Refining your teaching practices with peer observations
The value of learning from peers
Good teachers consistently reflect and develop. The purpose of peer observation is to provide targeted feedback in the spirit of collegiality and constant improvement. The process of seeking and providing input from peers allows for reflection and adaptation of our teaching practices in order to become better teachers and increase student learning. Peer observation, as a process, is meant to be low stakes and help us learn from each other as teaching professionals.
Who would benefit from peer observation?
Teaching observations are available to all UMPI faculty, regardless of teaching modality–all that is required is a desire to reflect on your current teaching practices and the willingness to dialog with one of your peers. Since this process is for faculty and by faculty, the main focus of the observation will be a topic or event the requestor specifically wants to look for. In addition, the observer will notate specific examples (and/or opportunities) of student-centered learning and practices that align with our Academic Commitments. If you have any questions about whether a peer observation is right for your teaching context, we encourage you to give CTL a call.
How does it work?
Let’s look at the steps in partnering with a peer for an observation:
- The instructor and the peer observer will meet, to establish goals and desired outcomes for the observation. The requesting instructor should be clear with the observer about any specific things s/he would like the observer to look for (ie: body language or transition between topics during a lecture, or review clarity of expectations and alignment of an assignment with outcomes for an assignment).
- The facilitator introduces himself/ herself and explains that the purpose is to gather feedback for the instructor to support student learning during the semester and that he/she is there at the invitation of the instructor.
- Lastly, the instructor and the observer will meet a final time to go over observations from the class. During this meeting, participants can discuss successes, direct feedback on any specific concerns, as well as idea-share with a peer who understands the discipline or modality and offers priceless feedback and support.
Who would observe me?
A peer observation session is meant to be flexible and faculty-centered, an instructor or mentor coordinator may choose an observer who is:
- Another peer from your department
- A peer that has expertise in the modality you teach in
- A peer that has great teaching strategies for specific activities (ie: group work, project-based learning, case studies, etc.)
- Another subject-matter expert that may have valuable insight into the delivery of specific content
What topics can be addressed through an observation?
Remember that peer observation is really looking at indicators in a specific class–therefore, as an instructor is thinking about specific goals and ‘look-fors’, that it is important to be pretty specific in what, precisely, they would like the observer to look for. Here are some potential ideas:
Are my class activities aligned with the goals and/or objectives of the class/activity? Getting an outside perspective that knows your content, and can be a valuable resource in helping you identify if the activity DOES really clearly connect with your stated goals/outcomes.
How are my student engagement techniques? An observer can specifically assess things that you may not notice at the moment–such as body language, the number of times you allow for student feedback during a lecture (and how long you give students to respond before moving on).
Is my class promoting active learning and positive student-student learning? Another subject matter expert and teaching and learning specialist could be instrumental in helping you assess are the questions, prompts, and problems you give students to solve are accomplishing your teaching goals as well as the effectiveness of grouping strategies.
Is the pacing of my material too fast/slow? Having an observer who knows the content is in an excellent position to reflect on whether the speed of your content/lecture is challenging to follow, as well as whether the transitions between topics are smooth or confusing.
Do my educational technologies help or distract students from achieving my class goals? Technology can be used to increase engagement, assess learning, and activate participation–but does the inclusion do what we want it to do?
I’m trying something new this semester, how can I tell if it is working?A peer observer can become a valuable ‘thinking partner’ in helping you to communicate or re-state your original goal for the new technique–and then observe the technique within the context of that goal.
Is there a time in the course when an observation would be better?
Peer observation can be done at any point in the term, though if an instructor is interested in the observation informing teaching practice changes, it may be more beneficial before the mid-term time (so that strategies can be implemented). However, an observation can really be beneficial at any point in the semester.
How can I explain this to my students being observed?
Similar to an OLA, we recommend that faculty have a discussion with students about the fact that a peer visitor will be coming, and receiving feedback from peers is an essential part of the professional development of any profession–and especially the teaching profession.
What should I do with the feedback that I receive from my observation?
There are any number of things a faculty can do, following a peer observation, including:
- Adjust teaching practices according to recommendations of the observer
- Keep the observer results, and incorporate recommendations into the next term
- Take recommendations to CTL staff, to get some more help with adjusting strategies
- At the requesting faculty’s discretion, the results of an observation may be shared with departmental colleagues (to share strategies)
- Although the observation results are confidential and are only shared between the requesting faculty and observer–if the requesting faculty wants to share specific success points (or the entire observation report) with a coordinator, they may (again, at their discretion).
Resources & explore more
Research on the Peer Observation model
Peer observation and co-development is an essential component of creating a supportive and collegial experience. Here are some of the pages, studies and practices that have informed our practice:
Studies that support a peer observation model:
- Kathleen Brinko’s The Practice of Giving Feedback to Improve Teaching
- Hendy and Oliver’s Seeing is Believing
- Matthew Richardson’s Peer Observation: Learning From One Another
- Jeffery Fletcher’s Peer Observation of Teaching: A Practical Tool in Higher Education
Peer observation programs that have inspired us:
Support documents for observers
Have you been asked to observe a peer’s class? We have a few great resources, to get you started, including:
- UMPI’s Peer Observation form (make a copy and download or print to meet your needs)
- Check out the “Characteristics of Effective Feedback” from Georgia Tech’s page, for great tips on how to frame feedback.