University teaching often happens ‘in isolation’ involving a single teacher in a lecture theatre or tutorial room. This limits opportunities to pick up new ideas for enhancing teaching and learning through seeing others ‘in action’, or to receive constructive feedback on your own teaching. Peer observation can help overcome these challenges, and is widely recognised as an effective approach to enhancing teaching.
Why do it?
Research shows shown that peer observation is an extremely valuable process (Irby, 1983; Brown and Ward-Griffin, 1994; Siddiqui et al., 2007) with benefits for the observer as much as the person being observed (Siddiqui et al., 2007). When being observed you can select the type of session and aspects you’d like to receive feedback on. For example, how you encourage contributions from students in a tutorial. Similarly, the observer may pick up ideas and tips they can use.
How to do it?
Commonly, peer observation involves two colleagues ‘pairing up’ in order to reciprocally observe and provide feedback on each other’s teaching. Variations on this structure can also be effective e.g three or more colleagues can adopt a ‘circular structure’ so that each one is observed and also acts as an observer. It’s very useful for colleagues to meet briefly before observations to clarify details such as the type of teaching activity, target audience, learning objectives for the session, and areas on which specific feedback would be appreciated. Proformas can be useful tools for structuring an observation, and it is also helpful to schedule 30 minutes immediately after the session for a ‘timely’ feedback conversation to discuss the observer’s feedback and for the observed colleague to make an action plan for future sessions.
The Vet School launched a formative peer observation programme in Jan 2016, following approval by the R(D)SVS Senior Management Group which made this a mandatory exercise every two years for all staff involved in teaching. To date, over 50% of these (including Prof David Argyle, Head of School) have completed the exercise.
Colleagues are invited to attend a briefing session to learn more about peer observation and clarify any queries they have. They then pair up with a colleague of their choice, select a teaching session they want feedback on (this can be a lecture, tutorial, practical class, research supervision, or teaching in the hospital clinics), and are provided with a proforma to help structure their observation.
It is also made explicit that the peer observation is only for staff development purposes and is not used for any review or assessment processes. The completed proforma is a private document between the two colleagues (unless they choose to share it with others), and the school only records that the peer observation has been completed (date, title of session, and name of paired colleague).
In summary, peer observation is an effective, pragmatic and collegial approach to teaching enhancement that can be adopted in any subject area within the University. It is also an excellent activity for Edinburgh Teaching Award participants to consider undertaking in order to gain insights into new teaching approaches, and a possible source of evaluation and feedback on their own practice. As an added bonus it can also be written up as a ‘short account’ to contribute towards the CPD section of the Edinburgh Teaching Award.
You can download a peer observation guide and toolkit from the IAD website.
Brown, B. & Ward-Griffin, C. 1994. The use of peer evaluation in promoting nursing faculty teaching effectiveness: a review of the literature. Nurse Education Today, 14, 299-305.
Irby, D. 1983. Peer review of teaching in medicine. J Med Educ, 58, 457 – 461.
Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D. & Carr, S. E. 2007. Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching. Medical Teacher, 29, 297-300