some vital things and make great, unforeseen and welcome strides if all is worked through properly. On the other hand, the student may have to face distress associated with the past history which links with the particulars which cause the distress. This explains the variety of individual emotional reactions to seeing 'themselves' such as embarrassment, horror, shock, even resentment. Since such feedback will potentiate personality development (especially if it becomes cathartic) it must be a voluntary process, supported appropriately. Otherwise it can lead to permanent damage such as unwillingness to consider feedback or review difficult situations, bitterness and resentment levelled against training and the particular teacher, and even to poisoning others in the future about the training course. This is especially true if the supervisor is perceived to be in any way demanding, relentless and insensitive. So it is best done with careful negotiation and checking, with genuine care and concern, with careful empathy about what is needed and with an appropriate strategy to work things through. As a general rule, anything that is started in a classroom should be finished, if not in the classroom, then as soon as possible afterwards. The stronger the emotional response, the sooner. Nevertheless, lightness and self-disclosure about how necessary it is to laugh about our mistaken self-image from our own experience as a teacher can make it so much easier for students to take on the surprises video recordings can provide. It is always best to offer the participants choices: whether or not to view the recording; to review it later, in private, with a friend or the teacher; in a small group or with everyone watching. The choices made will depend on how many times video has been used, what the effects were and how much trust and confidence has been built up between students and in the teacher. In time, perhaps short, students will be happy to view their recordings in the group because all responses are positive and constructive.

guidance for colleagues

Now this passage should not deter the sensitive, alert, empathic teacher, who follows the rubrics below, but hopefully any gung-ho teachers will think carefully before rushing in to use video as an instrument of their own power. Alternatively a colleague or head of department concerned about student reaction to a teacher using video would be able to guide a private review based on these recommendations. The balance between being over-cautious and gung-ho is one for us all to find out about!

range of approaches

planning the approach

Perhaps the first thing to determine is whether each student will have a record of their own personal behaviour. If a course uses video recording again and again over a range of different training activities, it makes sense to build a record of the many activities. In this way, staff and students can note changes and developments over time and celebrate them. An individual record of each session would allow private viewing and reflection, whereas a sequence of recordings of many individuals in one session on the one tape or disc would mean that in theory, privacy could not be guaranteed, nor could a record of learning be readily accessed. If each student has their own recording, then the camera can point facing them, from behind the student opposite to them in the exercise. If there is one camera to be used to record all students, then the camera worker needs to move between students and download each record afterwards. (This will not be appropriate if it is a group activity as a whole that is recorded and after students are familiar with this approach.) If only one record is to be used, then the plan for the review should not be based on convenience but on considered principles of learning. For example, if students are to have their own private viewing, then students will most likely need to view them in order of the camera work (unless they are downloaded into each student's personal recording). In practice, the teacher would have to be in control of the video and of the reflection, guiding the student towards the most valid learning. In any case, whatever plan the teacher decides upon, the students will be informed of it.

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the remarks in this section, lightness of approach is vital in the explanation and in the execution. What is presented below is a kind of spectrum of four levels of privacy and associated difficulty. It should be expected that these may be stages in a fairly rapid development of confidence in the method and in teachers and peers, that there will be no humiliation in their approach and style of response. It is a shared learning experience. It is just that different people will expose different facets of their behaviour and attitudes.

voluntary review/self assessment

The simplest and least controversial task is for each student, before the next group session, to view the recording privately and reflect on the experience both of watching per se and of what was noteworthy. The teacher might consider a structure for the review which required the student to write down certain reflections. These might be discussed in an individual tutorial, before a second review with the teacher, described below. An example of a possible structure is as follows.

Consider all your positive and negative reactions to what you saw and heard.
At what points in the record did you react most strongly? and for each point:

Now return to the specific points where you reacted:

Now go over the whole video again and pick out positive points you have overlooked!

informal review with buddy only

The above review might also be conducted with a chosen peer, a buddy, so to speak. Buddies would be supportive, appropriately reassuring and ensure that students were open and honest about their feelings on seeing themselves. They might also offer some informal counselling to work through any distress generated. They might work through some of the questions above as a guide. They might also be briefed to direct the student to seek a meeting with the course teacher or in extremis, to the student counsellor. (See section).

