The purpose of peer observation is to provide an opportunity to share teaching ideas and strategies, with the end goal being an enhanced teaching and student experience. By opening up conversation and sharing ideas, both the observed and the observer can benefit. Peer observations and discussion can also provide a complementary point of reference to the end-of-semester student evaluations of teaching.
In order for this process to be effective, it is crucial that constructive questioning and feedback is provided, and that there is agreement that observation conversations are confidential.
Peer observation is often between two people but may include more.
The first stage of the peer observation process is a discussion with a potential partner/s about the possibility of observing and/or being observed. This usually involves a discussion about:
- what each participant wants from the experience
- what kind of approach might best be suited to the situation
- what protocols will be used.
Some peer observations are very informal, such as a staff member wanting to share ideas, to observe what another teacher is doing, or simply see how someone else teaches in a particular environment.
Some staff prefer a more formal process in which the partners undertake an evaluation or begin a longer-term discussion process.
Observations may focus on the overall teaching and learning experience, the curriculum, on a particular challenge or question. They may involve additional mentoring activities such as that used in the Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme (PATS).
Observers do not usually take an active part in the class. Students may be advised of the reason for the observer being in the room at the outset of the observation or the observer may audit the class without identification. This would be discussed and agreed upon prior to the class beginning.
It is helpful formalise peer observations and discussions as a record of the activity, and so that feedback can be provided for further development and refinement.