The scheme of peer observation of teaching has been widely implemented in the world. Cosh (1998) mentions that peer observation is linked to either pay or appraisal in the US and UK. This is similar in China, the country where I came from. Young lecturers in China have to gone through a process of peer observation in order to be qualified for a permanent position or for being promoted to a higher position. When peer observation is linked to pay or appraisal, it is common that teachers regard it as a task imposed by authority, which they have no choice but to complete. While as mentioned by Fullerton (1993), the aim of peer observation should be to help improve the skills of the observed by giving quality feedback instead of judging each other. This principal has been kept in our mind when my colleagues and I went through the process of peer reviewing.
Three colleagues were involved in the process of peer reviewing. One of them is from chemistry discipline, with whom I am taking the pedagogic course together. I observed two of her lectures in two courses in bachelor grogram. One course had relatively large class with 45 students and the other had small class with only 9 students. We wanted to see how different teaching styles and methods should be taken for the different size of classes. Since I only had one course called Entrepreneurial Financial Management in the semester, she only observed my teaching in that course. The course was given to the master students in Business, Creation and Entrepreneurship (BCE) program at School of Business and Economics. There were 16 students in the class. In addition to the colleague from the chemistry discipline, two of the PhD students in our department who were taking the pedagogic courses given to the PhD students at our university also observed my course. I did not observe theirs since they had no teaching in the semester. I think it is quite good for me to get information from different aspects when both the colleagues from the same discipline and the colleague from the different discipline observed my teaching.
The process includes three parts. They are preparation and planning before lectures, observation in classroom, and evaluation and self-evaluation after observation. For the detailed information of each step, please read the attached forms of peer observation.
Preparation and planning
In a couple of weeks before we started the peer observation, we scheduled a meeting to discuss our main objectives of the observation, the courses we would observe each other, the property and structure of each course, the information of students and so on. A couple of days before the observations, we sent to each other the detailed description of the lectures to be observed. The description is included in the first part of the form of peer observation. One day before the observation, we had a meeting again and went through the details of this part of the form. It includes the intended learning outcomes of the coming lecture, the lecture plan, teacher’s role in this lecture and the specific feedbacks that observee would like to get from observer, and the special aspects that observee would like to focus and develop in the future.
Observation in classroom
Since being observed in the classroom will make lecturer (observee) nervous, we tried not to sit in the first row of the classroom and not behavior seriously as a judger when we acted as an observer. Instead, we tried to behave as a normal student by engaging in lectures. For example, we were involved in each class activity such as group discussion as far we can. At the same time, we made the detailed notes according to the framework given by the part two in the form of peer observation. It includes how well the intended learning outcome were fulfilled, the plan and organization of the lecture, lecture forms, the context of lecture, students engagement, use of teaching skills, communication skills and so on.
Evaluation and self-evaluation
Since it was easy to forget or lose some points if we gave feedbacks a couple of days later, we had a meeting immediately after observation. During the meeting, we first discussed the overall impression of lecture by pointing out the key strengths and weaknesses of the lecture. It is rather easy to dishearten the observee if we start with weak points; therefore, we always started with the positive points and then continued with the weak points. We then went through each items listed in the part two of the form. We finally went to details for some points that both we were interested in as observer and observee. As we have discussed earlier, we kept in our mind that the purpose of the peer observation is to help each other improve teaching quality not to judge each other. We tried to give feedback in a dialogue, allowing observee to give some explanation on why she did in that way. When we discussed the weak points, we tried to discuss some possible solutions to improve the problems. During the discussion, we were thinking of which theories that we had learned from the pedagogic course can be applied and how they can be implemented in our teaching process.
Although we understood the process was to help each other improve the teaching quality, I think it was still difficult to be very frank when we were discussing face by face. Therefore, I think it was very good that we could write down some more comments and suggestions in the second part of the form (part 2-observation) after the meeting. Moreover, I think sometimes it happens that feedbacks given a couple of later are more objective and critical since we have time to reflect on the observed lectures. After we filled out the part 2-observation of the form, observer sent the form to observee by email and observee filled out the last part of the form called self-evaluation and sent it back to observer.
For my lecture, I got many positive comments from the colleagues, for example, they in general think the learning outcomes were well stated, the time set aside for various activities was good, the content was well designed and the students were engaged and so on. However, there are some problems too. For example, the classroom was too big that made the students spread out in the classroom. The learning outcomes should be stated clearly in the PPT instead of being discussing orally. Although it was short of time since the students found difficult to finish exercises, a short summary might still be necessary at the end of the lecture. I highly appreciated these comments. Definitely, I should ask our administrator to get a smaller room next time. I might cut the number of exercise to make sure students can have enough time to finish exercise carefully. I will write down the learning outcomes of the lecture in PPT. More comments and my thinking to develop the course can be found in the attached forms.
I think the peer observation is a good way to improve the teaching quality, particularly for new lecturers. Except for this peer observation required by this pedagogic course, I cannot find any other peer observation practices in our university. However, I think it is important for new lecturers to learn from the seniors. Each year, there are prizes for teaching both at faculty and university levels, I would suggest a possibility that those winners can have some open lectures allowing all those who are interesting in learning from their good experience to observe their lectures.
Please find the forms of the peer observation in the attachment.
Cosh, J. (1998). Peer observation in higher education – a reflective approach, Innovative Education and Training International, 35(2): 171-176
Fullerton, H. (1993). Observation of teaching: Guidelines for observers and observed. In S. Brown, G. Jones, & S. Rawnsley (Eds.), Observing Teaching. Birmingham: SEDA.