How can I make peer observation a beneficial process for me?

For some lecturers, the idea of inviting a peer to observe their teaching can be daunting. This may be due to the perception that the aim of peer observation is to make a judgement about a person’s teaching ability.  

To the contrary, peer observation can be collegial, constructive and enlightening depending on the approach that is taken. There are three main peer observation approaches:

  • Evaluative peer observation A lecturer is observed by someone senior, typically for appraisal purposes.
  • Developmental peer observation A less experienced lecturer is observed by a more experienced peer, typically resulting in areas identified for improvement.
  • Collaborative peer observation Two peers observe each other as equals, as a way to develop their practice.

Taking a collaborative approach will help ensure the process is beneficial to both parties. This involves two colleagues inviting each other into their learning environment, agreeing on the tikanga (protocol) that they will follow; and learning from each other’s practice and perspective. It is designed to be a collegial, reciprocal and supportive experience.

Evidence-base

There is some planning involved in implementing collaborative peer observation to best effect. The process typically has three phases as cited in e.g. Fletcher (2017), Chism, (2007) and Martin & Double (1998). These are:

  • Pre-observation discussion Where the (teaching and learning) outcomes of the session are clarified, and the lecturer communicates any specific areas they wish to receive feedback on.
  • Observation of teaching practice Where the observer completes an in-person observation of the lecturer’s teaching practice (face-to-face or, less commonly, online).
  • Post observation discussion/reflection An opportunity for the observer to give feedback, and for the pair to reflect on the session with the mutual aim of improving their own teaching practice.

The aims of collaborative peer observation (Martin & Double, 1998) include:

  • Improving or developing an understanding of personal approaches to curriculum delivery
  • Enhancing and extending teaching techniques through collaboration
  • Exchanging insights relating to the review of teaching performance
  • Expanding personal skills of self-reflection and evaluation
  • Developing curriculum planning skills in collaboration with peers and colleagues
  • Identifying areas in teaching practice with particular merit or in need of development

Five Top Tips

  1. Ask if your School/Faculty requires a specific peer observation form to be used. Consider this example from Ako Aotearoa or the example given here in the Appendix of Fletcher (2017), both of which encourage a collaborative approach.

  2. Consider arranging to observe a peer from an academic discipline different to that you teach. When you are unfamiliar with the content of a paper, it can help keep the focus of the observation and discussion on student learning and teaching practice.

  3. Arrange to meet and discuss the session while it is still fresh in mind. Meet in a neutral space, such as a café or an unused classroom.

  4. When providing feedback,describe what you observed, rather than using language which suggests a positive or negative opinion. For example: instead of reporting “poor use of PowerPoint”, explain “you stood in front of the projector screen at times, which made it difficult for me to read the slide”.

  5. Remember that observing a colleague’s session is as much for your benefit as theirs. Make note of what they do well so that you can try it in your own teaching.

Useful Resources

  • This article (Fletcher, 2017) provides a clear explanation of the benefits of Collaborative Peer Observation.

References

Chism, N.V.N. (2007). Peer review of teaching: A sourcebook. John Wiley & Sons.

Fletcher, J. (2017). Peer Observation of Teaching: A Practical Tool in Higher Education.

Journal of Faculty Development, 32(1), 51-64. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.19455.82084.

Martin, G. & Double, J. (1998). Developing higher education teaching skills through peer observation and collaborative reflection. Innovations in Education and Training International, 35(2), 161-170. https://doi.org/10.1080/1355800980350210.

Siddiqui, Z., Jonas-Dwyer, D., & Carr, S. (2007). Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching. Medical Teacher, 29 (4), 297­-300. https://doi.org/10.1080/01421590701291451.