Teaching observations: process and value

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Teaching observations, also called peer observations or learning conversations, are a way of developing our teaching practice through a supported, reflexive process.  In this video, Angela Kingston, a professional exhibitions curator, talks to Dr Anne Samson about how the observation process has helped her to step outside her role as a professional curator and think of and manage her sessions as a teacher.

The observation described took place as part of Angela’s participation in the PG Cert HE module Supporting Student Learning (also available as a course in its own right).  This video resource will be of interest not only to participants on University of Westminster courses and modules, but to all teaching staff who engage in teaching observations and learning conversations.

Angela’s observation took place on a visit to an artists studio she arranged for students on the Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture MA. In the video she talks about her concerns about ‘getting through’ the observation, having not previously undertaken any teaching observations, and what her reasons were for choosing a gallery visit in particular.

In describing her approach, Angela points to a considerable number of principles of effective/inclusive teaching and in conversation with Anne conveys well the experience for all concerned.

Teaching observation process

Review of practice through teaching observations is the process of engaging in collegial conversations about learning and teaching based on the observation of practice.  Together with other feedback mechanisms, such as student feedback, peer review aims to promote reflection on what we do and why we do it.

In general, peer review aims to promote good practice and if often rated to be a highly valuable developmental experience.  It can seem a daunting prospect, as Angela mentions in the video above, but when undertaken in a collegial manner, many people are likely to find it as such themselves.

The intention with teaching observations is not to ensure everyone teaches in the same way, but simply for the observer to provide some positive feedback, and possible developmental suggestions, to the person whom they observe.  The aim is for the person observed to gain additional insight, perspective and constructive feedback on their own practice.

In order that the observer properly understands what the observed lecturer is trying to achieve in teaching observations, both parties should meet beforehand to discuss the session plan, learning outcomes and planned activities.  Soon after undertaking teaching observations both parties should meet again to discuss how the session went.  This process and the resulting feedback forms a reflexive circle in the observed lecturer’s practice, as different perspectives and developmental ideas are put into practice in future sessions.

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