review with tutor only

facilitated self assessment

The first stage of any tutorial is always to invite reflection on the session before seeing the recording. Students will often verbalise precisely the issue and especially any fears and fantasies they have about what they will see. The teacher can prepare the student carefully and reduce anxiety by presenting as an ally in the process, 100% behind the student in their vulnerability. The student should then view the recording, with the teacher being ready to stop and review the participants' response to seeing themselves, at the first sign of a reaction and at any critical point. Reactions may be positive or negative. Such critical points may be identified in the previous reflections. Non-verbal signs are often give-aways: for example a flinch or a drawing back or even an indrawn breath, obvious noise or invocation. Immediate reflection will elicit the self-image issue thrown up, the feelings involved and the self-judgements being made. Stopping at the first sign of difficulty will prevent the overload and potential numbing which would hinder learning from relentless continuation. Always consult the participant about continuing, and be ready to stop if the going gets too tough. It is vital that the emotional response gets turned into learning. A later follow-up session can deal with anything still unfinished, from the recording or emotionally.


Following self-assessment, the teacher can give general and detailed feedback. Firstly, always point out the positive, the successful aspects, the sections or elements meeting the standards of the selected model. Without a specific model, follow the student's own criteria first. This stage must always include any positive results missed by the student. Further, positive aspects to different criteria of competency would be added here. It is vital to underpin and consolidate these positive aspects as they are the bedrock on which future progress and development is to be built. Our culture is on the whole critical to the point of negativity. We are all inducted into it and come to expect self and other assessments to pick out aspects needing improvement and often see things exclusively in these terms. Sometimes, students will not believe the positive, and just wait for the negative, considering the positive statements to be a manipulative and meaningless way to prepare them for the negative. This attitude needs loving confrontation. And yes, the areas ripe for improvement are addressed next, using first the student's own statements and criteria, confirming the self-assessment where appropriate and adding what the teacher judges the student is capable of targeting in this session. Then other important missed criteria are applied. In future, all such criteria would come to be agreed beforehand or elucidated from a discussion of the video and other material.

target setting and action planning

Following reflection and assessment, students should always be enabled to identify realistic targets for their learning. Teacher and student together then work out suitable means whereby the targets could be achieved. In some of these the teacher might provide the means in a class session, such as practical work with other students. In other cases, the student might be helped to work out a practical programme with friends, family, peers, or supervisors, perhaps even clients, in the work placement. Such a plan always needs a review session of appropriate duration and comparable seriousness.

full self and peer review

In a group, it is always advisable to invite a self-reflection before viewing the video record, with some light informative feedback from peers on the self-assessment. All such statements are linked to concrete, observable experience. The teacher may insist that peers refer to positive aspects of the session if they had previously seen the events recorded. The video is watched along the same lines as the review with tutorial. The video is stopped if a non-verbal sign alerts the teacher to the need for immediate processing. Peers may be invited to give appropriate assurance. Again, the student may request or agree to a private debriefing without shame, following norms previously announced. The self-assessment is conducted first, with the teacher eliciting positives as well as negatives. Peers are then invited to give both positive and negative feedback. This is part of the training to verbalise criteria, practice the concepts and principles of the model being studied and project themselves into their peer's position. In addition, giving feedback is itself a vital interpersonal skill (see section on feedback) and the peer review session provides an opportunity to practice. Teachers may therefore invite students to rephrase their feedback to a more appropriate and skilled version should they be hamfisted, inaccurate, off criterion or standard or out of the agreed formula for feedback.

redo it

a.s.a.p./immediately/with retraining

In general, following any feedback which points out areas to be attended to and improved, the earliest opportunity for a retrial or further practice should be created. Where sessions can be planned to be long enough, then this should be immediate. Alternatively, after appropriate closure on a positive note, the next available opportunity is taken. The student is retrained to success. Sometimes this means one event only. Sometimes it means careful guidance by the teacher, perhaps with some modelling how to and repeat practice until successful. In some cases, students may agree to a voluntary retrial to help one or more of their colleagues. Once the form of training is clear and the roles of peers in the training activity and debrief are unambiguous, there is no reason why students should not conduct voluntary sessions of this nature. It is vital to get to at least a minimum standard of achievement after creating learning needs. This completes the cycle opened up in the session and satisfies an important need (self-actualisation in Maslow's terms, or simply to close the Gestalt). Making such opportunities shows that students are valued highly, their vulnerability is recognised and that uncompleted learning cycles cause frustration and possibly distress from the exposure. So their feelings are respected. These are vital ingredients of interpersonal skills training.

as private project

Sometimes, it might be sufficient to invite the student to deal with the unfinished learning as a private project. Such a project needs to be worked out so it is valid. Peers who have accomplished the training might act as coaches. Students might rehearse elements of the skill in their studies on their own or with a chosen friend, preferably a course peer who would understand the framework well.

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