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Peer Observation of Teaching

What does the phrase ‘peer observation’ mean to you? Does it have negative undertones of some of the worst aspects of the academic peer review process? Is it something to be feared – a means of compliance or performance management?

If these are the things which have sprung to your mind, it’s probably time to reconsider! The conception of peer observation which underpins practice at Hull is that it is an opportunity for development and collegiality.

Peer observation of teaching is an effective means of professional development providing benefits for the observee - including enhanced confidence and the development of critical reflection on teaching (Shortland, 2004; Bell & Mladenovic, 2008; Yiend, Weller & Kinchin, 2014)-  and for the observer, in motivation to try new approaches and increased self-efficacy (Hendry & Oliver, 2012). So it is a developmental and rewarding process for all involved (Bell & Mladenovic, 2008) and contributes to a culture of quality learning and teaching. As a means of CPD, it’s also relatively effort-free- you’d be doing the teaching anyway and a conversation with your observer won’t weigh too heavily in your diary, yet the benefits will be far-reaching for you, your students and your colleagues.

Teaching is often an individual experience conducted in isolation from our colleagues, yet we all have much to learn from the teaching practices of others, and can share our own perspectives to support their development. A recent evaluation of the Professional Practice in Teaching and Learning module (which is offered to PGRs and Postdocs who teach) revealed that together with teaching practice, peer observation was the highest rated activity for developing both confidence and competence in teaching.

Because of the developmental power of peer observation it forms part of many accredited programmes. Here at Hull, evidence of engagement with and reflection on peer observation is a required element of gaining professional accreditation via the DARTE Fellowship scheme and it is also a key part of the PCAP programme and the aforementioned Professional Practice in Teaching and Learning in HE module.

It is beneficial to regularly engage with peer observation as observer and observee and to cover different types of teaching- small and large group, practical sessions and even Canvas. For example, the Faculty of Health Sciences has a Peer Support for the Enhancement of Teaching template for Canvas sites- there is further information about this on the Faculty’s SharePoint pages or contact kate.bridgeman@hull.ac.uk. It is also beneficial to observe teaching in other disciplines as approaches vary greatly. This of course may bring other benefits including potential new collaborations and the expansion of your professional network.

Find out more

If you are interested in finding out more about peer observation there are regular workshops on the Academy’s Academic and Professional Development Framework programme and also a dedicated page on the Learning and Teaching Essentials site.

References:

Bell, A. & Mladenovic, R. (2008) The benefits of peer observation of teaching for tutor development, Higher Education, 55, 735-752 

Hendry, G.D. & Oliver, G.R. (2012) Seeing is believing: the benefits of peer observation Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 9:1

Shortland, S. (2004) Peer observation: a tool for staff development or compliance? Journal of Further and Higher Education 28:2, 219-228

Yiend, J., Weller, S. & Kinchin, I. (2014) Peer observation of teaching: the interaction between peer review and developmental models of practice, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 38:4, 465-484

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