Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Peer Observation of Teaching: A Practical Tool in Higher Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Peer Observation of Teaching: A Practical Tool in Higher Education

Article excerpt

WHAT HIGHER EDUCATION FACULTY know about teaching is generally from informal approaches such as experience as students, experience with students, trial and error, teaching assistantships, and interactions with fellow instructors (Dunkin, 1995; McKeachie, 1997). Not too surprising, discussions between colleagues center on content rather than knowledge about pedagogy and structural procedures; generally, good teaching is only connected to good content. The Gow & Kember (1993) survey study of higher education teachers identified knowledge transmission as a primary orientation to teaching (Boice, 1991; Gow & Kember, 1993; Martin & Double, 1998). Gibbs (1995) found that ".. .lecturers are usually happier to accept that there are problems with courses rather than problems with themselves and are happier to work at the level of changing strategy and method rather than changing themselves" (p. 15). Focusing on changing course content versus changing and/ or improving one's own pedagogy is a mindset prevalent in higher education, and as a result, creates widespread resistance and conflict towards peer observation of teaching program initiatives.

Peer observation of teaching in higher education is a topic faculty and departments generally avoid but has numerous documented benefits (Chism, 2007; Sachs & Parsell, 2014). Academics are familiar with the idea of peer review within the context of research and quality assurance, but traditionally, teaching has not been peer reviewed to the same extent (Gosling, 2005). As Yiend, Weller, & Kinchin (2014) argued, "Despite its widespread use.. .there are still reservations about the extent to which participation in formative teaching observation can contribute to the development of lecturers' critical reflection and the enhancement of practice" (p. 465). For example, Martin and Double (1998) found, ". some participants went along with peer observation as a sort of obligation, rather than from enthusiasm for the prospect of re-examining their teaching.. .that the initiative places extra demands on an already heavy and increasing workload" (p. 167).

Nevertheless, teaching observation is widely promoted as a mechanism for developing teaching practice in higher education. As Yiend et al. (2013) discussed, ".formative peer observation is considered by many to be a powerful tool for providing feedback to individual teachers, disseminating disciplinary good practice and fostering a local evaluative enhancement culture" (p. 465). Moreover, Bell and Mladenovic (2008) found in their review of literature that, ".if conducted under supportive conditions, there are numerous benefits of peer observation of teaching" (p. 735). Observation of practice is widespread and normal for professional development in many fields, e.g., health professions, K-12 teachers, and social services (Jones, 1993; Martin, 1996; Martin & Double, 1998).

This research explores the literature related to peer observation of teaching in higher education- definitions, advantages and disadvantages, with a discussion about how departments and programs interested in the process can develop and implement their own program. However, for most institutions, it is not a matter of choice but instead whether or not the institutions require academic units to do it. Using a pragmatic philosophical and interpretative framework of firsthand experiences from a peer observation of teaching initiative at a larger-sized departmental unit in STEM (about forty teaching faculty) at a public R1: Doctoral University - High research activity institution that enrolls about 36,000 students, practical support and tips are also provided. Moreover, this article targets faculty and program leaders looking to improve their own pedagogy, curriculum, and faculty development and can be used as a quick reference guide to begin a conversation concerning this important aspect of professional development. Teaching is one of the many important functions faculty undertake and is one area that continually has room for improvement and development. …

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